Silas Rhodes, in memoriam

Filed under: Prank News

I’m a graduate of the School of Visual Arts and have taught there on and off over the years. Co-founder and Chairman of the Board, Silas Rhodes was always supportive of my work and I will be eternally grateful for all of his good will. I can only imagine how many other similarly odd souls he deeply touched and positively affected throughout his life. I am honored to have known him. His vision and dedication will live on through the generosity of his spirit. JS

silas.jpgSilas H. Rhodes Dies at 91; Built School of Visual Arts
By Randy Kennedy
The New York Times
June 30, 1007

Silas H. Rhodes, co-founder of a trade school for cartoonists and illustrators in Manhattan that he built into the School of Visual Arts, one of the nation”™s most important colleges for art and design, died on Wednesday at his home in Katonah, N.Y. He was 91.

Mr. Rhodes, who remained active as chairman of the school”™s board, died in his sleep after spending a full day at his office, said his son David, who is the school”™s president.

Mr. Rhodes and the illustrator Burne Hogarth, who is perhaps best known for drawing the “Tarzan of the Apes” comic strip for many years, founded the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in 1947, primarily to serve returning veterans, most of whom worked during the day and took courses at night to compete for better jobs in the advertising and publishing worlds. The school began with a faculty of three, a student body of 35 and a budget largely supplied by the G.I. Bill. Mr. Rhodes, who had earned a doctorate in English literature from Columbia University before serving as a pilot during World War II, insisted early on that humanities and liberal arts education take a prominent role alongside studio courses.

In 1955 he changed the name of the institution to the School of Visual Arts to reflect its broader mission.

Just as the school was beginning, it ran into trouble that threatened its existence. In 1956 Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Hogarth were called before a Senate investigations subcommittee and asked whether they were members of the Communist Party. The committee was trying to determine whether Communist influence had tainted vocational schools that were supported largely by federal money.

Both men said they had not been members since founding their school but they invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about prior involvement. Their refusal to testify provoked Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, who was quoted in an article in The New York Times saying that it proved the men were Communists.

Mr. Rhodes shouted back: “I”™ll match my record against yours any day in the service. That”™s a horrible thing to say.”

The senator responded, “I don”™t doubt a bit you are a full-fledged Communist.”

David Rhodes said his father had been a Communist but left the party in 1936; he said his father told him that the Veterans Administration later audited the school and contested some of the money that had been provided to it through students who were veterans. The dispute between the school and the government was later settled, he said. Silas Harvey Rhodes was born on Sept. 15, 1915, in the Bronx. His father worked for many years as a postal clerk, and his mother ran a wholesale egg business that failed. (Both his parents later worked in longtime administrative roles at the School of Visual Arts.)

Besides his son David, of Manhattan, he is survived by two other sons, Stephen, of Goshen, N.Y.; and Anthony, of Katonah; and by six grandchildren. His wife, Beatrice, died in 2002.

Mr. Rhodes, who was raised in the Bronx, received a bachelor”™s degree from Long Island University and master”™s and doctorate degrees from Columbia. He wrote a dissertation on the poet Robert Burns and intended to become an English teacher.

But he enlisted after Pearl Harbor and flew missions with the Army”™s elite First Air Commando Group in Burma, India and China. When he returned, he worked for the Veterans Administration and, with Mr. Hogarth, came up with a plan approved by the administration to create an art school to help veterans.

Mr. Rhodes was a longtime humanities teacher at the school and was its president for six years. In the 1970s he negotiated successfully with the New York State Board of Regents to allow the school to confer bachelor”™s degrees in fine arts, an authorization not typically given to proprietary schools like his.

During his term as president, the school grew to become the largest independent college of art in the United States, with 2,700 students; it now enrolls more than 3,000 undergraduates and graduate students.

Some of the more illustrious teachers and students over the years have included the graphic artists Milton Glaser and Paul Davis, and the artists Joseph Kosuth and Keith Haring.

In addition to pursuing his administrative and teaching duties, Mr. Rhodes was also creative director for one of the school”™s signature public projects, the visually adventurous posters that the faculty has produced for the New York subway for more than 50 years to promote the institution and recruit students.

Mr. Rhodes, who was given to quoting Socrates, ultimately saw the school and its students as promulgators of much more than just good art, advertising and design. “Education is a moral affair,” he wrote in a 1963 essay, “and the ultimate concern of the school is with moral values, while society is concerned with such matters indirectly and only occasionally.”