Saturday, April 4, 2015

From the studio of: Ron Straka

On a bright early spring day, a few days after the opening of his "Straka 80" exhibition at the Rockport Art Association, Ron Straka was found in his Rockport harbor view studio, already hard at work at his easel. His is a very genial personality, soft-spoken and kind, whose intelligence and wit shines from his bright blue eyes. Ron celebrates his 80th birthday this year, and he still works as he always has, in bursts, when an idea takes hold and must come to fruition.
He speaks fondly of his mentors, among them Paul Strisik, Zygmund Jankowski, Bob Blue and Pat Civale, with whom he's enjoyed not only memorable friendships, but also the excitement of shared ideas and influences.
Straka was introduced to two of his life-long artistic pursuits by his uncle, whose interests in photography and painting piqued Ron's interest at a pre-teen age. Ever inventive, Ron made his own enlarger from tin cans and a discarded photographic lens while still in middle school. At the middle school the art teacher recognized his talent and made it possible for him to attend weekend high school art sessions at the Reading (PA) Public Museum. He remembers he "couldn't wait" for Saturdays to arrive to go to the Museum to sketch birds and animals in the natural sciences department. These weekly art sessions also exposed him to the work of the Pennsylvania School of Artists, roaming freely through the collection of plein air works by Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge and Walter Baum absorbing their brushwork and bold color, and then drawing copies of these great works. 
Upon graduation from The John Hopkins University Ron went on to a highly successful career as a government physicist at the Air Force Research Laboratory with travels throughout Europe, South America and South Pacific areas. During these years, he was still active in painting and photography.
He studied with the celebrated photographers Ansel Adams in Yosemite and Paul Caponigro in Boston. Ron's photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, the DeCordova Museums and in national exhibitions and collections.
Ultimately, his love of painting won out among his many interests and he later moved to Rockport. He found a home among the community of artists centered in Cape Ann who were drawn to this "spiritual center that fosters creative energy and nurtures the creative spirit".
Zygmund Jankowski, a bold and inventive colorist, was to Straka an "artistic guru". A man of few words, like a Zen master, Jankowski encouraged his students to follow their passion - to "do it", when the student proposed what they thought should be done to their paintings. Jankowski encouraged Straka to seek out Paul Strisik, N.A. (whom Ron knew from the 60's) and thereafter Strisik became a true friend and generous mentor to Ron. Strisk said that "A painting should not be an inventory of objects" and, importantly, that he "Couldn't teach me how to paint, but could only open the door so that you would find out what painting was really about". Tom Nicholas, N.A., who strongly advocates an artist must move on (from his early teachers) and "be him/herself in their art", has graciously also been most helpful to Ron.
Ron Straka, is a very fine and sought after teacher. His easy references and quotes reveal what essentials he has learned from many years of studying the Masters, and from taking workshops by well-regarded Cape Ann artists.
For twenty-one years Ron lived in Aldro Hibbard's Rockport Legendsea studio where he had a wonderful opportunity to closely study Hibbard's work. He takes to heart Hibbard's "out of the ether" statement Ron experienced in this studio that "if you can't see the brush mark from across the room don't put it in!" Straka has since observed that in many great artist's paintings an applied stroke of paint has real subject meaning. He feels the essential element of painting is that "the emotional richness, the poetry, the musicality of the artist's passion must reside in the painting to stir the viewer emotionally. Design is a key ingredient. Skillful use of the 'elements of design': color, values, composition, brushwork, harmonies of movement, shapes and shapes within shapes, are essential to communicate these emotional intentions". Straka wants his students to expand their historical knowledge of the world of art to increase their "visual language" lexicon for use in their artistic growth.
He advises to "Enrich your 'overall' life, find joy in what you do artistically, expand your skills to better express your passion and then seek to make an aesthetic and emotional connection with others through your work".

Be sure to see Ron Straka's exhibition '80' which can be seen at the Rockport Art Association through April 9, 2015. Please join with us here at the North Shore Arts Association in wishing Ron a happy 80th birthday and many happy returns of the day!


  1. Great article. "find joy in what you do artistically..", the secret to staying young at heart.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Ron is an inspiration in so many ways!


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