When Denise Bellezzo came to Morton College in 1985, she
didn’t plan to be here more than 5 years tops. However, she quickly discovered
an administration open to her ideas about revamping the art program, and wound
up staying for 29 years before retiring in May.
Not bad for someone whose mother wondered what her daughter
would do with this “art thing.”
Bellezzo’s relentless efforts increased the number of
classes offered and places on campus where art can be appreciated.
Art offerings have been expanded to 21 courses, including
Tribal Art, Art Appreciation, Latin American Culture, Drawing I and II and
Figure Drawing that are now part of the program. Morton College now offers an
Associate in Fine Arts degree, which was implemented in the late 1990s.
“There was a lot of support from colleagues when I was
rewriting the curriculum so it would be able to transfer better,” said
Bellezzo, who graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Master’s in
When the Library was renovated in the mid-2000s, Bellezzo
was responsible for selecting the art pieces located in the group study rooms.
Original prints and drawings range from Japanese woodblock prints from the
1880s to contemporary artists of the 21st Century.
The Camino de Arte, located on the third floor in Building
B, was a collaborative effort between Bellezzo and former Morton College
President Brent Knight. The gallery, which took a year to complete before
opening to grand fanfare in 2007, houses part of Morton College’s art
The central exhibit is a reproduction of two segments of
Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals that depict the working
conditions at the Ford auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan through
The Latin American print collection includes original prints
and drawings by José Luis Cuevas, Javier Arévalo, Jesus Raphael Soto, Irma
Palacios, Roberto Fabelo, José Francisco Borges and Roberto Matta.
A photographic essay and life-size wall graphics of the
doors of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico by Chicago artist David Bower gives Camino
de Arte a sense of place. A series of photo emulsion tiles that include the
works of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente
Orozco are set in the wall in the sitting area.
Rivera’s estate granted Morton College permission to
reproduce and exhibit this important series of frescoes that were considered to
be among the artist’s most successful works.
“It was an idea by Dr. (former Morton College President
Brent) Knight that morphed into a Latin American contemporary print collection
of the Diego Rivera murals and photographs of San Miguel de Allende,” Bellezzo
Showing students she practiced what she preached also gave
Bellezzo a great deal of credibility. Bellezzo, who taught at Newark and Rosary
high schools and part-time at the College of DuPage before coming to Morton
College, usually tries to enter anywhere between four to six exhibitions per
“My professional art career helps tremendously,” Bellezzo
said. “It’s an important criteria of teaching at the college level. The
professors I had were practicing artists. It helps keep me invigorated and stay
abreast of what’s going on. Being a practicing artist is my primary identity.”
Bellezzo’s art students are an interesting mix with art
majors making up a third of the population. The other two-thirds are those
needing an elective to meet graduation requirements or in it for personal
“Sometimes, people taking the three-credit elective can be
just as talented or more,” Bellezzo noted. “It’s always an interesting dynamic
with a mix of younger and older students. They help each other out and there’s
an acceptance. It’s all about what comes out on the canvas.”
For that reason and many others, Bellezzo will miss her
students at Morton College.
“They were really the focus of my time here,” Bellezzo said.
“They were really neat. Secondarily, I’ll miss my colleagues and the staff
here. They supported me and the art program in many different ways. It was a
really nice situation and a very supportive climate.”
Despite never having an art gallery on campus, Bellezzo also
took great pride in hosting a pair of Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference art
competitions in 1998 and 2012. Both times Bellezzo found a space on campus and
pulled off shows in the Library (1998) and Student Union (2012). Those around
the Skyway Art Conference praised Bellezzo for her innovative use of space.
“I’ve always enjoyed the Skyway competition,” Bellezzo said.
“It was a big deal for us to host. Since we didn’t have a gallery space,
something had to be temporarily built. It took a college-wide effort. I am
thankful for the support the College gave to the art students from Morton and
all the Skyway schools.”
Bellezzo will now devote her efforts toward her professional
art career and travel. But in the end, Bellezzo concludes, “I hope I left a
positive influence with all about art here.”