UC MagazineUniversity of CincinnatiUC Magazine

UC Magazine

Outside the lines

UC artists go off canvas and on the record

by John Bach

"Human beings are the only species on this planet who know they are going to die," says University of Cincinnati art education professor Robert Russell. "A fundamental challenge for humankind, therefore, is to face this fact, to bear up under it, and to provide some hope for the future. Certainly throughout history the arts have been one instrument for this purpose."

There is little question that we are nourished by the arts. Research suggests that children exposed to creative compositions of music and literature tend to be problem solvers who are more willing to take intellectual risks. As adults, we find paintings and performances lift us up, inspire us and even challenge our way of thinking.

No matter which medium, it is clear that the arts are impactful and adored by viewers, listeners and paying audiences. Perhaps what is less clear, however, is the effect a work has on its creator. To gather the artisan's perspective, we asked a cross-section of UC's creative minds to let us inside their heads -- or at least the right side of their brains -- for a quick look around. Here, a wide variety of faculty and alumni artists reflect upon their passion and how the creative process affects them.

Frank Herrmann


  • "I remember this incredible interview on NPR with composer Philip Glass who said, 'Art exists as a sublime currency that is passed among people.' Well, things just fell out of my hand, and I had to go over and write it down. What could you possibly say after that?"
  • "I look for any excuse to paint. I like the material of paint. I like the smell of it, the touch of it. I like being in that place."
  • "If I don't paint, I really get nasty. I'm totally addicted. . . . I think that a painting should be difficult to look at and consider. I hate stuff that tries to be soothing." 

Fascinated by a culture of woodcarving Asmat warriors from New Guinea, fine arts professor Frank Herrmann wondered, "Wouldn't it be wild if these warrior artists and I were able to meet in the space of painting?" Soon he purchased his own Asmat warrior shields and began incorporating rubbings from the carved motifs into a series of colorful large-scale acrylics [one pictured above] he titled "Thinking."

Painter Frank Herrmann, MFA (DAAP) '72, has taught fine arts at the University of Cincinnati for 30 years. His work is found in public and private collections around the country and abroad, including the Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. Herrmann spent part of 2002 working as an artist-in-residence in a Baroque castle in the Czech Republic.

Herrmann wins Guggenheim Fellowship [April 2006]




  • "As an interpretive artist, you have to empty yourself to be the building material for the creative artist."
  • "To get into character takes work, thought and going into some places in your nature that aren't always pleasant."
  • "There aren't that many opportunities in life to express yourself in such huge ways."

Blessed with a tall graceful frame and a strong physique, Peggy Lyman admits, "I had available to me an easy instrument. I never had a lot of barriers to movement in terms of my body."

Peggy Lyman, a former University of Cincinnati Corbett Scholar, spent a single semester at CCM in 1968 before taking advantage of the opportunity to dance in New York. Today she heads the dance division at the University of Hartford. Best known as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Co., Lyman performed leading roles in many of the most famous Graham ballets. Further credits include a CBS television appearance with Rudolph Nureyev, international productions and extensive work as a choreographer, director and producer.



  • "I like the way the written word allows an idea to be presented over time -- as with a movie or a play, except that the idea isn't artificially compacted for a two-hour attention span. With a book, the reader controls the timeline, skimming through or taking it slow, stepping away from the story at will, re-reading passages or throwing the whole thing in the garbage, if that's the prevailing emotion. It's a private, one-on-one communication that creates a direct intimacy between writer and reader."
  • "I'm easily consumed by the process. It can interrupt me in the middle of a meal or an activity, wake me at four in the morning. I feel compelled to get the thought down clearly before I lose it."

From Mother Teresa to Ross Perot, writer Glenn Kleier has impressed some impressive people. Given an early copy of his manuscript in 1996, Mother Teresa called Kleier's novel "a wake up call." Prior to publishing his debut novel, Kleier also served as co-chair of Perot's United We Stand political party in Kentucky.

University of Cincinnati alum Glenn Kleier's debut work, "The Last Day," achieved critical acclaim and wild commercial success after its 1997 release. The controversial millennium thriller that netted its author an unprecedented $1 million advance revolves around a woman with strange powers who claims to be the Messiah. Kleier, A&S '72, is the president of a national marketing and communications firm in Louisville, Ky. He is finishing up a new novel that he describes as "The Sixth Sense" meets "A Beautiful Mind."

Discover his book on Amazon

Ryan Adcock


  • "Communicating even the simplest thoughts becomes a beautiful act through song. In fact, some of my favorite songs involve the simplest ideas."
  • "Singing is a great way to just purge emotion. It can be very primal and very stress relieving."
  • "I never feel like it is me writing. I feel like the means for something greater. I just open my mouth and out comes a melody or a lyric."

Explaining why he feels more comfortable performing bare-footed, Ryan Adcock has been quoted saying, "It's hard to have stage fright when you are naked from the ankles down."

Ryan Adcock's bare-footed performances on college campuses across the country are promoting his second CD, "From Silence and Joy." The 2001 University of Cincinnati education grad gave up full-time teaching to put on 200 shows a year covering about two dozen cities. He has received two Cammy Awards as Cincinnati's "Best Rock Vocalist."

Ryan Adcock Web site



  • "When the music sounds right, then it is right. Some people's conducting may not seem very elegant, but if they can make the music sound great, then that is great conducting. That's art."
  • "Music-making is momentary. Every moment is different. I tend to be in a very bad mood during rehearsals or studying scores. Then, just before I walk onto the podium I may be anxious, but when I get up there and I'm making music, that is another thing."
  • "Musical choices will naturally have your stamp on it. Don't think about how to express yourself. What the piece is about: That's what matters." 

Before her parents were married, Xian Zhang's mother, Wang Hui, was persecuted and forced to perform hard labor for studying classical music, a practice forbidden by Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution -- a 1966 to 1976 push for "ideological purity" in China that led to the deaths of many intellectuals and artists.

Originally from China, Xian Zhang learned music at age 4 on a piano handmade by her father, a Chinese craftsman. The 29-year-old prodigy won the 2002 Maazel-Vilar Conductors' Competition in Carnegie Hall, a worldwide contest of conductors that carried a $45,000 first prize. She became the UC College-Conservatory of Music's youngest faculty member in 2000 as an assistant professor of orchestra conducting and music director of the concert orchestra.



  • "Writing is deliberate. I feel the same way about a blank sheet of paper as a sculptor looking inside a block of stone and seeing a statue. I find that exciting."
  • "I don't do drugs, but it actually makes me euphoric to sit down at a computer and write 10 pages. I can't think of anything I'd rather do than write."
  • "Barry Isaac (University of Cincinnati anthropology professor) once told me that if you can't take the most complex theory and present it to an introductory level classroom, chances are you don't understand it yourself." 

The best professional advice Ken Tankersley received was to quit writing for professional journals and start educating the public. Today his work is enjoyed by millions of all ages and backgrounds instead of only a few hundred anthropologists. The scene [pictured above], captured during the filming of National Geographic Explorer's "Mysteries Underground," shows Ken Tankersley interacting with Chico Dulac, a traditional Oglala pipe carrier, holding a recently mined selenite crystal. 

UC alum Ken Tankersley, Ed '78, MA (A&S) '82, considers himself an anthropologist first and a writer second. Drawing from his passion for both, Tankersley has written several successful books and documentaries. His latest is "Ice Age Americans," a book he co-wrote with best-selling author Douglas Preston, co-author of "Relic." Tankersley's two-hour documentary "What Killed the Mega Beasts?" aired on the Discovery Channel in August. The Northern Kentucky resident has also written for National Geographic Explorer and is working on a documentary for the British Broadcasting Corp.



  • "Combined with my fondness for power tools and noxious fumes, sculpture is the ultimate expression for me."
  • "I am motivated by the idea of layers: the conceptual layering of ideas and meaning, the physical layering and depth of surface, and layers of illusion and reflection. Immersed between layers of clarity and opacity, conceptual ideas begin to emerge."
  • "Every day is about discovery and a search for inspiration. Diagrams on napkins, scribbles from dreams and volumes of sketches all help to inform the work."              

Hundreds of suspended teacups and light bulbs created the chandeliers in this massive sculpture [pictured above] that Carissa Barnard titled "Dormant."

UC alum Carissa Barnard, MFA (DAAP) '97, participated in and co-curated the large-scale sculpture and installation work for the "Massive" series at SSNOVA, a Cincinnati artists' organization. Her recent pieces "illuminate from within to expose the skeletal structure of the work and reveal the stratum of surface."



  • "I enjoy creating a world where I'm in charge and can make things happen the way I believe they should -- in contrast to life."
  • "What I hope to do is help people enjoy, understand and appreciate their own experience of living."
  • "I am generally very happy and fully engrossed while I'm writing. My ideas, especially anything creative, come from my unconscious. I do make lists and stuff like that to get the questions out clearly. But for answers, I wait on the unconscious. I get my best ideas either in the middle of the night or early in the morning between sleep and waking."

Pauline Smolin's play "Body Contact" is a comedy about an older, single couple who, "despite flab, sag and wrinkles, are still looking for love and romance."

Pauline Smolin, associate professor in UC's language arts department, has been writing plays for 30 years. Her play "Body Contact" was read on stage at New York's Studio Ensemble Theatre in October. She is president of the board of the Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative.

Jane Alden Stevens


  • "Photography is a language that allows me to communicate with others in ways not available to me by any other means. I am able to translate thoughts, feelings and opinions into photographs to express things that I simply can't say in any other way."
  • "I am in a constant state of excitement, leavened with a touch of panic. It's the agony and the ecstasy; I am fully committed, yet unsure of the outcome. I am intensely focused, but have more questions about what I am doing than I can possibly hope to answer. I liken it to being in the 'zone' that athletes describe. I am at once both conscious and unconscious of what I am doing, and the work seems to take on a life of it's own, almost as if it's not me doing it."

Though not apparent at first glance, the shadows in the image [above] reveal a straight line of iron crosses over the graves of World War I soldiers near Archiet le Petit, a village in the Somme region of France.

Jane Alden Stevens, professor of fine arts, started teaching photography and film at UC in 1982. Her photos, displayed in the George Eastman House: International Museum of Photography and Film, have been included in group shows on three continents. Stevens' latest project, "Tears of Stone," took her to the Western Front of World War I to memorialize the Great War. 

Jane Alden Stevens Web site



  • "Design becomes art when it incorporates the elements of beauty and spirit."
  • "Any expression could ultimately be done artistically. An artistic verbal expression could be poetry. An artistic acoustic expression is music. An automobile that rides perfectly is a sculpture on wheels."
  • "Designing is creating and problem solving. Artists create a problem and work with it for themselves. Designers are presented with a problem that they need to solve for someone else."
  • "Every creative individual has their own mechanism to get to that creative place in their being, their heart, their soul. First I have to be intrigued with a problem, interact with a problem, talk to the problem until it talks back to me. If I can speak to it with my soul and it speaks back to me, then I'm into the creative process."

Ever since high school, Robert Probst has desired to enrich daily life with designs that make things more pleasant, easier to use, better packaged and easier to find.

Designer Robert Probst came to the University of Cincinnati as a year-long European exchange visitor in 1978. "It has been a long year for me," jokes Probst, faculty member with the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning for 23 years and head of its design school. Recent projects from his own practice include a branding strategy for the Hamilton County Public Library and a wayfinding system for Children's Hospital. His work is featured in numerous international publications and is on display in collections from the Ohio Arts Council to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

Probst named dean of DAAP   [June 2008]