Christina DePaul, Sculptor


“Art is the most exciting and inspiring of careers, but also one of the most demanding and challenging,” sculptor Christina DePaul advises her students. “Never stop working.” Such advice encapsulates the animating philosophy of this nationally recognized artist, professor and former director of the Myers School of Art of the University of Akron.

DePaul’s artistic odyssey began early in her hometown, Pittsburgh. By age three, she was accompanying her mother, an artist and high school art educator, to school. Throughout her childhood she attended children’s art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art. She acknowledges her father’s profession as a builder for her introduction to complex three-dimensional constructions. At an unusually early age, she assumed the persona of an artist.

Attending a summer session of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts as a scholarship student, DePaul became attracted to metalsmithing for its technical precision and detailed handwork. At Carnegie Mellon University, where she received her B.F.A. in 1981, DePaul encountered a rigorous, anti-craft attitude, reflecting the conceptual orientation of the times. Undaunted, she trod a fine line between craft and sculpture and sought inspiration from women professors, notably Diane Samuels and Carol Kumata, strong feminists with high professional aspirations. Because of metalsmithing’s traditional affiliation with jewelry design, DePaul developed a nearly obsessional interest in reconciling her chosen medium with her feminist leanings. Exposure to Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, then pioneering artists using traditional women’s craft to make powerful feminist statements, liberated her sensibility.

At Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where she received her M.F.A. in 1984, DePaul delved further into the technology associated with her medium. Under the tutelage of Stanley Lechtzin, she worked with the Alcoa Corporation to pioneer research in colored metal and to successfully advance techniques in anodized aluminum, an electrochemical process in which aluminum can be dyed. In partnership with David Tisdale, a prominent New York designer, she taught workshops in anodized aluminum throughout the country, ushering in a new cutting-edge era in metalsmithing.

In 1986, DePaul assumed the only teaching position in the country open at the time in metalsmithing, at the University of Akron. Under her direction, the university’s art department grew from 400 to 650 art majors and evolved into a full-fledged art school that was named after patron Mary Schiller Myers. Akron’s high-tech industrial environment encouraged DePaul’s development of large-scale sculptural work. She employed metal spinning, a technique used in tire manufacturing, to create large, metal shapes.

Impressed by this work, Cleveland Museum of Art curator Tom Hinson included her in The Invitational: Artists of Northeast Ohio in 1991, greatly increasing her visibility in the region. Major commissions followed in rapid succession: the Children’s Hospital in Akron, the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and, in Cleveland, Kaiser Permanente, University Hospitals, Menorah Park, Progressive Insurance Company and the Peter B. Lewis Aquatic Center.

Among DePaul’s favorite works is the temporary commission she created for 1996’s Urban Evidence: Contemporary Artists Reveal Cleveland, a collaborative exhibition involving the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, and Spaces. Her dramatic installation, La Mano de Tradizione (“The Hand of Tradition”), explored Little Italy, one of the city’s most beloved ethnic residential neighborhoods. Combining 18,000 pounds of granite with detailed metalwork, the piece paid homage to DePaul’s Italian heritage and the value Italian culture places on labor and handwork.

The demanding pace of her professional life is richly complicated by her role as wife of Brian McCarthy and mother of son Ryley. Clearly, DePaul wants it all. With her appointment as dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2002, she reached the pinnacle of a successful career initiated when she began teaching metals at the University of Akron 16 years ago.

The Corcoran poses new challenges: a distinctive new body of students and faculty, the intrigue of politics, and the opportunity to realize a vision for a new facility designed by the internationally recognized architect Frank O. Gehry. Yet she remains devoted to her art. Conceiving of and producing a new body of work is still one of the most exciting aspects of her life.

—Jill Snyder

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •