Alumnus commissions sculpted portrait of his favorite Ball State educator, Alice Nichols

Topics: Alumni, College of Fine Arts

April 3, 2008

Had it not been for Alice Nichols, Ball State University alumnus John Surovek would remember 1968 as the year he dropped out of college-not the year he graduated.

"My father got ill that spring, and she knew I was going to leave school to care for him," Surovek said.

Nichols, former chair of the university's School of Art, began teaching at Ball State in 1947. Surovek said she delayed her retirement from the School of Art in 1968 to lead him in an independent study course that enabled him to earn his degree.

Now an art dealer in Palm Beach, Fla., Surovek said he "owes everything" to Nichols' involvement in his college career.

"She didn't want to see me drop out, so she took care of me," he said. "She was as much a friend to me as she was a mentor. I can't imagine how many other people she helped in the way she helped me."

To honor Nichols, Surovek commissioned artist Tuck Langland to sculpt a portrait of the late educator. The sculpture of Alice Nichols will be unveiled at a special private dedication ceremony April 16 at the Tower Plaza Entrance to Ball State's Fine Arts Building off Riverside Avenue. Surovek plans to attend the ceremony. "I wouldn't miss it," he said.

Surovek is not the only Ball State alumnus with fond recollections of Nichols. Ned Griner, Ball State professor emeritus of art, was one of Nichols' first art students.

"She was always looking out for her students," he said. "If they needed money to stay in school, Alice would convince someone to buy their artwork, and they would have no idea she'd engineered the sale. She did everything in the students' best interest, even trying to find them jobs while they were here."

The era of Alice Nichols at Ball State spanned more than 25 years. During her final years on campus, Nichols devoted herself to improving the Art Gallery, then a component of the School of Art. As its first full-time director, Nichols helped the gallery receive formal accreditation  in 1972 by the American Association of Museums before her retirement.

An educator in a time when women were the minority of professionals on a college campus, Nichols stood out among the crowd, Surovek said.

"You just had to know her," he said. "She smoked a pipe, had a flattop haircut, wore jeans; we both drove MG-B sports cars … there wasn't anyone else out there like her.

"I've lectured at many colleges and universities, and I've always said all can be good schools-all you need is one Dr. Nichols, one professor who ignites something within you. I was lucky to have that click for me with her."

By Gail Werner, News Center/Update editor

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