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School of the Art Institue professor helped others see art as being essential

AngelPaterakis was an arts educator advocate who spent nearly 50 years teaching School Art Institute. | Courtesy photo

Angela Paterakis was an arts educator and advocate who spent nearly 50 years teaching at the School of the Art Institute. | Courtesy photo

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Updated: June 23, 2013 6:11AM

Angela Paterakis knew that for some students, science and math and history and English were a daily slog made lighter — and more bearable — by the break that art class provided.

She knew that art could foster pride and inspire dreams. To her, it was not only an essential element of education — it was good for society.

“She looked at art as a way for students to find success,” said her friend Neil Koreman.

Mrs. Paterakis, who taught for almost 50 years at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, serving as a mentor to students and fledgling teachers, died Sunday at Villa Scalabrini in Northlake. She was 80 and a longtime resident of River Forest.

Mrs. Paterakis fought for art in the classroom through her work with the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education, which successfully lobbied the Illinois State Board of Education for standards that kept the arts in school schedules, said Nadine Saitlin, former executive director of the alliance.

She had a gift for linking student-teachers with schools at which they’d flourish, said Saitlin, one of her former students.

“If it wasn’t for Angela, I would never have found the kind of career that I have,” Saitlin said. “I wound up developing educational materials in the arts. . . . After that, I taught at Chicago State University and followed that by being a practicing artist. And I don’t think I would have seen myself in all of those ways if it wasn’t for somebody like Angela pointing me in all those directions.”

In 1983, Mrs. Paterakis created a program at the School of the Art Institute called Basic, an acronym for Basic Art Support in the Classroom. It helped rejuvenate veteran teachers with classes and invitations to the Art Institute.

“Before that, [education] was more geared toward the new teacher,” Saitlin said. “It created a community among teachers who were already in the classroom. It was groundbreaking.”

She was also an early booster of art therapy programs, said John Ploof, a School of the Art Institute professor of art education. In 1984, she trained as an art therapist through Rush University Medical Center.

“She advocated for the inclusion of special ed students in fine arts programs,” said Koreman, a science teacher at Niles West High School in Skokie.

Mrs. Paterakis had a way of helping to nurture others’ dreams. When her friend Kathy Halper became an artist at age 35, Mrs. Paterakis was one of her biggest cheerleaders. And when Halper’s then-8-year-old daughter Isabelle Levin got interested in becoming a fashion designer, Mrs. Paterakis began escorting her to the student fashion shows at the School of the Art Institute in what became a yearly ritual. Today, Isabelle Levin is in New York City, studying fashion design at Parsons The New School for Design.

Mrs. Paterakis’ warmth and wry sense of humor kept her students coming back, Ploof said. They would drop in to visit, sharing stories of their triumphs in art galleries and museums and in classrooms and graphic design studios.

She grew up in Oak Park, the daughter of Greek immigrant parents who owned Gregory Furs. In 1954, she graduated from the School of the Art Institute. She taught school in Oak Park while developing one of the state’s first photography programs for junior high students, Koreman said. She got a master’s degree in art education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and began working as an instructor at the School of the Art Institute in 1961, Ploof said, chairing its division of teacher education from 1963 to 1971. In 1985, she was promoted to full professor, Ploof said, and she was still teaching a course in 2010: “Histories, Theories and Philosophies of American Public Education.”

Mrs. Paterakis helped write, edit and compile the books “

Sculpture, Illinois: Directions 1967” and “Art Education: Senior High School.”

She dressed with a Greek-inspired flair, friends said. Her jewelry might be embellished with the crux quadrata — square Greek crosses.

“She would come in with her Jacqueline Onassis sunglasses and her wild jewelry and an amazing fur coat,” a legacy of her furrier parents, said Drea Howenstein, an associate professor of art education at the School of the Art Institute.

The home she shared with her husband, George Parry Paterakis, was filled with books about Greek history and culture, geranium plants in a riot of hues, and brightly colored modern-art paintings.

Mrs. Paterakis was also a founder of Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a sister, Zoe Pallas. Her funeral service is at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 601 S. Central, followed by burial at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove.

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