Dennis Kuronen, artist, educator

Posted: February 10, 2010

For 10 years, from Feb. 1 to 14, artist Dennis Kuronen created whimsical Valentines for his two daughters and hid them around their Glenside home.

This year, he was too ill to make them. Instead, his daughters, now teenagers, continued the tradition.

Mr. Kuronen, 62, a sculptor, graphic designer, and educator, died Saturday at home of pancreatic cancer. His memorial service will be held Sunday, Valentine's Day.

For his February ritual, Mr. Kuronen started out making small paper cards, his wife said.

Over the years, she said, the Valentines progressed into more elaborate sculptural images, such as matchsticks glued to a wood plaque in the shape of a heart and a miniature hatchet next to a carved-out heart on a wood plaque.

Mr. Kuronen joined the faculty of Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, now Philadelphia University, in 1994. He was founding director of the graphic and digital design and digital animation programs and was interim dean of the School of Design and Media.

He initiated a partnership with the Altos de Chavon School of Design in the Dominican Republic that gave Philadelphia University graphic design students the opportunity to study in the Caribbean during spring break.

"Words are not sufficient to express the enormous respect and professional admiration I have had for Dennis Kuronen," said Stephen Spinelli Jr., president of Philadelphia University. "We have lost a superlative teacher, administrator, and friend."

Former Philadelphia University president James Gallagher recalled that at the interview when he was hired, Mr. Kuronen said he would take the school's design program to a new level and "create a transformational program for the university and most of all for the students."

Mr. Kuronen was a partner in the design firm of Kuronen + Michaels with his wife, Rebecca Michaels. His art is in collections around the country, including at the Sioux City (Iowa) Art Center and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb.

In 1994, he received a commission from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for a permanent outdoor sculpture, which was installed near Philadelphia International Airport.

From 1979 until 1994, Mr. Kuronen was a graphic arts instructor at Beaver College, now Arcadia University, and he chaired the school's art department from 1988 to 1993. In 1984, his sculpture Delta Series, an 8-foot cube of wood painted black with triangles at both ends, was included in an exhibit at the school.

Last September, Mr. Kuronen had a solo exhibit at Arcadia of his large photos and paintings.

Mr. Kuronen grew up in Sturgis, S.D., and earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of South Dakota. He lived in India for a year before earning a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Nebraska.

He then was an art director for firms in Rapid City, S.D., and taught graphic design at Kansas State University from 1977 to 1979.

Mr. Kuronen played the guitar and harmonica and kept several musical instruments in his office. He often invited faculty and students to join him in jam sessions, his wife said.

In addition to his wife of 18 years, Mr. Kuronen is survived by daughters Jessica and Natassia; a son, Steffen; a brother; a sister; and his former wife, Patricia Goddard.

A memorial celebration is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Kanbar Campus Center, Philadelphia University, 4201 Henry Ave., Philadelphia.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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