A lot of ArtCenter graduates recall being “blown away” by the gallery work when they first take a tour of the school. My experience was no different. I found the quality of the work on display to be intimidating. To put it plainly, I was terrified.
As a little kid, I was a hands-on creative. I built models, made sketches, and took private art classes. My creative impulses began as a desire to understand why things were the way they were. Naturally, this led me down the path of engineering.
My then-budding fascination with engineering was rooted in a practical impulse. I had always been interested in the mechanics of things. As a high school student looking at prospective colleges, I kept my eyes peeled for schools that had engineering programs, and I ended up graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Arkansas.
About a year prior to graduation, I met ArtCenter alum Leo Davis, who was head of the Graphic Design program there. When I sat down to meet with him, he asked me flat-out if I wanted to be a designer. Despite the fact that my entire background was engineering, I said yes. Truthfully, my interests were all over the place. I was into automobile design, product design, graphics, and much more. Honestly, I was just looking for a way to ‘make things’ in a creative way.
When I mentioned that I was interested in studying Industrial (Transportation) Design at ArtCenter, Leo’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He understood that ArtCenter was the only place where I could find completeness in mixing design with engineering. He understood that the camaraderie and rigor you find at the College is like nothing you’ll find anywhere else. To this day, ArtCenter is home to some of the finest collection of people I’ve ever been lucky enough to know.
Back to the first time I ever saw the student gallery: my first thought laying eyes on it was, “There’s no way in hell I’m getting into this place.” I even used a campus payphone (yes, this was back in the days of payphones) to call my wife and assure her that we likely weren’t going to have to move out to California so I could study here. I reasoned that I didn’t have a prayer of getting into a place like ArtCenter.
Against all my doubts, I was accepted as a student at ArtCenter and made the transition into Transportation Design. And then, my eighth term project was eventually featured in the student gallery alongside the work of three or four of my peers. It felt like a confirmation of something. Suddenly, I was an ArtCenter graduate and all of the time I had spent slaving over my projects had actually meant something after all. This thing that I once thought was insurmountable - having my work featured in the gallery – suddenly became achievable.
Cut to graduation day, my family were all in attendance. I’d climbed this proverbial mountain and was resting at the top. At some point during the day, I remember cleaning out my workspace and carrying a big cardboard box through the student gallery – the same gallery that had once filled me with fear and awe. Inside the box was a collection of odds and ends: various types of tape, wheel molds, paint stands, assorted kinds of materials, all things I relied on day-to-day.
On my way out, I made the acquaintance of a young student passing through the gallery for his first time. I later came to discover that this fellow was a first-term design student. Instinctively, I handed him the box I was carrying.
“You don’t realize it right now,” I told him, “but everything you’re going to need for the next few years is in this box.”
Of course, I didn’t mean that literally. To this day, I don’t think he quite understood what I was attempting to do. It’s possible even, I didn’t completely understand. I guess I thought I was passing the torch – and by passing the torch, I mean handing over the box.
Since graduating from ArtCenter, I’ve worn a fair amount of creative “hats,” so to speak. In the mid ‘90s, I worked as VP of Design and Development at Six Flags. The world of theme park attractions offers the perfect combination of large-scale storytelling and creative world-building. This particular line of work is all about taking a story and bringing it to life in a way that transcends words. It’s a practice where art meets engineering and goes beyond the limits of either. Would you believe me if I told you I transitioned into real estate and project development just shortly after my time at Six Flags?
I’ve learned a few things since leaving ArtCenter. Two of those lessons are: there is seldom a straight line in one’s career path, and no two paths ever converge in quite the same way. That's the beauty of what we do.
There is nothing I cherish more than having served as a member of the Board of Trustees at ArtCenter. It feels like the ultimate affirmation – even more so than having my work featured in the student gallery all those years ago. Is there any greater honor to serve the institution you poured your life into for several years? I think not.
George H. Ladyman, Jr.
Head of U.S. Construction and Project Management
BS 87 Transportation Design
Former ArtCenter Trustee