Artists who met at RIT give back

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Joyce’s Massai Mamas, from a workshop taught in Kenya.

The year was 1952: Joyce was a freshman, Don was a sophomore, and both were seeking degrees in advertising and design at RIT. He thought “she was a cute girl” and asked her to be his date at his fraternity’s Theta Gamma Snowball dance during the university’s annual winter fest.

As both artists agree, the rest is history. The Nagels have been married now for 55 years, live in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and still have a passion for their work—and each other. Or as Joyce says with a laugh, “If we sell a piece of artwork, it goes into the same bank account.”

The Nagels recently gave back to RIT by donating two of their pastels to the Gallery r fundraiser last March. Don’s was a vivid image of docked boats called One Good Tern and Joyce recreated an equally serene outdoor Illinois scene of Waubonsee Winter.

“Joyce is a painter, I’m a drawer,” says Don, who spent 40 years in the advertising field, first in Pittsburgh, then in Detroit. His specialty was car advertising and he says his learning experience at RIT prepared him for working in many of the foremost advertising agencies in the Motor City.

“At RIT, the printing and art department were together and we had to take courses in each other’s fields so we knew how to prepare art for printing, knew how to talk to a photographer to execute the proper illustration for our clients,” Don explains. “What I learned was invaluable and became a real advantage in the design world.”

And Don is also a part of RIT history. He was in the first four-year graduating class from the university in 1955; Joyce was in the second in 1956. “We’ve always been proud of going to RIT and it prepared us for a lifetime of work,” says Joyce, “because being in Hilton Head since 1986—everyone seems to be retired and playing tennis—but we are still painting, teaching, exhibiting and playing tennis.”

Believe it or not, the Nagels work in the same room of their home, but at separate times, because as Joyce says, “Don likes to moan and groan a bit while he paints.”

The Nagels’ artwork is primarily in pastels, which have won several awards, most notably from the Pastel Society of America. They teach classes together on working in the medium.

“We’re part of the resurgence of the popularity of pastels in the world and most people think they are less vibrant but they couldn’t be more wrong,” Don explains. “The colors can be as dense in color and hue as oils. We work with the pure pigment on a sanded surface paper, which is quite permanent.”

Perhaps it’s as permanent as their relationship. “We are very lucky it worked out,” says Joyce. “We are each other’s best critic.”