Honoring a ‘revolutionary’ art educator

A thank you for inspiring innovation and creativity

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Beloved Art Emeritus Professor Joe Soldate inspired many artists duirng his 36-year teaching career. Touring his garden you can find several clay and ceramic pieces hidden amongst the plants.

Studying ceramics under Art Emeritus Professor Joe Soldate was like learning rhythm and blues from a 1960s rock star. He ranks as one of the art world’s superstars, his former students say.

Fearless, innovative and well-grounded in the basic elements of materials, structure and shape, Soldate molded ceramic artwork that bucked the trend and inspired a groundswell of students to carry forward in their own creative endeavors.

“He was not just a teacher, he was true mentor,” said Soldate’s former student and the retired chair of the art department at Cypress College, Charlene Felos ’67. “The thing that really stuck with me over the years is he encouraged experimentation, for us to take chances—and there was never any punishment for doing that.”

Soldate’s first job was as a professor was at Cal State L.A., where he stayed for 36 years, retiring in 2002. During that time, he helped build an arts program said by many to be one of the best in the region.

“I got as many people as I could involved in what we were doing here,” Soldate explained. “I had a really good relationship with my students.…I learned early on that if I was going to be in the classroom, I was going to be there for the kids—not for me. And I think that is how people still see me.”

Recently, two of Soldate’s alumni—Felos and classmate, John Kovac ‘67 ’68 MA—made independent donations to the University, creating two endowed scholarships to honor their professor and help support art students.

“It was an honor to have been Professor Soldate’s early master’s degree student, he was without a doubt the finest art professor in the state university system and all of his ex-students wish him the best,” said Kovac, chair of the art department at El Monte High School.

John Kovac ’67, a student of Joe Soldate's in the 60s, poses with boxes of Soldate 60 clay. The special classroom-formula clay, which Soldate developed to be more durable, is used in Kovac's and other art teachers' classrooms around the country today.

Felos added that she wanted Soldate’s name to be “remembered for what he contributed.”

Soldate taught them both how to become effective art educators and artists, while also providing a direct connection to the state’s historic ceramic arts movement, they said.  As a master’s student at Claremont Graduate University, Soldate studied under Paul Soldner, who along with Peter Voulkos, is credited with creating and defining the California school of ceramics. (Soldate earned his bachelor’s degree from Cal State Long Beach and a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont.)

“I was part of what was happening in the 60s,” Soldate said, and he brought the energy, momentum and creativity of the movement with him to Cal State L.A.

Among the things his former students recall was a willingness to do whatever he needed to get the job done. He built kilns to fire his and students’ work, and developed the clay formula Soldate 60, still widely used today, was also created when he needed something more durable for teaching. As classroom clay, Soldate 60 is a special mixture durable enough that it doesn’t break so easily when you move it, he said.

“I was somewhat of a revolutionary,” Soldate said. “And with every revolution, comes some resistance…but I also found that the students responded to it. If you invest in the students, you will get more out of the return.”