19 Feb


Announcement was made over the weekend that classes were cancelled in the main building at Pratt Institute. A four alarm fire had swept the main building of Pratt’s Brooklyn campus, the day after Valentine’s Day gutting not only the building but the work visionary students were inspired to create. Projects were lost in the flames.

The Main Building at Pratt Institute, the first building at Pratt, was built in 1887 by Hugo Lamb and Charles A. Rich. The Main Building was constructed of brick in the Romanesque revival style. Within hours of the fire gutting the historic building, an email was sent out from the office of Pratt Institute’s president, Thomas Schutte seeking donations earmarked “In Honor Of” “Main Building.” Pratt has an endowment of $73.5 million. Pratt has insurance. What insurance do students have? What is the coverage for the loss of students works, sweat, dreams and thesis.

Pratt’s beginnings were humble, Pratt the man, that is. Charles Pratt was a visionary, a self made man. Paints were part of Pratt’s beginning. Charles Pratt’s mission was “to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society.” Charles Pratt established his namesake private college in 1887. Pratt’s Institute, the school, was Charles Pratt’s example to students on how to ‘give back.’  The mission of Charles Pratt’s Institute was to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society.  Pratt had founded and funded Pratt Institute in 1886.   Pratt recognized the need for industrial workers. The economy was changing. Pratt decided he would train workers to meet the need. The school Motto, “Be true to your work and your work will be true to you,” is inscribed inside the seal of the Institute. School colors were black and yellow, not just any color of yellow. This was an arts school. Cadmium yellow. Pratt’s mascot is The Cannoneer.

The first classes were held at Pratt in 1887. The first day of class was October 17th to be exact. A grand total of twelve students enrolled for the drawing class. Six of the students wanted to learn freehand drawing. Six of the students wanted to learn mechanical drawing. Pratt Institute’s future as an Arts & Industry college was divined. A teacher expressed concern over having only twelve students enrolled. Charles Pratt was practical, and a visionary. Pratt said “ if we do right by the twelve, we may have thirteen next week and if we do right by the thirteen, we may have fourteen the week after and that is the way to grow.” Five months later, March 1988, three hundred and seven students were enrolled in classes that had expanded beyond drawing to include sewing, stenography, plus. By fall of the next year over fifteen hundred students were attending Pratt.

Pratt’s way forward designed itself, in a matter of speaking. By 1924, the Department of Household Arts, a sign of the times, was invited to host Pratt’s First Annual Fashion Show at Wanamaker’s Department Store. Wanamaker’s sponsored the fashion show. All items used in the fashion items had to be sponsored at Wanamakers, making, if you think of it Pratt the architect of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum’s PROJECT RUNWAY, albeit decades earlier.

Courses and curriculums morphed with the times, over the years. Presidents of the college came and went, each bringing and leaving their own signature on the historic college with notable alumni in multiple and varying fields of the arts. Thomas Schutte, Pratt’s 11th President stepped on board to lead the college in 1993. Schutte came to Pratt after a string of leading the helm at other art colleges. Schutte was president of the Philadelphia College of Art, and at the Rhode Island School of Design. Pratt was in financial straits when Schutte arrived. The economy was in difficult times. College costs and college enrollment were impacted adversely. Schutte met the challenge of moving Pratt forward.

Eighteen years later, Schutte guided Pratt to secure its role as one of the largest colleges, in the world, for studying art, design and architecture. Pratt, a member of AICAD, Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, offers courses in Architecture, Graphic Design, Fine Art, History of Art and Design, Industrial design, architecture, graphic design, Fine Art, History of Art and Design, Digital Arts, Creative Writing, Library and Information Science and other areas. AICA is a consortium of thirty six private art schools in the United States. www.pratt.edu News sources report Pratt being in the top ten schools in academic and industry surveys. US News & World Report reported Pratt Institute is #1 Interior Design, #4 Industrial Design,  #9 Graphic Design, #9 Architecture by Design Intelligence and #15 Fine Arts according to US News & World Report. In 2007, Pratt received more applications than any other art school in the country with 4,400 applications for 585 freshman spots. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked Pratt as one out of more than 600 private institutions of top value for academic quality and affordability with Pratt being the only college specializing in art and design included on the publication’s 2010-2011 list of the top 100 best value private college and universities. 

Pratt dominates 125 acres in the Clinton Hill, Brooklyn residential Campus, home to the Library, Dekalb Hall, ISC Building, Main Building, North Hall, East  Building, Student Union, Memorial Hall, Machinery Building, Chemistry Building, Engineering Building, Pratt Studios, Steuben Hall, and the ARC building. Pratt is located between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on the south side of the block, closest to Seventh Avenue. Near enough by is the School of Architecture housed in Higgins Hall. The digital arts programs are in Myrtle Hall. Pratt Manhattan Center houses Pratt’s School of Information and Library Science and the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, as well as a satellite campus in Utica New York. The Brooklyn campus closes its gates in the evening. The Willoughby Avenue main gate is guarded by security 24 hours a day. The Clinton- Washington Avenues subway station is near enough by.

Pratt was listed on to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. There are thirty six buildings in Pratt Institute’s historic district. The buildings were built between 1885 and 1936. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers named Pratt Institute a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark. The oldest continuously operating, privately owned, steam-powered electrical generating plant in the United States of America is located at Pratt Institute. The first free public library in Brooklyn, designed by William Tubby, was opened at Pratt Institute in 1888, open to students and non students. The building was decorated by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

Charles Pratt, the founder of Pratt Institute, was born in Watertown, Massachusetts. Pratt was one of eleven children. Pratt was born October 2 1830 to a carpenter from Massachusetts. Pratt scraped a few dollars together, here and there. Charles Pratt was educated in the public school at the Wilbraham Academy. Pratt spent three winters as a student at Wesleyan Academy. Times were tough. The future philanthropist often had only a dollar a week to live on. Pratt moved to New York in 1850. In 1855, Pratt married Harriet, the daughter of John A. Sanford. Pratt was comfortable with large families. He had eight children. Pratt established the Charles Pratt and Co. firm in 1867. Pratt specialized in paints and oils. Charles Pratt, an early pioneer of the natural Oil industry in the United States. Pratt recognizing the potential replacement of whale oil with natural oil for lighting purposes became a pioneer in the natural oil industry. Pratt founded <a title="Astral Oil Works, Greenpoint, a section of Greenpoint. The company began to refine crude oil at Greenpoint, New York. New wells were established in western Pennsylvania in the 1860’s. The company marketed their product, globally, as an illuminant. When the company split, Charles Pratt owned the oil business and turned it into the most successful such company in Brooklyn. Pratt merged his part of the company merged into the Standard oil company in 1874. Pratt became an officer of Standard Oil. Pratt, a practical and successful farmer, was a Free Mason for twenty-five years, identified with the Chapter and Commandery Lodge. Charles Pratt was a Council member from 1923 until his death in 1939. As Pratt’s fortunes increased, he became a colorful figure in Brooklyn. Charles Pratt supported institutions around Brooklyn. Amongst the institutions Pratt supported were the Adelphi Academy and the Emmanuel Baptist Church.

Pratt’s education was limited. Charles dreamed of founding an institution of higher learning where pupils could learn trades through the skillful use of their hands. Charles opened Pratt Institution four years before he died, setting matters up so Pratt Institute receives its support from the Astral flats, built by him, then conveyed to Pratt Institute. Pratt’s son, Frederic Bayley Pratt, took over his father’s dream. Pratt’s grandson, Charles Pratt II, became a famous photographer, publishing several books of photographs and prose. The Garden and the Wilderness, Here on the Island, Edge of the City, The Rocky Coast, and a childrens book called At Night. Pratt’s great-grandson Andy Pratt was born in Boston. Andy’s father Edwin H Baker Pratt was headmaster of Buckingham Browne & Nichols. Edward was a singer-songwriter. Historic Preservationist Anne Van Ingen, great granddaughter of Pratt Institute’s founder, Charles Pratt, was named to the Board of Trustees, keeping the Pratt legacy burning.

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