Art Work

C aptain Deane Keller drove an estimated 60,000 miles around Italy during World War II, racing to preserve priceless works of art from looters, goons, mortar shells and fires. Featured this year by the New Haven Museum in its exhibit An Artist at War, he was a born-and-bred New Havener, a Yale art professor by his late 20s and, come the war, a real-life “monuments man”—like the subjects portrayed in the 2014 big-studio movie The Monuments Men. After the war, he taught at Yale for decades more and became the unofficial portraitist of the school’s faculty. Some 200 of his works hang around the university, with others around town, including in City Hall and at the headquarters of the Knights of Columbus.

Yet Keller has a lesser-known local allegiance: he was a professor emeritus for a small indie art school in Hamden named Paier College of Art, one which shared his representational inclinations more fervently than the Yale School of Art. Established in 1946 by Edward and Adele Paier and initially called the School of Applied Art, Paier College was a place where students received a traditional artistic education focusing primarily on the human form. Edward Paier’s philosophy was that if a student could master creating images of people, the student was employable.

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Employability is still big at Paier. It now has graphic design, illustration and interior design departments to go with fine art and photography. According to current dean Francis Rexford Cooley, students don’t usually come to Paier to “find themselves.” They know they want to pursue a professional career in art, he says, and that is what they spend their time doing, developing broad artistic chops from which to develop a personal style but also an adaptability. “If all you can draw is triangles and triangles go out of style, you’ll be out of work,” Cooley says.

The college’s own walls rely on more than a little geometry, triangles included. The Fine Arts building is an example of the vogue of brutalism that swept the city in the 1960s, an aggressive concrete edifice that’s tempered by the greenery surrounding the library nearby. Planted by Edward Paier, it’s divided into four climes: Spanish daggers by the warm west wall, Japanese maples to the south, apples in the east and the school’s symbolic pears—a pear even stands in for the “a” in “Paier” at the school’s website—by the northern wall.

Beyond these two buildings, plus a third mysteriously dubbed “Building 14,” Paier has virtually no campus architecture—no dorms, no Greek system, not even a cafeteria. College-oriented social events are scarce. But it does have six student exhibitions a year—one in fall, winter, spring and summer, plus one at graduation and a City Wide Open Studios showcase.

The current exhibition, which ends today, features a diverse array of works by students applying what they’ve learned at Paier. A ghostly sketch of a two-headed chick looks like something hatched from an alchemist’s uneaten breakfast. Bright painted donuts, pizza and flying ice cream cones look like they’ve just been prepared for a cast of cartoons. A solid helix made from thin wooden strips holds the floor as the most spare and abstract piece on display—and the only sculpture—but is also perhaps the most arresting. Interior design and examples of commercial ad campaigns are also on display. And while photography is absent from this particular show, Cooley assures me there’s an extensive curriculum ranging from digital to daguerreotype.

Throughout the school’s 69-year history, Paier College of Art has kept a tether with Yale—three of its five deans were Yale graduates—yet has maintained a core representational focus divergent from Yale’s taste for the high-concept and the abstract. So if the latter styles don’t go down so easily for you, look into Paier. It might just have something a bit more digestible.

Perhaps even the occasional pear.

Paier College of Art
20 Gorham Ave, Hamden (map)
(203) 287-3031

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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