Belated art degrees complete picture Maryland Institute bestows honors on graduates who finished school before 1962

June 09, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Donning a black robe and mortarboard decorated with pink flowers and gold stars, Helen McCaffray McFadden Braun received a degree from Maryland Institute, College of Art yesterday -- 50 years after she graduated.

"It's belated but it's welcome," said Braun, 82, one of 129 alumni honored in a ceremony for those who completed the program before 1962, when diplomas, not bachelor's degrees, were awarded.

The graduates from the prestigious art school, which attracts students from 30 countries, were a varied bunch.

They included James A. Johnson Jr., a retired Pentagon art director who was among the first five black graduates in 1959; Gertrude Soto, a potter who graduated in 1943 and came from her home in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, for the event; and Hazel Croner, a retired courtroom artist whose sketch of the Corpus Christi Church -- site of the ceremony -- appeared in yesterday's editions of The Sun.

Members of the school's alumni council organized the event after they polled 300 pre-1962 graduates and found some felt they never were adequately acknowledged, according to Maryland Institute President Fred Lazarus IV.

Receiving the degrees provides "their sense of completion," he said.

On the sunny afternoon, the students and some faculty members walked in pairs from the institute's main building on Mount Royal Avenue to the church next door, wearing traditional gowns and brightly decorated mortarboards.

Croner (Class of '34) pasted cut-out letters on hers that read: "This cap is giving me a bad hair day," and hung Barbie doll accessories from the edge. Others had statuettes, old pictures of classmates, paintbrushes and paint tubes, miniature landscape paintings, artificial flowers, leaves, plastic lizards, glitter and small figurines attached to their mortarboards.

The graduates occupied the seats in the front of the sanctuary, while friends and family sat behind them, listening to a commencement speech from Richard Martin, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"Art is a lifelong calling," he said, describing the graduates as people who showed the same commitment to their work as those who have graduated in recent years.

"You can come home," he told them. "You must come home again when home is where the art is."

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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