Prof. Emeritus Stephen Poleskie, a Renaissance man, dabbled in print-making, photography, writing and aerial theater.

January 29, 2020

International Artist and Acrobatic Pilot Prof. Stephen Poleskie Dies at 81

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Prof. Emeritus Stephen Poleskie, art — an internationally known artist and professor of 32 years — died on Dec. 21, 2019 in Ithaca. He was 81.

His studio art and screen printing classes were a constant in Tjaden Hall, greeting scores of students and introducing them to fine-art silk-screen printing until his retirement in 2000.

Largely a self-taught artist, Poleskie produced a diverse array of artwork — from paintings to photographs, landscapes to prints — over the course of half a century.

“Where did I learn how to screen print?” he said in a 2014 interview with the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. “Certainly not in a classroom, but from reading a book, a technical reference manual I got free at my local Sherwin-Williams paint store.”

Museums all over the globe and right in Ithaca now house his work.

Poleskie was also a prolific writer of fiction, nonfiction, art criticism and poetry. He was nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, which honors literary work published in small presses. A handmade book of his poetry, Sky, is included in the Rare Book Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Not only did Poleskie soar in the art and literary worlds, but he also became a professional flier. He was active in stunt flying as an aerobatic pilot, even winning many competitions, including the 1977 Canadian Open Aerobatic Championship.

Combining his backgrounds in art and flying, Poleskie developed his own art form in aerial theater, “making designs in the sky in performances often accompanied by musicians, dancers and parachutists,” according to the University.

The goal of performance was “to surround the viewers with a highly charged environment of movement and sound” and to “absorb the functions of drawing, sculpture, dance and theatre into the act of flying itself,” Poleskie wrote in a 2014 paper.

Poleskie is survived by his wife, novelist Jeanne Mackin.