Ringing College of Art and Design stands as a creative cluster of classrooms framing Sarasota’s northern border. Innovative for its time, Ringling was the brainchild of Dr. Ludd M. Spivey, then president of Southern College (which is today called Southern College of Lakeland).
Spivey wanted to open an art school in Sarasota as a branch of Southern College. He approached John Ringling for financial support, but was met with resistance. Mr. Ringling didn’t want to support Southern College; he had hopes of opening his own art school. Unfortunately, the point was moot – at the time, Mr. Ringling faced financial strain and was close to bankruptcy.
But with persistence and negotiation, the school became a reality. John Ringling allowed the use of his and Mable’s name – lending credibility and influence – and he also agreed to help raise the funds needed to renovate the buildings that would house the school.
In October 1931, The School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum officially opened as a branch of Southern College. Progressive from the onset, Ringling College owns the bragging rights to having Dr. Laura Ganno- McNeil as one of their original faculty members. Ganno, hired as Ringling’s professor of Biology and general sciences, was the first woman in the United States to obtain a Ph.D.
Two years after its opening, a quasi-scandal caused an upset. Funds obtained through Sarasota’s School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum were being diverted to pay for faculty salaries in the Lakeland school. This stirred up the Sarasota staff who wrote to John Ringling requesting the school be disassociated from Southern College. John Ringling contacted the art school’s president, Verman Kimbraugh, and together they devised a solution, resulting in The Ringling School of Art as a charter and independent, non-profit organization in 1933. Though it opened as both a junior college and art school, within a year the decision was made to focus solely on art.
Ranked in 2014 by Animation Career Review as #7 among The Top 100 Schools in the U.S. for Animation, Gaming, and Design, Ringling is a national leader. Graduates are in high demand, sought after by all the large studios, including Pixar and Disney. It’s easy to see why Ringling alumni are often listed as part of the animation teams that create Academy-Award-winning films. Most recently, twenty-eight alumni were recognized for their work on Disney’s Big Hero 6.
AT THE HEAD OF THE CLASS
FEMME ROUGE wanted to learn about he students who attend Ringling. Among the talented group, three stars stood out for their achievements. We wanted find out what drew them from around the globe to study here.
➤ Zerina Islamović
Hometown: Lukavac, Bosnia
Major: Interior Design, Third Year
Standout Accomplishment: Designed a piece chosen as the official graphic for the Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival
After only one week of high school, Bosnian student Zerina Islamović came home and informed her parents she wasn’t going back. “I told them I was leaving to go to art school,” says Islamović. Though a student graduating from art school would most likely resign herself to a life of a “starving artist,” Islamović’s parents were supportive, allowing her to leave home to attend Građevinsko-Geodetska Škola in Tuzla, Bosnia for two years. There, she fell in love with art and design.
In Tuzla, Islamović had another shift in thinking. “I told my parents I wanted to go to United World College in Mostar,” she laughs. (Mostar is a city in southern Bosnia, about 3.5 hours away from Tuzla.) Islamović applied to the school and was accepted on scholarship. She spent the next two years in Mostar, graduating in 2012. “While there, I met a student who went to Ringling. I remember dreaming of being able to go there one day.”
After graduating from from UWC, Islamović turned her attention to fulfilling that dream. She applied for the Shelby Davis Scholarship, open to graduates of UWC who would like to study in the U.S. As a student, Islamovíc had participated in many international projects, including CAMPUS 15, an organization that supports youth welfare and Egyptian Village, an orphanage helping 4 to 12-year-old children. Her experience made her stand out among other applicants, and she was awarded a full tuition to Ringling through the Shelby Davis Scholarship. “It really was a dream come true. I applied to ten colleges and was accepted by five, but I knew I wanted Ringling,” she says.
A student of Interior Design, Islamović also enjoys illustration. As an advocate for Human and Civil Rights and Social Action, she illustrated a piece she titled International Woman. Her English teacher at Ringling saw it and encouraged her to submit it to the Sarasota Film Festival. She did – and her piece was chosen as the official graphic for the Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival, an event sponsored by the Gulf Coast Chapter of the US National Committee for UN Women in partnership with the Sarasota Film Festival. USNC UN Woman also invited Islamović to speak to a group of 125 women at the Polo Grill in an event honoring International Women’s Day. Islamović graduates from Ringling in 2016. From there, she intends to get her Master’s Degree in Germany. With all she has accomplished so far, we have little doubt that she will achieve her goal.
➤ Brenna Thummler
Hometown: Meadville, Pennsylvania
Major: Illustration, Fourth Year
Standout Accomplishment: Selected as sole winner of the Society of Illustrators in NYC Zankel Scholarship
“I remember when I was young, I would draw portraits of myself as mermaids and princesses,” says Brenna Thummler. As she approached high school, this quiet teen from Meadville, Pennsylvania struggled with an answer when teachers and guidance counselors asked about her plans for college. “I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life,” says Thummler. “Drawing was always just a hobby.” Her school offered a career program where students could spend half the day learning creative arts. Thummler applied, was accepted, and participated, thinking that graphic design was where her career was headed.
“Our first major project was to reproduce a professional illustration,” says Thummler. “I realized rather than graphic design, drawing is my passion.” Thummler says illustrating allows her to be a storyteller. She researched schools and when she realized the opportunities Ringling alumni received, she applied.
Through art, she can connect to a person’s emotions. She does her illustrations traditionally – drawing them all by pencil and digitizing them only once the drawings are complete. This method established her personal voice and she’s garnered attention for her work. Recently, Thummler won the Zankel Scholarship, a prestigious award with a large scholarship attached to it.
“The Society of Illustrators in NYC selects a single illustration junior in the United States,” says Thummler. A school can nominate five students, who each send their portfolio in as a submission. Five judges select three students from all the entries and fly the students to New York for an interview and portfolio review. Thummler was thrilled to be chosen as one of the three, but amazed when she was offered the winning scholarship. She’s on a trajectory to remain successful in her field. “My goal is to work for a greeting card company, and do freelance editorial and children’s book work in my free time,” she says. “I know that’s a way I can use my illustrations to connect with people. It gives me the structure of specific projects, but allows me the freedom to be creative.”
➤ Diana Hye Jung Han
Hometown: Torrance, California
Major: Illustration, Fourth Year
Standout Accomplishment: Part of a team from Ringling that won Disney’s Imagineering competition, resulting in an internship.
“When I was young, I was quiet and shy,” says Han. “My preschool teacher recommended I start art classes, and I’ve been drawing ever since.” Representatives from Ringling came to her high school in Torrance, California. She liked what she heard, applied, and was awarded the Presidential Scholarship, worth $80,000.
Han met an alumnus of Ringling who worked at Imagineering for Disney. She realized the career opportunities and asked the best way to land a job there. “I was told I needed to enter Disney’s Imagineering contest.” says Han, “but Ringling had never entered the contest.”
She returned to school in the fall, and went to work building a team for the competition: herself, Elizabeth Fox, John McDonald and Josh Newton. “It was always John’s dream to work with Imagineering. He knew everything about it: the history the people, the rides. He really helped our team understand what we needed to do as far as illustration and conception.” They began conceptualizing their ideas in August 2014, working extraordinary hours on top of their regular course load for Ringling. In December they learned they were finalists, securing their spot to be flown to California to make a presentation to the Imagineering judges. They knew their winter break would be spent making changes for final improvements to their project.
“Then, the weekend we found out we had made the finals, I broke my wrist,” says Han. “I worked around it the best I could, but ended up going to the competition with a broken wrist.”
Despite the setback, Han and the rest of the team from Ringling took first place. “Because of that, I received an internship at Imagineering,” says Han. “My plan is to work hard so eventually I get the job I dreamed I’d have.”
➤ Elizabeth Fox
Hometown: Wesley Chapel, Florida
Major: Interior Design with a Minor in Business of Art & Design, Third Year
Standout Accomplishment: Head of a team from Ringling that won Disney’s Imagineering competition, resulting in an internship.
By the time Elizabeth Fox was in sixth grade, she knew she wanted to be an interior designer. “When I got to high school, I felt so different from other students. I remember telling my guidance counselor I wanted to go to Ringling but needed a portfolio,” says Fox. “She looked at me and asked what a portfolio is.”
Fox comes from a family of do-ityourselfers, with a grandfather who is a contractor. The exposure to all steps of design helped her realize her dream job. Though she knew she wanted to attend Ringling, the price tag was a problem. “My mom is an accountant. She sat me down with a spreadsheet to show how much it would cost in books, meals, room and board and interest on student loans,” says Fox. “That made me realize I really needed to work to get scholarships.”
Fox said she applied for – and won – the Presidential Scholarship. “It took a lot of courage to even apply,” says Fox. “It was the first time I put myself out there – a girl from a small town, competing against students from all over the world.” Fox remembers opening the acceptance letter that announced she had won the scholarship. Tuition and school costs would be covered for one year. “I sat down and cried,” says Fox. “My mom started shouting, ‘I told you! I knew you could do it!’”
Fox continues to find ways to lower her school costs. She is a resident assistant, which helps cover housing and meal plans. She also continues to be courageous and put herself “out there,” hoping for an opportunity. As head of the team that won the Imagineering contest (with Diana Hye Jung Han), she, too, earned an internship at their headquarters in Glendale, CA.
Working in collaboration with the creative people at Ringling has confirmed to Fox she made the right educational choice. “I love working with so many people toward the same goal,” says Fox. She looks forward to a career that allows her to do it every day as she realizes her childhood dream.