In Memoriam

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Paul John Zelanski, 84, of Willington, passed away Monday July 20, 2015, at Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation after a brave fight with cancer. Born in Hartford on April 13, 1931 to the late Zophia and John Zelanski, Paul was the youngest of 3 children. His brother Edward and sister Tessie predeceased him by many years.

Paul knew he wanted to be an artist and support himself as a teacher by the time he was in high school. He worked many jobs growing up in Hartford, from newspaper delivery to factory jobs to working tobacco in the summers. After graduating from Hartford High he was accepted into Cooper Union in NYC in 1950, attending for 2 years until he went into the army during the Korean conflict, stationed in Germany as an army photographer. After leaving the army in 1954 he returned to Cooper Union to complete his certificate in art in 1955. He received a BFA at Yale, where he studied under Joseph Albers, who had an enduring influence on Paul’s own teaching directions, as well as his lifelong study of color. He earned an MFA at Bowling Green State University, while working as a graduate teaching assistant. He then taught art at North Texas State University in Denton, TX for 4 years, arriving back in CT in 1962 where he began teaching at the University of CT in Storrs. He was the 7th faculty member to join the new art department.

Paul taught the first color class, (and continued teaching color for the next 34 years), the first graphic design class, and later, the first computer course (a programming course in computers for art students, which several years later led to computer graphics). Through the years he taught other courses, but he most enjoyed teaching the fundamental courses, hoping to get students fired up about art as freshmen, and off to a good start with a thorough background in basic design and color. In the early 80s he started the computer graphics program. He had met an Apple representative at a computer conference, who in turn donated a dozen computers to the Art Department, and the program was born. Paul taught computer graphics until his retirement in 1995. The computer graphics program at UConn was innovative and well-known in academia, drawing new students to the art department for years because other schools didn’t have computer labs set up yet. Paul felt computer graphics were the future when few felt computers would benefit the arts. The students who were part of that early period have made very successful graphic designers through the decades since.

To be a teacher is to be a storyteller, according to Paul, and a long life well-lived gave him many stories. From being at the Hartford Circus Fire in 1944 to being the first person from Hartford admitted to The Cooper Union; from drinking beer in New York City with Robert Rauschenberg to having dinner on Long Island with Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner; from being in exhibitions with Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg to inventing (and selling, along with the rights) the first Slinky Dog, Paul loved sharing his memories, and just when you were convinced you had heard them all, he would surprise you with a new one.

Paul wrote 4 college textbooks with co-author and good friend Mary Pat Fisher, beginning in 1984 with Design Principles and Problems. Shaping Space soon followed, then The Art of Seeing, and finally the book dearest to his heart, Color. Each of these texts has gone into multiple editions, and all are still being used in schools around the world. Some have been translated to French, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

Paul received a lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Art Director’s Club in 2005, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, there were ex-students of his from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, a cross-section of artists who were still active in the arts. It was truly a highlight of his career.

He has been in shows throughout America, as well as overseas, and was a visiting professor in Holland and Poland. He is in many permanent collections from California to New York City, London and beyond. Back in the 70s he started making collage buttons, and sold them in museum gift shops, but he enjoyed more being able to give them away. He particularly enjoyed telling people that if someone liked the button they were wearing, they had to give it to the person, and then contact him and he would send them another. Although some people admitted to not wearing their buttons in public, Paul was contacted for replacements from people around the globe.

Over the last 30 years he has concentrated on making small collages rather than large paintings, recently exploring how to make them 3-dimensional while still in a frame. He loved the idea of recycling paper that others might find useless, and he loved pressing the leaves that were used in each collage. Most of all, Paul loved color, and he was an expert in using it as his own personal voice in all his images. Since his retirement he worked every day in his studio, creating his beautiful and lyrical pieces, only missing time when health issues made it too difficult.

He enjoyed brightening someone’s day, strangers and friends, if only for a moment. For the last couple of decades, if you had any contact with Paul he most likely gave you a Werther’s Original. A small token of thanks, he felt it was important to acknowledge those around us, and he passed his candies out all over eastern Connecticut, from the mechanics at Tony’s Garage to cashiers in the supermarket, and every receptionist and nurse he met.

Paul was incredibly grateful that he was able to do what he loved his entire life, and that was a guiding principal in his role as a father. He supported his children and their choices in careers with two conditions: that they follow their passions and always do their best.

Paul is survived by his wife of 50 years, Annette (Harding) Zelanski, and their three children: son John Zelanski and fiancé Tammy Bowman, daughter Noemi Zelanski Kearns and husband Ted Kearns, daughter Ruth Zelanski and husband Ron Lambert, as well as a daughter from a previous relationship, Suzy Kessler and her husband Dean. There are 6 grandchildren: Nolan, Zophia, Sadie Bea, Meret, Milou, and Ali. His children and grandchildren have been the delight of his life. Paul is also survived by his niece Debbie Sacharek and her children Kelly Thompson Lopez and Lucas Nelson, nieces Jean and Kathy Zelanski and nephew Alan Zelanski, and several great nieces and great nephews.

There are no calling hours or funeral, but a memorial service will be held August 17, 2015, from 4-8pm, at The William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut. Paul’s wishes were for a happy celebration. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, 100 Warren Circle, Storrs, CT 06268 or donations may be made to “The Paul Zelanski Award of Excellence Fund” at the UConn School of Fine Arts. Please make checks payable to: The UConn Foundation, Inc., 2390 Alumni Drive Unit 3206, Storrs, Connecticut 06269. A note accompanying the check should state that this is a gift made in memory of Paul Zelanski.

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23 entries.
Jon Stowe from San Rafael, CA wrote on March 7, 2017 at 11:29 am
I was an Engineering student at UCONN when I stumbled into Paul's office and told him I wanted to pursue a career in computer graphics. He said to me "The world needs more artists who can program than programmers who can draw." He then convinced me to switch my major to Sculpture and he let me run his computer lab. Paul was 30 years ahead of his time. The entire direction of my life was changed by Paul. He taught me graphic design and color theory. He taught me design thinking. Everywhere I go I try to pass his wisdom on and I aspire to be the teacher and thinker that he was.
Phil Hormel from Scotts Valley, California wrote on February 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm
I knew Professor Zelanski while I was at UConn from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s. I was a little different than the other students in his art classes, as I was actually in the math department (I was taking art classes as both of my parents were artists). As an undergrad I went through all of the levels of figure drawing classes with him, and after finishing the last one and going onto grad school at UConn, he said that even though I wasn’t signed up for his classes that I could still sit in on them, which I did. I still remember him telling us that when you go out looking for a job in the future, that your biggest selling point was you, that you are unique and totally different from everyone else out there. I also remember him telling the class that I was a spy from the math department, and was only going into statistics so I could make enough money so that I could retire and do art - which still sounds like a good plan! I do regret never making it back to UConn to thank him for everything. I really liked him - my favorite art teacher and a real nice person.
Jim Miller from Stamford wrote on September 25, 2016 at 11:23 pm
My condolences on your loss. Mr. Zelanski was a favorite professor of mine at UConn. He was a truly great teacher. I learned a great deal from him. I took numerous design classes with him, including his color theory class - the "organic chemistry class" of the art department! He would often chastise us to question authority, and take a stand for something we believed in. When I came to class one day wearing a t-shirt I had made up with the words, "Fight Gravity", he grinned and said "That'll work!" He was a tough professor, always challenging his students to do their very best. But he was always kind, and fair. I shall miss him. But I shall never forget his lessons.
John B. from New Jersey wrote on June 23, 2016 at 7:41 pm
I had the privilege of attending Color Theory class with Professor Zelanski during my BFA studies at UConn from 1990-1993. I didn't know his rich history of studying with such other accomplished artists of the New York Scholl Modern Abstactionists like Josef Albers. I think he talked generally about them but did not let on about his personal acquaintances. Looking back now I think that showed a humble characteristic which is consistent with the other honorable traits he exemplified like a passion for teaching, a sense of humor and caring, to name a few. I'll cherish the memories of Mr. Zelanski and wish his spirit and family peace and love.
Rick Pinchera from Boston wrote on June 3, 2016 at 1:52 pm
Professor Zelanski taught me how to be a professional artist before I even was one. I was offered a freelance job illustrating costumes for a campus production of The Magic Flute - toward the end of my last year at Uconn, 1991. I didn't know what to charge, if anything. I was just so happy to be asked but I knew that to be a professional you had to assign value to your work. I asked him what I should charge and threw a number out to him. He guided me through this process in a brief conversation. Essentially he told me not to blow it, by either charging too much, too little, or by not delivering the goods. I've tried to do this for every job I've had ever since.
George Jacobi from Mansfield, CT wrote on December 14, 2015 at 9:05 am
A major blessing in my life was to come full circle - after having Paul for color theory etc. in yikes -'68?, '69? we became close friends about ten years ago. His drive and courage were only outdone by his love and joy, and to have him as a wise critic and supporter of my work keeps me going. There were many more in my time at UConn who you will probably not hear from in this space, but I know they see and think better now than before they had him, and they know from whence it came.
"Make art; be happy." - Paul
Charles Bendzans from Folsom wrote on September 1, 2015 at 6:08 pm
I knew this man in the early 70's. Zelanski taught me things I've used every day of my professional life. He showed me things I would not have otherwise seen. And he made me laugh.
Barbara Hall from Coventry wrote on August 13, 2015 at 10:12 pm
I knew Paul as a husband and father. He was a kind and gentle soul. He enjoyed a wonderful life on their farm in Willington with Annette (Annie to me) and was always so proud of his children. I will miss him.
Judith Wuerfel Gordon from London, Emngland wrote on August 13, 2015 at 11:17 am
I met Paul when I was a Graduate student at UConn from 1962-63. He was a warm and thoughtful friend and I enjoyed reading articles about him on several occasions in the UConn Alumni magazine, which was sent to me even after I moved England in 1965.
William Cruz from Portland wrote on August 12, 2015 at 8:50 am
20+ years later and I still remember your teachings, stories, humor, and buttons. Thank you ...
Jim Valentino from Newington wrote on August 11, 2015 at 6:20 pm
Paul was one of my favorite teachers at UConn. His funny/grumpy critiques were inspiring and helped me grow as an artist. Fondly remember the boxes of colored paper we had to buy for color theory. Thanks, Paul, wherever you are.
Elsa Peterson from Norwalk, CT wrote on August 9, 2015 at 9:55 am
As a freelance editor, I had the good fortune to be assigned to work on some of Paul's books and to drive up to UConn to meet with him in person. A friendship with Paul and his wonderful wife, Annette, ensued. I will always remember their warm, supportive hospitality. Paul was greatly talented, a terrific story teller, amazingly creative and accomplished. So sad to know of his passing.
Cathy Crossgrove from San Jose, California wrote on August 6, 2015 at 12:44 pm
So sad to hear of Paul's passing. I can't remember when I first met him; he was afamily friend, college professor and all round great guy. He was ageless, alert and involved with the newest development in art and design. I last spoke to him at my mother's memorial and his kindness and friendship was unchanged. To his family I send condolences, to Paul I send thanks for all his gifts.
Kathryn Myers from Mansfield wrote on August 5, 2015 at 4:06 am
I am sorry to hear about Paul and so glad that I saw him at his exhibition in Mystic not long ago. He was part of such a memorable and welcoming group of new colleagues when I came to UConn in 1984, was a great teacher and how wonderful that he will be remembered through the Paul Zelanski Award of Excellence Fund at UConn. My sincere regrets that I will not be in Storrs for the Benton memorial to honor Paul's memory.
Gus Mazzocca from West Hartford, CT wrote on August 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm
What very sad and shocking news to come upon on my email via John Fawcett.
There are so many wonderful memories and stories now.
I was a student of Paul's in that infamous color course, and then later a colleague and friend. A supremely creative and inventive guy whose spirit will live with anyone who had extended contact with Paul.
My heartfelt condolences to Annette and family. - Gus
DENISE from WILLINGTON wrote on August 2, 2015 at 10:04 pm
With heavy heart I have just heard of Paul's illness and passing—
So blessed to have know him ever so briefly.
"What say you"
Much Peace my friend,
Much Peace.
Anne Wiktor from Williamsburg, Ma wrote on August 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm
The first time I met Paul was in the Campus Restaurant in 1970 when I was a freshman at UConn. I knew from that very instant that there was something unique about this faculty member, unlike any I had met before.
Over the years, we would converse in the Campus (we were called Campus Rats) and I delighted in his opinions and willingness to engage in conversation on nearly any subject.
I have four "Zelanskis", one that he even gave me as a wedding present in 1983.
What a guy — one of the pivotol people in my life — one whom you could label a true teacher.
Krys Caywood from Avon wrote on August 1, 2015 at 8:30 pm
I had Paul as a teacher for several classes during my years at UCONN. I still find pressed leaves in old books that he inspired me to collect. He was a wonderful teacher, a truly kind man, and an extremely gifted artist.
Heather Bodlak from Val do Dubra (Spain) wrote on August 1, 2015 at 6:20 pm
My deepest condolences to all his family and friends. He was an unforgettable professor, I was fortunate to take his Color Theory class. He will be missed.
herman vos from Meerssen (near Maastricht), Netherlands wrote on August 1, 2015 at 5:23 pm
Paul was a guest at my home for a week in the Netherlands (1994, if I remember correctly), when he was a visiting proferssor at the Academy of Fine Art of Maastricht, the Netherlands. I also had the honor of visiting him at UConn. I met an inspiring and fine person. I still possess one of his famous buttons. The sadness of a loss still leaves the joy of a memory... herman vos