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Painting memorializes one of CSU's best

November 10, 2011
by Kendall Greenwood

Around a long wooden table, family and friends sat anxiously to start. Her mother, Mimi Hurtubis, brought pictures of everything she could find to explain what could not be put into words. They sat and waited to be enlightened on what Colorado State University would soon publicly recognize.

Visions of life

'Bone Marrow,' alumna Cynthia Hurtubis' vision of life, is located above the stairwell on the second floor of the Lory Student Center, north of the Duhesa Lounge. On Sept. 29, the University held a reception to unveil a painting done by Cynthia Hurtubis, a CSU alumna who painted her visions of life until she died from aplastic anemia in 2003 at the age of 37.

The painting, called Bone Marrow, was put on permanent display in the Lory Student Center to memorialize the successful graduate and local resident. The LSC is an ideal spot for the painting, says Peter Jacobs, emeritus professor of art

“Thousands of people will go by it every day,” Jacobs says.

The reception was a way for people close to Hurtubis to see her work being appreciated. Her parents, close friends, family, LSC staff, and faculty attended the event.

“We thought we could all go down there and see where it is hanging,” says Cathi Jacobs, Hurtubis’ life-long friend.

The real passion

Hurtubis graduated from CSU in 1988 with a bachelor’s in interior design and received her master’s from John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, Calif., in 2001. After graduating CSU, she moved to Los Angeles and continued working in interior design and computer-generated software for architecture until she could get back to painting, her real passion. “That was always at the heart of her, the painting,” Mimi says.  

Ed Hurtubis, Cynthia’s father, says these other jobs were a way for her to reach her goal to become an artist, and she was always determined to succeed.

“She was in the sidewalk art contest downtown when she was 10 years old. It was a chalk design for the Bicentennial,” Mimi says. “She spent hours on that sidewalk doing a detailed drawing of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I mean, it was just every window, every spire, every brick.”

Bone Marrow was chosen to be hung in the student center because it illustrates Hurtubis’ inspiration in her paintings. The painting is her vision of what she thought her body was doing to heal itself, says Cathi Jacobs, Hurtubis’ life-long friend.

A too-short life in the arts

This was not always her focus. The shift in inspiration occurred when she became sick.

“The ones she painted before she was ill are very realistic,” Mimi said. “They became very abstract even before she realized she was sick.”

In 1997, Hurtubis was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a disease in which bone marrow cannot reproduce sufficient blood cells for the body. The diagnosis was a surprise to her loved ones.

 “She was never sick,” Mimi said. “She didn’t even get the chicken pox when her two siblings did, so it was a real shock to know there was something wrong.”

In turn, her paintings shifted to the realistic vision of health in the body. When home visiting Cathi, Hurtubis asked her for a picture of what healthy cells looked like because she wanted to paint them.

Artistic challenge

“There was a lot of thought that went into her paintings before she started,” Cathi Jacobs said. “Her paintings are so much more than just a painting to enjoy.”

Healing is not the only goal in the paintings. As Peter Jacobs says, her artwork is created by her, but re-created by the viewer. The more her paintings are viewed, the more elements the viewer sees.

“I think she wanted to challenge the people who saw her work,” Ed says. “I have an engineering, or analytical, background, and it was definitely a challenge to try to understand and appreciate her work because it was completely out of my realm.”

Hurtubis has received many awards for her work including the Murphy Cadogen Award and the Jim Henre Award. She also was an inspiration to those around her.

When she died, local artists in the Benicia, Calif., area who knew her took many of her canvases and painted on them in memory of her life. John F. Kennedy University now has the Cynthia Marie Hurtubis Scholarship Fund, and she was instrumental in her goddaughter’s, Anne-Marie Kottenstette, decision to become an art major.

Her family is elated to have her paintings being honored in her home town.

“We feel it’s quite an honor and a privilege,” Mimi says. “It’s mind boggling.”

“I agree,” Ed says. “CSU is a very important part of her foundation.”