Remembering a Mentor by Alan Colvin
Alan Colvin on Frank Cheatham a speech read at the Dallas Society of Visual Communications honoring Cheatham
The first time I saw Frank, he was introducing his mentor and friend, Louis Danziger, to a group of students in a lecture room at Texas Tech University. Frank was gracious and softspoken in his introduction, and clearly had the respect of this legendary designer. It was a couple of years later when Mr. Danziger returned to conduct a work session with our Design Communications class when we heard him tell stories of Frank’s skills as one of the finest students that Art Center ever had.
Frank Cheatham grew up on a South Texas ranch, but moved to Los Angeles to attend Art Center in the late fifties. In LA he met his wife, Jane, a student at Chouinard School of Art (a talented illustrator, artist and teacher in her own right). Frank and Jane made a great team. They were both great teachers, and generously offered opinions, advice and stories, as their home was almost always open to students outside of class.
One story Jane told was about how, in their school days, Frank had these beautiful western shirts from Texas that he would sell to an LA clothing store to get cash so he could buy supplies for art school. That story says a lot about what you should know about Frank-that he was passionate about making art and not interested in wrapping himself in superficial veneer. Frank was transparent-sincere and honest.
Frank had a great deal of success in Los Angeles in the sixties as a designer at the packaging and identity firm of Porter and Goodman. His brilliance was recongnized there and the firm soon changed its name to Porter, Goodman and Cheatham. During the LA years, Frank produced a lot of great work for big, visible brands. The work was strategically smart, highly creative and award winning-a balance not easily achieved in this business.
But, Frank was homesick for Texas. He went back to school and sold his portion of the business to one of his partners. He offered his services for a time to Saul Bass while he was in transition.
Ultimately, the doer became the teacher when Frank became a professor at Texas Tech. The West Texas Plains were an unlikely spot for such a polished West Coast talent. But, as in LA, Frank made his mark-not so much within the University establishment, but on a lot of students-some who hated his raw honesty, but most who came to understand the value in it. (As we often said, Frank was “frank”).
Frank presided over a lot of discussions, debates and arguments-some ending in people walking out; some ending in tears, but a lot more ending in discovery-epiphanies, even; realizations of how satisfying it could be to use your brain, think a little harder and experience the joy of solving problems and making art.
Many of us owe our love of making design to knowing Frank. He’s the reason many of us are in this business; and, he’s the reason many of us have been able to make a living. Frank taught his students how to shoot higher, think smarter and live up to their potential. The list of those who studied under him and have achieved success is too long to mention here. He has inspired so many. His spirit, love of art and high standards live on (and will continue to do so) in New York, California, Texas and everywhere in-between.
It’s fitting that the DSVC is honoring Frank Cheatham with this award, because he has influenced many who have positively influenced this community. But, as much as Frank Cheatham is honored here tonight, I personally believe that it’s the Society that’s being honored with his good name.
In honor of Frank Reagan Cheatham
February 20, 1936 – July 21, 2002