Given open palette, Bellezzo creates masterpiece to the Arts

  • Bellezzo photo

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 Fine Arts. 

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 collection.

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 Rivera’s eyes.

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 said.

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 year.

“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 enrichment.

“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.”