Grcevic: Moving students beyond barriers

Paula Grcevic—one of the few to win the coveted Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching twice—never wanted to be a teacher.

She had been quite content designing and airbrushing patterns on men’s ties, women’s clothing and other fabrics in Manhattan’s renowned Chelsea district after she earned her bachelor’s in fine arts (communication design and drawing) and her master’s in fine arts (printmaking and stained glass), both from Pratt Institute.

But it was a visit to Rochester and NTID, which, for the first time exposed her to deaf and hearing people studying, working and socializing together in a mainstream environment, that inspired her to teach.

“I was fascinated, and I wanted to learn more about the students’ educational backgrounds, deaf culture experiences and American Sign Language,” says Grcevic, who was born deaf in Youngstown, Ohio, but was strongly influenced by many of her childhood years learning alongside hearing foreign students in Europe. She was the only deaf student in her high school and college classes, and being “in a world of different cultures is where I felt I belonged.”

She began teaching in 1979, and today Grcevic looks to nature to inspire both her award-winning art and her students.

Her artwork, which has won national awards and has been purchased by local and national galleries, is made from handmade paper using abacca, cotton pulp, pieces of silk, dried plants collected from her garden or found on nature walks and other assorted textural elements. Dye is added for a desired tonal color effect.

Grcevic provides unusual class activities as a catalyst to inspire and energize her students’ thinking. For example, Grcevic will bring in familiar and unfamiliar scented objects and blindfold her students so that they can smell the essence and express, in drawing, their experience or memory related to that scent.

“I foster a creative environment where critical thinking and communication can be enhanced,” she says. She encourages her students to draw with confidence, regardless of the level of their skills or feats. “As students develop their artwork, they learn the purpose of all projects by making connections with the assignments.”

The process moves them beyond the barriers of the English language, limited self-esteem and the frustrations of a heavy workload, Grcevic adds.

“Their creative expression pushes them beyond the critical judgment they experience from others and themselves, and as they grow from these artistic experiences, the process moves them beyond the barriers of their environment.”

When Grcevic is not teaching or creating, she is a consultant for the Deaf Artists Web that she co-founded, and is also actively involved in the Rochester Deaf Film Festival as artistic design director and co-director. She will also serve as curator for the Fall 2006 Art Exhibition at the Dyer Arts Center.

RIT News & Events, May 18, 2006