UI launches fine arts professional mentor program

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts will celebrate the initiation of a new professional mentor program on Saturday by dedicating a sculpture created by an alumnus and in honor of his former professor.

"New Day" — a 15-foot tall sculpture by Jeffrey Breslow made of steel tubing, boulders and stone — will be dedicated in honor of Ed Zagorski at 1:30 p.m. in the UI Research Park directly across First Street from the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First St., C.

Breslow, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1965 and created his own toy design firm, describes Zagorski as his "lifelong mentor" and friend.

"He basically changed my life," Breslow told the UI News Bureau.

In 1961, Breslow was 17 years old and flunking out of Bradley University when he came to the UI to visit friends. He happened to wander into the Art + Design building, where he saw a display of a project from Zagorski's industrial design class.

A few yards down the hall, he found Zagorski in his office. After a half hour of conversation, Breslow resolved to transfer to Illinois to study with Zagorski.

Breslow spent more than 40 years as a toy designer before retiring as CEO of Big Monster Toys in 2006 to devote himself to sculpting. But he still stays in touch with Zagorski.

"My story is not unique," Breslow said. "He has touched many students, in the same profound way."

Breslow was one of the first alumni contacted when the College of Fine and Applied Arts began recruiting professional artists to serve as mentors. Structured to connect current students with artists, designers, performers and professionals with at least three years of practicing experience, the program requires a minimum of half an hour twice a month for one semester, with the professional having the option to extend the mentorship for a second semester. Breslow not only agreed to participate; he requested assignments to mentor two students — one majoring in industrial design, the other in sculpture.

Michele Plante, coordinator of career services for Fine and Applied Arts, has more than 100 mentors signed up so far in the fields of art, design, landscape architecture, urban planning and dance. She plans to recruit mentors in theater and music as well.

Breslow, Zagorski and Edward Feser, the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, will give brief remarks at the dedication ceremony.

For more information on the mentorship program, contact Plante at mplante@illinois.edu.

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