"Get out and explore": Professor Jody Pinto Retires After 40 Years

Get out and explore, that’s what Sculpture professor and critic Jody Pinto tells her students.

The chance to explore the world is what drew Pinto to PAFA as an art student in the early 1960’s.

“I worked in advertising doing fashion illustration and layouts, and I was looking around for an inexpensive school that I could go to that had a good reputation,” she said. “When I saw the Academy offered a scholarship to Europe, that was it, that was the deciding factor.”

  • Jody Pinto receives an award for her 40 years of service at PAFA.
    Jody Pinto receives an award for her 40 years of service at PAFA.

Pinto ended up winning a William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship. First awarded in 1902, the scholarship recipient receives funding for European travel and full-tuition to PAFA for the two terms after completing his or her travels. After graduating she was able to travel throughout Europe, visiting places like Spain, France, Holland, and Belgium.

Pinto said before winning the travel scholarship the only plane ride she’d taken was to Wisconsin to visit relatives. Being able to see different kinds of art changed the work she was making. Her figurative paintings became abstract, and she said her color palette completely changed after finally seeing true Naples Yellow in Italy and the work of Francisco Goya in Spain.

“The power of those scholarships to affect students is, it’s immeasurable, it’s just extraordinary,” she said, adding that these travel experiences opened her and other PAFA students up to conversations they never knew they’d be having.

“That’s one of the most important things to have students understand, that whatever work, whatever type of work they’re doing, they’re in a conversation, they have to be in a conversation. If they’re not then it’s like wanting to be an opera singer and standing in the closet and singing to yourself, you have to hear people sing in order to understand what opera is all about. And it’s the same for artists, no matter what field they’re in.”

Pinto has taught at PAFA since 1978 and for 40 years she has pushed her students to seek out new experiences. She started the first contemporary visiting artists program at the Academy.

The Visiting Artists Program at PAFA is now run by PAFA’s second-year MFA candidates. Artists like Amy Sherald and Adam Helms have spoken at PAFA and participated in studio visits and critiques.

Pinto encourages her students to leave no stone unturned when they’re not in their studios. She says the mind is always thinking, even if it’s not focusing on art. She points to the four years she spent working with Women Organized Against Rape. Pinto founded the organization in 1971; it was the first rape crisis center in the nation.

“We got Mayor Rizzo to allow women to become detectives because only detectives could question and investigate a rape case. We got any number of changes in laws that affected prosecution in rape cases,” Pinto said. “One of the most amazing changes was that a woman could bring a case against her husband in terms of rape, which was unheard of before. Today we just take that for granted but it was a nightmare back in the early ‘70’s.”

Taking time off to explore other interests and passions is something Pinto encourages all young artists to do.

“After you get out of undergraduate school if there’s something you’re dying to do, something you always wanted to do, do it,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a dig in Egypt or wherever, do it because no matter what you do, it informs your work.”

Pinto is now stepping away from PAFA to focus on her work. Retirement doesn’t mean slowing down, it’s diving into new projects. She’ll be spending time in Arizona working on two projects. One is a bridge in Phoenix that crosses an area highway. The bridge helps children cross safely to get to their school.

“The idea is to create something that is wonderful in terms of lighting at night and at the same time, a beautiful passage during the daytime,” she said.

Her second project in Arizona is around an overlook at a canal in Scottsdale. She’ll be creating shade structures, seating, and lighting run by solar power. Retirement looks busy for Pinto.

“It has been an incredible time here for me. Mainly because I’ve seen a change and development in students and students work and their consciousness.”