By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
What do the Scrabble game, the Ford Thunderbird, the Chrysler Building, the Dunkin Donuts logo and the newly-famed Big Bird character have in common?
They were all created by alumni of Pratt Institute, whose main campus is in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and now has a Manhattan campus as well.
Pratt, known for its emphasis on art, design and architecture, is now celebrating its 125th anniversary. It will kick off its anniversary activities tonight with a fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel – designed by Pratt alumnus Lloyd Morgan.
The gala will honor the Pratt family; Maximilian Josef Riedel, CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America; Julie Taymor, director of theater, opera and film; and Kehinde Wiley, artist and contemporary portrait painter.
The gala will also include the unveiling of works to be featured in “125 Icons,” a new exhibition in honor of the institute’s anniversary featuring the most iconic works by Pratt alumni and faculty as voted on by members of the public.
Pratt was founded in 1887 by Charles Pratt, philanthropist and a partner in the Rockefeller-led Standard Oil Company. He later founded his own company, the Pratt Manufacturing Company, producers of Astral Oil, in Williamsburg, and moved to nearby Clinton Hill.
While Pratt’s original emphasis was on trade subjects and engineering, art and design were part of the school from its earliest days.
For many years, schools of Engineering and Art and Design existed side by side at Pratt – a Pratt promotional booklet describes engineering students sneaking a look at art models in the 1930s and ’40s – but Pratt closed its engineering school in 1991. In the meantime, new programs, like advertising design, were added.
During the 1960s, as the surrounding area deteriorated, Pratt had a somewhat troubled period, but like the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music, it rebounded as the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill areas enjoyed a renaissance.
Today, Pratt consists of five schools – the School of Architecture, the School of Art and Design, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Information and Library Science (the oldest continuously accredited library-school program in the U.S.), and the Center for Continuing and Professional Studies. Each of these schools, in turn, has numerous divisions.
Pratt has been rated by U.S. News and World Report as the No. 1 school in Interior Design; the No. 4 school in Industrial Design; and the No. 9 school in both Graphic Design and Architecture.
Pratt’s alumni include not only those whom you might expect to have attended the school, such as fashion designer Betsey Johnson, architect Richard Meier, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and cartoonist Jules Feiffer; but others such as movie star Robert Redford and journalist/novelist Pete Hamill (who originally wanted to become an illustrator).
In addition to the gala, Pratt will be celebrated in a half-hour long documentary titled “Treasures of New York: Pratt Institute,” which will air Tuesday from 10:30 to 11 p.m. on WLIW21 and Thursday from 8:30 to 9 p.m. on WNET13. The program is hosted by the aforementioned Pete Hamill.
“Pratt’s 125th anniversary celebration commemorates Pratt’s extraordinary history of achievement and its reputation as one of the world’s most preeminent colleges of art and design,” said Pratt President Thomas F. Schutte. “We are excited to build upon Pratt’s legacy of success and innovation.”