Scholarship recipient talks about Raphael Sassi’s art and legacy

CHESTERTOWN — Pratt Institute sophomore Claire Parker, whose work currently is on display at the Raimond Cultural Center in downtown Chestertown, described the late Raphael Sassi as “a great example of bringing people up.”

She made that powerful statement Oct. 20 during the opening reception of a retrospective of Sassi’s work titled “Kind Light” presented by the Kent Cultural Alliance at its headquarters on Spring Avenue.

Parker is the first artist to be assisted by the Raphael Sassi Memorial Scholarship Foundation, named for the Maryland Institute College of Art- and New York Academy of Art-educated draughtsman who grew up in Still Pond with his brothers and their parents Gretchen and Doug Sassi.

“Raph” Sassi was the victim of an unprovoked act of gun violence in April 2019 in Colorado, where he was living at the time.

He was 42.

The foundation in his name provides support for secondary education level students pursuing development of their skill in the arts; preference is for students specializing in drawing and draughtsmanship with an interest in studying abroad.

At the Oct. 20 reception, Parker, a 2022 graduate of Queen Anne’s County High School, announced that she had declared a major in drawing at the highly regarded school in Brooklyn, New York.

Pratt Institute is ranked No. 6 out of 240 U.S. and international art and design colleges in the QS World University Rankings by subject in 2023.

In his gallery talk on Oct. 20, Doug Sassi recited a haiku that had been written after son Raphael’s death: “The violence strikes and in all that darkness a bright light still shines.”

Doug Sassi said for him that “bright light” is seen in all of Raph’s work and in young and emerging artists such as Parker.

Sassi said his son was more than a fine artist. He also was a teacher who cared deeply for and was always encouraging his fellow artists.

Parker told the gathering that her connection to the foundation and the memory of Raphael Sassi has impacted her experience in art school in a variety of ways.

She said “Raph” was well known as a passionate student advocate in the art world, during his college years and later as an instructor.

Parker said she found herself following in his footsteps when she had a design professor “drilling other students to tears and dropping the class through harsh criticism.”

She said there is a lot of bias and subjective criticism in the art and design world, “but telling a young adult they have to be perfect is unjust.”

Parker said the empathy she has learned from past mentors — with a shout-out to her first high school art teacher Stephanie Zeiler, the 2023 outstanding National Art Honor Society Sponsor Award recipient — “would not allow me to hesitate to stand up for other students …”

As someone who has grown up on the Eastern Shore, Parker explores a connection to the environment through her work.

“I’m very passionate about nature and the environment. I grew up on the Bay, very privileged to live on the water and have that connectedness with nature, so I wanted to put those ideas into art,” said Parker, who is from the Chestertown area.

Her work has been informed by books on the environment and articles discussing climate change, renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles.

“There’s a lot of nature and environmental activism in my art,” she said. “Art is a way to cherish the environment, and provides a way to bring us all together around a place we have to sustain.”

Since her first semester at Pratt, she has been an intern for the environmental campaign through the New York Public Interest Resource Group. By making posters and collaborating with others, she has been able to pursue interest in social change and activism.

She has taken her advocacy for environmental and human rights to the state level in Albany — speaking with local legislators and networking with “like-minded individuals eager for change.”

According to Parker, a lot of narrative symbolism and social commentary can be found in her work.

She announced that night that she is pursuing a minor in sustainability at Pratt.

Parker thanked Gretchen and Doug Sassi for their “benevolence” in honoring their son Raphael by supporting young artists like herself.

The Sassi scholarship is “integral to my success in art school and beyond,” Parker said.

She said that having a degree from the Pratt Institute will give her “a level of legitimacy for the rest of my career.”

In addition to a retrospective of Raphael Sassi’s work, Parker’s award-winning “The Price of Consumerism” and new pieces from her time at Pratt Institute are on display.

NOTES: The exhibit runs through Friday, Nov. 3 with a closing reception from 5 to 8 p.m. The Vincent & Leslie Prince Raimond Cultural Center is located at 101 Spring Ave.

Donations to the Raphael Sassi Memorial Scholarship Foundation can be mailed to 12740 Still Pond Road, Still Pond, MD 21667. 

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