By Margie Peterson
The ink was barely dry on her Lafayette diploma when Marissa Halderman ’09 sold her first painting to a private collector for $1,500.
The piece was part of an exhibition at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in fall 2010. The show featured her work and that of her late great-grandfather, Maxo Vanka, a Croatian artist and Bucks County, Pa., impressionist who created the famed Millvale Murals, St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, Millvale, Pa.
Halderman, an art graduate, recently was awarded a major commission to create artwork for a law firm in Austin, Texas. The commission has opened more doors, which are keeping her busy at her studio on the Bucks County farm where her great-grandfather also was inspired.
Halderman credits her EXCEL Scholars program mentor, Ed Kerns, Clapp Professor of Arts and Humanities, for her early success.
“He has been a huge influence on my art,” she says. “Ed always said ‘you don’t choose to be an artist, it chooses you.’ Working for Ed gave me the confidence to be an artist and stick with it.”
Halderman says that studying art in a liberal arts setting expanded her frame of reference in ways that might not have happened at a traditional art school. She incorporates ideas from other subjects—math, geology, history, and philosophy—into her work.
Art is “more about ideas than it is about techniques,” she says. “Anyone can learn techniques. The ideas are harder. You need to have at least a basic understanding of art history so you can place yourself in it.”
As a Rothkopf Scholar, Halderman studied Islamic, Christian, and Jewish art in museums and churches in Spain during a 12-day study-abroad experience in 2008.
“It was boot camp for art majors,” she says. “I went to more museums in those two weeks than I had in my whole life. It was one of the most influential experiences on my work.”
Halderman stresses that professional art isn’t just about creation. There’s paperwork, marketing, installation, and other practical concerns. She got a firsthand look at the art business during an internship at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Manhattan, where she worked with sculptors Patricia Leighton and Del Geist.
Among the artists who returned this fall for the Alumni Art Institute, Halderman led a workshop on using the ancient medium of heated beeswax. “The students, especially the honor students, were really enthusiastic about the technique,” she says.