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 Success and Passion

School of Fine Arts Honors Four with 2009 Society of Prometheans Award

Each year UMD School of Fine Arts (SFA) honors accomplished alumni and friends with its Society of Prometheans award. In Greek myth, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. This award recognizes those "who have demonstrated success and passion in their chosen professions and contributed to the success of UMD School of Fine Arts programs." This year's recipients, honored at a ceremony in October, were jazz musician Erwin (Bernie) Bernstein; UMD professor and artist Cheng-Khee Chee; Tweed Museum of Art patron Alice B. O' Connor; and actress and vocalist Suzanne Warmanen. "These individuals have dedicated their lives to the arts, and we are thrilled to be able to acknowledge their accomplishments. Their talent and dedication to their various endeavors is truly commendable, and they are an inspiration to all of us in the School of Fine Arts, " said Jack Bowman, Dean of SFA.

Erwin (Bernie) Bernstein

Bernie Bernstein
Erwin (Bernie) Bernstein
Bernie Bernstein has been a vital contributor to both the Duluth jazz community and UMD's jazz program. As a musician, he has performed with many prominent orchestras, bands, and artists throughout the United States. He has been a leader in establishing two of the Duluth area’s most important jazz ensembles. Through his continued enthusiasm and support for jazz education, he has been an inspiration for students, faculty, and staff of the UMD music department. He received the Society of Prometheans award from Theodore A. Shoen, Music Department Head.

Born and raised in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Bernstein became fascinated by his local Boy Scout troop's drum and bugle corp when he was ten years old. He attended rehearsals and wanted to join, but was too young. At the age of eleven, the scoutmaster gave him a bugle to take home. Bernstein quickly learned to play it and soon he was the top bugler for the corps. He helped to start a swing band in high school. During summer vacations, Bernstein played in a carnival traveling band and on paddleboat excursions.

After graduating high school in 1943, Bernstein joined the Navy and played at many Naval bases. After the war, he earned his undergraduate degree in the University of Minnesota’s Music Education program. He went on to earn his masters degree in music as well. Bernstein taught music at a number of public schools, then began selling cars during the summer months. Eventually he left teaching and teamed up with Jack Krenzen. Together the two men transformed struggling auto dealerships in the Twin Cities area, then went on to do the same in Duluth.

With Duluth as his new home, Bernstein quickly became an important trumpet player in the area and helped to build two renowned big bands, the Northshore Big Band and the Big Time Jazz Orchestra. Bernstein retired from the Krenzen dealership in 1988, but continued to buying cars at auction for the dealership until 2001. Krenzen honored Bernstein with an endowment in his name to the University of Minnesota Duluth Music Department for a scholarship in Jazz Studies. Bernstein continues to reside in Duluth, supporting musicians, learning more about music, and enjoying family with his wife, Fran.

Cheng-Khee Chee

Cheng-Khee Chee
Cheng-Khee Chee (center) with SFA Dean Jack Bowman (left) and Art+Design Department Head Jim Klueg (right)

Cheng-Khee Chee is a UMD faculty emeritus with an international reputation in watercolor painting and book illustration. His work has appeared in juried exhibitions and captured over 200 honors, including the American Watercolor Society Silver Medal, Allied Artists of America Gold Medal, and Knickerbocker Artists USA Grand Award Gold Medal and Purchase Prize for Excellence. His one-man shows include a 1987 China tour exhibition and 1997 exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. An exceptionally gifted illustrator, Chee illustrated the best-selling book, Old Turtle, written by Douglas Wood and published in 1990, which received numerous awards, including the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award in 1993.

Born in China, Chee received his Bachelor of Art degree from Nanyang University in Singapore and his Masters Degree in Library Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. During the day, Chee pursued his career as a Librarian at the University of Minnesota-Duluth; at night he developed his skills and ideas in watercolor. In 1979, Cheng-Khee began teaching watercolor painting. He retired from his career as a librarian and art professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1994 to pursue his artwork on a full-time basis.

Chee credits his wife, Sing-Bee, for much of his success. According to his biography, The Watercolor World of Cheng-Khee Chee, when he received the Grand Prize Gold Medal and Purchase Award at the Knickerbocker Artists' 1993 Annual International Exhibition, he asked Sing-Bee to join him at the podium and said, '. . . if I have any ability at all, I owe that to my wife, Sing-Bee. She encourages and makes time for me to paint to develop my ability. Our neighbors felt sorry for her because she was the one who took out the garbage, mowed the lawn, raked the leaves, shoveled the snow, and drove the car, but she performed these chores with joy in her heart, because she wanted me to have more time to paint. We share our vision, and we chase our dreams together.' He then handed her the prize. Cheng-Khee Chee and his family have generously endowed the UMD Art Scholarship that bears his name, assisting art students in their studies at UMD.

Alice B. O'Connor

Alice O'Connor
Alice B. O'Connor

Alice B. O' Connor has demonstrated wisdom, passion, and commitment to the arts by distinguishing herself as a patron in support of the Tweed Museum of Art, its programs, and exhibiting artists. Through her long-standing leadership role in development on the Tweed Board of Advisors, she has championed the Tweed collection and garnered community support for its preservation, interpretation, and display. Her diligent focus on perpetuating the community-museum demonstrates her commitment to supporting and maintaining the art-educational vision founded by her grandmother and namesake, Alice Tweed Tuohy, and continued by her mother, Louise Tweed Brickson. She received the Society of Prometheans award from Kenneth L. Bloom, Director of the Tweed Museum.

O'Connor grew up surrounded by art. The collection that her grandparents, George Tweed and Alice Tweed Tuohy, amassed was part of her childhood. Art work adorned the walls of their house and later, her mother and father had a number of pieces in their home. O'Connor has made sure that all of those pieces are now in the collection of the Tweed Museum of Art at UMD.

She has served on the Tweed Museum Advisory Board for many years and has, for the past two years, served as the Development Committee chair. With her leadership, they successful raised the funds needed to construct and install the display case that houses the Richard E. and Dorothy Rawlings Nelson Collection of American Indian Art at the Tweed. Currently, she is helping with the Tweed's collection inventory, a volunteer job which allows her to view pieces she recalls from her childhood.

O'Connor grew up in Duluth and was educated at the Duluth Teacher's College Lab school. After graduating from Wheaton College and spending a number of years on the east coast, she returned to Minnesota. For about ten years, she owned and operated a business in Minneapolis called Needlework Unlimited. The rest of her life she describes as being "a wife, mother of two sons, now grandmother of four (soon to be five) and an insatiable volunteer in the community of Minneapolis and surrounding area." She has held numerous board positions with such organizations as the Edina Hockey Association, Junior League of Minneapolis and is a current member of the Assistance League of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Her commitment to volunteering her time and skills is unrelenting. The Tweed Museum of Art is fortunate to enjoy the benefit of her stewardship and dedication.

Suzanne Warmanen

Suzanne Warmanen
Suzanne Warmanen (holding this year's Society of Prometheans award) with Theatre Department Head, Patricia Dennis (right).

Suzanne Warmanen is an actress and singer who graduated from UMD in 1991 with a double major in music and theatre. She went on to attend the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities where she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting in 1994.

Since then, Warmanen has performed in numerous productions at the Guthrie Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Illusion Theater, Theatre Latte Da, and others. Most recently, she appeared in the Guthrie Theater's production of The Importance of Being Ernest. She has coached and taught both Acting and Voice at the University of Minnesota, the Guthrie Theater, and Bay View Theater.

Warmanen appeared in the independent film, Herman, U.S.A. about 78 eligible bachelors from a small Minnesota town who advertise for female companionship. When women from 37 states and four foreign countries arrive, the men's lives are changed forever. She has done voice-over work and is a member of Actors Equity Association and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Warmanen sings professionally and released a vocal CD in 2006 entitled All Around Woman. Her style is bluesy and soulful. She is currently working on her second vocal CD.




Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
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