BY DAVID NOSTRAND
Joni Oye-Benintende is East Stroudsburg University’s Art Department Chair, Gallery Director, and Assistant Professor of Art.
With such an array of titles, Oye-Benintende is, by her own admission, often quite busy.
However, she found time to share about her personal artistic endeavors and her role in Art Department.
Oye-Benintende teaches a full course-load, curates three or four exhibits every semester—each featuring at least two artists—serves as department chair, and creates her own artwork that she seeks to have exhibited, so her love for art must run deep to remain sane during each turbulent semester.
From an early age, Oye-Benintende was interested in creating art, beginning with drawing before establishing her style in ceramics during college.
Her work has been displayed in dozens of exhibits in Pennsylvania, an international juried exhibit in Maryland, and several in Japan and Missouri.
Perhaps most interesting about talking with Oye-Benintende was how opening small talk instantly turned to discussing art, more specifically, asking her what she was up to today led to a discussion about a ceramics workshop she would soon lead for the university’s Hotel Restaurant & Tourism Management Department.
“For the last four or five years we’ve partnered with the Hotel Management group to provide instruction on making bowls and firing all the bowls: teaching them how to make the bowls, teaching them how to glaze the bowls, and then firing the bowls,” she said.
But the workshop isn’t just about showing students how to make bowls. The project’s goal is to raise funds for the local food bank, hopefully to offer relief for people who depend on the community to help acquire meals.
All the bowls are made by students, and people who purchase a ticket to the event receive the students’ work, while ticket sales go back to the community.
The Art Department often lends its assistance to other groups on campus.
“We have a very strong graphic design concentration, and they do a lot of work for other departments around the university: posters, announcements, and general graphic design work,” she said.
Outside of campus, Oye-Benintende spoke of how a growing number of non-profit organizations seek out her department for help designing posters, t-shirts, and brochures.
Those familiar with Oye-Benintende’s artwork should notice the influence of Asian design and culture in her pieces.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Washington University, Oye-Benintende studied in Japan on scholarship to earn her Masters Degree.
Aside from having family ties in Japan, she was drawn to the country’s artistic aesthetic.
“I like the architecture, the sense of aesthetic sensibility: fusing art and design into their everyday lives. There was more of that there than was here [America] at the time, in the early ‘80s,” she said.
It wasn’t until she began studying in college did Oye-Benintende gravitate towards ceramics.
She originally set out to study print making and expand on her skills in drawing, but when the print making class was full, at the insistence of a friend, she took a ceramics class instead. “And I never left,” she said.
Her background in various mediums made her a prime candidate for teaching at a collegiate level, as her skills allow her to teach students both two and three-dimensional artwork.
Although the art world remains in constant change, with digital technology influencing contemporary artwork, Oye-Benintende doesn’t see herself using computers to create her work any time soon.
“My work is still very grounded in a very natural substance and earth place,” she said.
However, she recognizes the importance of different mediums, and sees new developments as another tool for people to pursue their creative output.
As a professor, Oye-Benintende preaches this philosophy, encouraging her students to work with how they’re comfortable, while still utilizing important techniques and mechanical skills, though sometimes she admits to having to give her students a creative push.
Although she claims to find working in the solitude of her studio a welcome reprieve from “the clamor of classes and meetings,” her outreach in the community reveals her to be a leader in the local art scene.
She expressed disapproval in America’s government for failing to foster its artists, claiming Japan, at an institutional level, remains more supportive of its artists and incorporating artwork in everyday life.
So it shouldn’t be surprising then that Oye-Benitende spends so much time expanding the local art scene.
Whether it’s raising funds for other departments, curating the work of Pennsylvania’s artists for the university’s gallery, or organizing design projects for non-profit organizations, Oye-Benintende and the Art department work to expose more people to artwork in their everyday lives.
In her free time, that is, when she does find a minute, Oye-Benintende said she likes to read.
“I don’t have a lot of free time,” she said.
For a person so thoroughly involved in all aspects of her profession, what some may consider a constant barrage of work, seems to be her passion.
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