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Professors Joseph Ostraff and Bryon Draper retire; Collin Bradford selected as new Department Chair

Professors Bryon Draper, Joe Ostraff, and Collin Bradford.

In the summer of 2024, the department will undergo significant personnel changes with the retirement of professors Joe Ostraff and Bryon Draper.

This year, the Department of Art will see some prominent changes with the joint departures of department chair Joseph Ostraff and sculpture professor Bryon Draper. Both professors are retiring after their decades-long careers with BYU, where they have generously shared their knowledge, curiosity, and guidance with students spanning generations.

With Professor Ostraff's retirement comes the end of his term as Department Chair. Associate Professor Collin Bradford has been selected as the new Department Chair, and began his term June 1st.

As they begin this new chapter, professors Ostraff and Draper sit down to reflect on their time at BYU and to share plans post-retirement, while professor Bradford shares his thoughts as he assumes his new role.

Joe Ostraff

Professor Joseph Ostraff sits in his office among various artworks.

For Joe Ostraff, things have changed substantially since he joined the full-time faculty roster in 1993 – not only with the general environment and culture of the department, but with Joe himself. “Well, at first I was really intimidated. At that point I had been teaching high school for seven years,” professor Ostraff recalls his beginnings teaching at BYU. “Some people were pretty tough on me for my high school vocabulary at that time. So I sat in on graduate reading seminars and read along, read all the postmodernists, just trying to upgrade – maybe trying too hard to be what I thought a professor was supposed to be.”

It wouldn’t take long for Ostraff to begin coming into his own within the department. When he recognized that a theory-heavy approach may not be his ideal avenue, it allowed for some important self inspection that would go on to shape his teaching career, as well as his personal artistic practice: “There comes a point where you’ve got to go, ‘I am what I am. Everything a student needs, they’re not going to get from me,’” Ostraff explains. “Nobody is the full package, and when you finally figure out that it’s everyone as a team that makes that full package, you can say to yourself, ‘Well what am I? What can I be, what are my strengths?’”

In this spirit, collaboration – in both his art making and teaching – became a more central part of Ostraff’s practice. Listening and learning to students, fellow faculty, and outside connections have become as important within his work as his individual creativity and personal direction. He has spent the past 30 years practicing that collaboration by creating experiential learning opportunities with his students and colleagues: traveling the world, sharing stories, and finding connections with the people around him.

“Everyone has the thing they’re good at, and for me, I just want to be around people and hear how they see things,” says Ostraff. “That’s something I want for my students too, I want them to see all these good people and to maybe have their thinking process expanded.”

In recent years, Ostraff has continued one of his longest ongoing collaborations, that with his wife Melinda. Her field of research is ethnobotany; through their combined practices the Ostraffs investigate plant life and its effects on people. This is what professor Ostraff is looking forward to the most post-retirement: “Melinda and I already have 100 – literally 100 – projects started in my studio. Just because I’m retiring doesn’t mean I’ll stop working, I’m just not teaching classes at BYU.”

Collaborative artworks from Joe and Melinda Ostraff.

Over the course of his career, professor Ostraff has continued to produce a significant amount of work each year within his own practice, garnering national and international recognition through both awards and exhibitions. As he looks back at the past 32 years, he still feels that the most important thing he has learned is that this kind of humility and self reflection is what brings real growth to all involved; being true to yourself inspires others to do the same.

“I am able to enjoy the company of the people around me, and feel sure that they will help me grow, ” Ostraff says. “To see people that are really great at something, and to recognize that you’ve just seen a master at their craft, that’s a really exciting thing. And these qualities of mine have helped me get to where I am; being at BYU, teaching and everything, being with students, this has accelerated my growth more than I could have expected.”

Bryon Draper

Professor Bryon Draper sits among several figure sculptures in his office/studio.

Bryon Draper joined the Department of Art as a full-time faculty member in 1999. After receiving his BFA from BYU Hawai’i, Draper would return to his home in Canada to continue work on his studio practice, before coming to BYU in Provo for his Master’s degree. Anticipating a career more centered around commercial gallery sales, Draper once again returned home to Canada and began focusing on setting up a studio for himself:

“Sculpture, the stuff that I do, it’s hard, you’ve got to have a lot of equipment, expensive tools, things like that,” professor Draper recalls. “I felt like I had enough money to start working in art more, in a commercial way…then I got a call, it must have been from Bob Marshall, and he said, ‘Are you going to apply for that job at BYU?’ I hadn’t really heard about it, since I was so focused on gallery things and trying to sell work, do commissions. So I applied, and I got it – it’s been just shy of 25 years now.” Professor Draper credits his longevity in the department to BYU’s atmosphere: “I like the people here. I like that it’s a church school, it’s got the same morals I have being promoted at the school. That’s a big part of it, I think creatively it gives you some direction if you’re moving out from a standard baseline.”

Draper’s figurative sculptural work is also rooted in tradition. It takes its inspiration from antiquity, but is also updated with contemporary inclusions: bronze figures with classical features both emerge and cocoon in rough-hewn chunks of raw, sourced stone. For professor Draper, those parameters have acted as a jumping off point from which other ideas can be explored.

“My work is rooted in being spiritual, and I think that moral consistency has helped with that,” he says of his practice. “The base ideas haven’t changed too much, but whatever is happening to me in my life, what I’m concerned with, that’s got to come out of me in the work.”

Professor Draper has worked for years alongside his 3D colleague Brian Christensen - in more ways than one. Their offices and studio spaces next door to one another in the B66 sculpture building have allowed for a consistent flow of conversation and ideas between the two. “Brian and I are always coming in and out of each other’s offices,” says Draper. “We don’t ever have to have a meeting, because it’s almost just a constant meeting – we bounce ideas off of each other, talk, things like that.” Beyond this friendship with his fellow sculptor, he feels a similar kinship with the rest of his colleagues in the department: “You know, you don’t want to dread coming to work, and I’ve always loved coming to work. I’m going to miss that part of it, I think, the camaraderie. If you had colleagues that you didn’t get along with, it’d be awful to have to go in every day [laughs].”

His relationship with students has also held an important piece of Draper’s heart. “I’m sure that I have been impacted in ways that I haven’t even realized from students. You learn something from everybody, if you’re around them long enough. There’s a lot of love and respect for the students here,” he says. “I think I’m going to miss being with the students the most; getting to know them, joking around, that kind of thing. I like to talk to them, know what they’re about, what’s going on in their life. That helps a lot too when they come to you asking for help with their artwork, you can give better advice when you know what’s happening. That’s part of the reason I do it, but I also just love these people.”

As he moves forward, professor Draper anticipates some well-earned leisure time to spend in the outdoors with his wife, as well as some continued art making – taking a ‘seasonal approach’: “I’ve thought about setting up a small foundry to set up shop and keep sculpting; I probably won’t produce as much as I do here, but it would be good to have it so I can work during the winter, and then play during spring and summer and fall.”

Collin Bradford

Professor and newly-appointed Department Chair Collin Bradford sits in his studio office, alongside selected artworks and a photographic backdrop.

Collin Bradford has been with the Department of Art since 2016. Hailing from the Great Lakes area originally, his undergraduate degree came from BYU, and for his Master’s program he returned to the midwest to attend the University of Illinois. His trajectory wasn’t always geared towards art, though; because of his natural talent for math and sciences, he thought at first that engineering would be the best fit. When it didn’t feel quite right, he took a few classes in the then-Department of Visual Arts in the spirit of experimentation. From there Bradford began to reconsider, and in his second semester, he applied and was admitted to the Art program.

Bradford then served an LDS mission in Spain, which further expanded his desire for new knowledge. “I came back from my mission, and did so many things,” he says of his experience. “I was just sort of hungry – I did a lot of philosophy, math, computer science, and the Spanish language also sunk deep into me, and I was also taking art classes.”

This spirit of exploration is a driving force in professor Bradford’s personal work; it ranges in medium from drawing to photography, sculpture and installation to video and more. Rather than thinking about what his art will initially be made from, Bradford looks for points of interest through which he can engage with the world.

Bradford’s work is recognized both locally and internationally, with recent work shown at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, UT, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art; as well as worldwide venues such as the Athens Digital Art Festival in Greece, and the Wrong Biennale in Copenhagen, Denmark.

His latest research, especially since moving back to Utah from the midwest, has been largely geological. An exhibition closer to home brought students of his 3D digital modeling class to collaborate with the Geology Department at BYU. Over the course of a year and a half, the team worked to create an installation in the Eyring Science Center, inspired by the beryllium mines of Spor Mountain in Central Utah. Professor Bradford’s interest in geology may not be as strictly academic as those producing peer-reviewed essays on the subject, but he sees that as an invitation, more than an inhibition: “I’m sort of an amateur, but that’s really what artists are. Art is mostly interesting in the ways that it engages with other things, and so much of the most interesting art comes from artists engaging with something as sort of sincere, dedicated amateurs.”

Professor Collin Bradford assists students with a unique installation in the Eyring Science Center.

Here at BYU, Bradford sees his teaching practice as a special privilege: “I have a job in which I get to sit and talk about art with interesting people,” he says. “That’s a pretty amazing job. I love the exchange of ideas, I love art, and to get to spend my days thinking about art and talking about it with these interesting students.” Beyond the immediate present of sharing ideas with students, Bradford also enjoys watching where they go beyond university life: “To get to be a part of somebody else’s artistic trajectory, and their formation as an artist, it’s really amazing to watch the ways that students grow and expand, and move in unexpected directions.”

In his new position as Department Chair, Bradford remains focused on the department’s community of students and faculty. “There isn’t a group of people that I would want to work with more, because this is such a special place,” he says. “We have such good will as colleagues, and within that community, and I can genuinely say I have the best colleagues I could possibly have. We have such great students, too. For the next few years, I’ll be doing a new kind of job, but with those same great people. And I’m grateful for that chance.”