Altoona Professor Showcases 3D Art in Exhibition | News, Sports, Jobs

One of Gram’s necklaces with replica pendants and photos of selected 365 gram selfies.

After Rebecca Strzelec inherited the fashion jewelry from her grandmother, she had the idea to create a touching homage to the sentimental treasures through her professional specialty – 3D wearable art.

The Penn State Altoona Professor of Fine Arts, whose work has been recognized and exhibited nationally and internationally, shares her new project,

“365 grams”, in an exhibition on the Altoona campus, an advertisement by

March 18 at the Sheetz Gallery of the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts.

Strzelec came up with the project’s name when she decided to share photos of the jewelry on Instagram and Facebook. She posted a selfie wearing her grandmother’s jewelry every day for a year. “gram” in the title pays tribute to her grandmother.

Orbital features Grams triple strand beads and clasp.

While the jewelry isn’t particularly valuable, Strzelec said, it has meaning that far surpasses that of a diamond.

“I don’t want any of the good stuff” said Strzelec. “That doesn’t really mean anything to me. ‘Good’ is relative.”

The jewelry inherited from Strzelec includes a range of rings, necklaces and earrings.

The exhibition features more than 70 wearable objects made from or inspired by her grandmother’s jewelry.

Strzelec took the jewelry and transformed it using lasers and 3D printing.

“Heap” contains beads from Gram’s triple strand.

An early adopter of 3D printing, Strzelec began using the technique in 1999 while she was a student at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

Her art has been shown across the country and around the world, including at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin, and an exhibition in Munich, Germany.

She also has a piece in the permanent collection of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“I was in several exhibitions that ran in different galleries for a few months”, said Strzelec. “I think probably the most significant achievement is that my work is part of the permanent collections of several museums. If you have a permanent collection piece, that means the museum has acquired your work.”

Penn State Altoona Chancellor and Dean Lori Bechtel-Wherry, who visited Strzelec’s exhibit in January, said she was personally touched by the fine arts professor’s work.

“Barrel” with beads from Gram’s triple strand.

“Rebecca’s work, creativity and pedagogical acumen continue to inspire me.” said Bechtel-Wherry. “Every year she makes Christmas tree decorations that have a special meaning in her life and she has given me one every year since she has been to our college. I treasure them and I have the complete collection. Some of the pieces that touch my soul the most are on permanent display in my home and they continue to inspire and bring comfort to my life. Your work is really inspiring.”

Gail Maatman, a local collector of Strzelec’s art, is excited to take part in the exhibition, which she says is a culmination of Strzelec’s efforts “make a real artistic statement.”

“She really has something to say, and I like that aspect of her work.” said Matman. “She’s just very inspiring, and having an artist and teacher of her caliber in this area, we’re lucky to have her in Altoona.”

Maatman first met Strzelec when she was teaching their daughter at Penn-Mont Academy in 2012. Strzelec had donated one of her pieces for the school’s auction, and by this time Maatman took an interest in her work.

“I was just fascinated by the piece when I saw it for the first time,” said Matman. “It was a necklace and it was made using a computer printing technique. It was a locket, and there was a brick wall on one side and a feather on the other. It took me a little bit, but I realized it was a matter of which was heavier – a pound of feathers or a pound of brick. I appreciated the humor and wit as well as the technique.”

“Pincushion” with Grams pins.

From then on, Maatman started following Strzelec on social media. She said Strzelec’s project was “An eye-catcher and definitely attracts attention.”

Strzelec said the project’s connection to her late grandmother makes it more daunting than her more routine projects, which usually touch on subjects like politics and science.

“It’s a different feeling” said Strzelec. “I think the difference for me is that it’s more risky. There are people around me who will call me about things. I can’t cut corners. If it’s not good enough, I’ll disappoint several people who mean a lot to me. If we remember that way (my grandmother), it must be really good.”

Strzelec’s mother Donna said she couldn’t be prouder.

“We are very proud; There are no words for this,” Donna said. “It couldn’t be closer to home. We are so proud, her father and I both. It’s just stunning; She worked really hard on it.”

“Low Poly Partial”

Donna said her daughter has always been very motivated and dedicated to the personal and professional facets of her life.

“She is caring and sweet, a good mother, daughter, wife and excellent professor.” Donna said. “For as long as I can remember, she wanted to be an artist. It has always been a constant drive in her. She just loves what she does.”

Originally from St. Louis, Strzelec grew up in Bucks County outside of Philadelphia and was inspired to become an artist by her art teachers.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an art teacher” said Strzelec. “Seeing other people who are passionate about art made me want to be an artist.”

Originally planning to teach art in public schools, Strzelec taught her as a student in Philadelphia, but decided to pursue a different direction. Immediately after graduating from Temple, she landed a position as a professor at Penn State Altoona, where she found her niche.

“I was really lucky, but I was also lucky just because of my parents and their choices. I’m not going to say I wouldn’t be an artist if I stayed in Missouri, but I don’t know if I would. You always want to look back and think the path was pretty straight, but mine could have been a lot bumpier. I’m just glad I ended up where I ended up.”

Strzelec said she is grateful that her journey as an artist of growth and personal discovery has led her to where she is now. 365 grams, she said, is perhaps the most special undertaking in her professional career and also in her private life.

“It wasn’t even about just wearing it; it was a farewell” said Strzelec. “It wore each piece for one of its last times. I think, in a weird way, my grandmother knew all those years ago that I was going to do this—that I was going to do something really cool, different, and interesting with this work instead of just leaving it in a box.”

Donna said her daughter knew the sentimental treasures had to be put to good use.

“Rebecca got all these things and decided, ‘I have to do something with this.'” Donna said. “It’s so fun to see it again and reproduce it in a different way. It’s wonderful and truly amazing how she reinvented everything while keeping the original concept of jewelry. She’s very creative and I don’t know where she got that from. Her grandmother jumps up and down in the sky; I know it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer can be reached at 814-946-7428.

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