David Pease, M.F.A. 1958, first enrolled in the Art Department in the early 1950s after taking several electives in drawing and design with aspirations to be a set designer.
“I didn’t think art was a possibility but I always like to draw,” said Pease, who joined the army for two years after finishing his B.F.A. in 1955.
Pease couldn’t carry around painting supplies in the Army, so he did a lot of collage.
“You could always find stuff to tear up,” he said. “So when I came back (to UW), that’s what I did.”
Pease returned in 1957 when Art Department Chairman Fred Logan (deceased) invited him to join the first cohort of the newly minted M.F.A. program. Pease applied some of his B.F.A. credits toward his masters, finished the degree in a single year, and became “the” first graduating class from the Art Department’s M.F.A. program.
Before 1957, the Art Department offered a one-year M.S. in art like most other universities in the United States, Logan said in 1979 interview for the UW Oral History Program.
When two-year M.F.A. programs in studio art started showing up on the East Coast, UW Art Department faculty wanted one of their own that would be like a doctoral degree for teaching art in high schools and universities, Logan said.
Although it turned into a university-wide effort that would benefit other areas such as theatre, “the Art Department took the initiative in asking for it,” he said.
Under School of Education Dean John Guy Fowlkes, the Art Department was being pushed away from its traditional art education focus to a focus on studio art in order to keep up with the rest of the art world.
The rise of the prestigious printmaking and glass areas contributed to the success and reputation of the M.F.A. program.
The program’s increasing reputation allowed the department to garner more support and better salaries from the university administration and so the department could hire some of the best artists onto the faculty, said Professor Emeritus Warrington Colescott.
Colescott came to the department in 1949 when the older, more conservative professors were headed for retirement and the department had started hiring ambitious young teachers in the aftermath of World War II.
“At that time, faculty and students were very close especially those that had army and navy backgrounds,” he said. “We all kind of grew up together.”
As the program grew larger, students studied across disciplines and the department began to relax its M.F.A. degree requirements to make them more tailored to students’ focus, Colescott said.
“Our degree got more differentiated as it went along,” he said.
The new program also helped prepare many students who wanted to teach in colleges and universities, where the job market was open and expanding.
“It was a great time to start a career,” said Colescott, who kept up with his students after graduation and tried to help them by exploiting his contacts in other schools.
Completing an M.F.A. in the early years was not so easy, considering how rigorous the degree requirements were at the time: a three-hour oral exam, a six-hour written exam, a thesis and a thesis exhibition.
“Back in the 1950s, most of us didn’t know nearly as much (about post-graduation options) as today’s students,” Pease said.
However, their professors were very helpful in that regard – following up with them after graduation to let them know about jobs and other opportunities for advancing their careers, Pease said.
During his career at UW, art students were serious and very ambitious.
Even though the painting studio on ground floor of the Education Building was locked after about 8 p.m., “we would leave one of the windows of painting studio unlocked and come back at night to paint,” he said.
Pease and his peers would try to “get an edge” on other students by sneaking in to scope out the drying racks.
“We called it ‘going to look at the O-P-Ps’ – other people’s paintings,” Pease said.