Leon Bellin.

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Leon Bellin’s work at a UIC Gallery 400 faculty exhibition.

The news yesterday that Playboy Magazine was going to drop nude photographs of women caught my interest.

First, because I had no idea Playboy Magazine was even around any more. Apparently the market for magazines that objectify women has gone flacid. The publishers complain that “now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”

The magazine will adopt a cleaner, more modern style, said Mr. Jones, who as chief content officer also oversees its website. There will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the pictures will be “PG-13” and less produced — more like the racier sections of Instagram. “A little more accessible, a little more intimate,” he said. It is not yet decided whether there will still be a centerfold.

I admit that I had an interest in Playboy as a young heterosexual 14-year old. By 1966 it replaced Mad Magazine as my publication of choice.

In those days, one of the features of Playboy was Ribald Classics. The old joke about buying Playboy for the articles was partially true. I looked forward to the cartoons and artwork almost as much as anything else. The full-page drawing that accompanied each Ribald Classic was always a knock-out.

Leon Bellin illustrated almost all those early Ribald Classics in Playboy.

Leon Bellin was also a teacher, a professor of art, first at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and then at Chicago Circle Campus. Leon ran the very small art education program at UIC.

He was my art teacher. And he became my dear friend.

When he was 60 years old I took him to is first baseball game. We sat in the bleachers at Wrigley. He took me to my first opera. We sat in the upper deck at the Lyric.

He would do written critiques of my work using German words I didn’t understand.

He would accuse me of being “consciously low-brow” for my love of popular culture.

Leon, like many of the early instructors at Navy Pier, was a graduate of the storied Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. 

The Institute of Design was founded in 1937 as the New Bauhaus: Chicago School of Design by László Moholy-Nagy. It became known as the Institute of Design in 1944 and later joined Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949.

While I was at UIC in the late 80s, its painting faculty drew from some of the really great artists in Chicago. Phyllis Bramson, Susan Senseman, Martin Hurtig, Rod Carswell, Morris Barazani, Roland Ginzel, Dan Ramirez, Martin Puryear and others. I loved it there.

As good a figurative artist as Leon Bellin was, he was also a great teacher. And teacher of teachers.

He was somehow related to the children’s book author and artist, Ezra Jack Keats. Money from the Keats foundation funded a Saturday art program at UIC that Leon created called the Circular Dream Machine. It was Leon’s idea to make it free to any Chicago public school student. It provided those of us in the art education program an opportunity to learn teaching by teaching early in the program.

We also spent a lot of time with the students at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Choir School at The Church of the Epiphany on Ashland on the west side.

At the time, the Reverend Rempher Whitehouse headed The Church of the Epiphany and he was a friend of Leon. When Rev. Whitehouse opened the Choir School for African American boys from the neighborhood, Leon jumped at the chance to offer art instruction using us, his art education students.

The Church of the Epiphany was also known as The Panther Church. Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party used the building as a meeting place. They served breakfast for children there.

Fred Hampton’s funeral took place at the Church of the Epiphany.

Reverend Whitehouse passed away last year at the age of 91.

After retiring from UIC Leon’s health worsened.

He moved with his wife Norma to Albuquerque and more recently to California with his daughter.

We lost touch.

I heard recently that he passed away in 2013. He was 92.

But you never forget your best teachers.

2 thoughts on “Leon Bellin.

  1. I. too, was lucky enough to be a student of Leon Bellin–what a great teacher & nice man. Same for Roland Ginzel & Martin Hurtig (I didn’t have the other teachers you named, but UIC was known for having a great Art Department during the ’70s, as well {when I attended}. This post also brings back fond memories of Prof. John Wally (or -ey-?) He was of the Bauhaus school &, had in fact, taught at IIT, bringing the ideas over to UIC. I believe that he may have passed away (he was up there in age, & died after falling from a ladder while working on his very unique & beautiful house near the campus) before you attended. Good memories.

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