Michael Prettyman: Religion / Writing

Michael Prettyman

Religion / Writing

B.A., September 2012

Home College:  Hunter

Faculty Mentors:  Prof. Roni Natov, English, Brooklyn College and Prof. Barbara Sproul, Religion, Hunter

Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow

CUNY BA – International Foundation for Study Abroad Scholarship

Bertha and Phillip Goodman Short Story Award

Tessie K. Sharps Nonfiction Prize

Dean’s Certificate for Academic Excellence

Dean’s List

Artist Michael Prettyman came to CUNY BA as an adult returning student with a wealth of experience, from working as a Project Manager at Silverhill Atelier and Exhibit Specialist at the Bronx Zoo, to being the Director of the Central Florida Greenpeace Office and Director of Continuing Education at The New York Academy of Art Graduate School.  By the time he applied to CUNY BA, he had worked as a painter for twenty years, with a number of important commissions under his belt – he has painted murals in New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany, and has had gallery shows in New York City, Hong Kong and Barcelona.

Missing from this impressive resume:  an undergraduate degree.

During the 1980s, he attended college in Florida, about which he says “I had no idea who I was and less of an idea my place in the world.  In my first attempt at college, I had a wide variety of interests, none of which involved going to class or studying.  My 1.8 grade point average says a lot about my academic intensity level at that time.”  In 2009, he found CUNY BA and was accepted to Kingsborough Community College.  He starting taking his courses at Brooklyn and Hunter Colleges and has since achieved a 4.0 average with well over a dozen courses completed.

In CUNY BA he has chosen to pursue concentrations in Writing and Religion to help him better express narratives of mythology and religion in his art.  As one example of this, in a Religion Honors Seminar at Hunter, he worked on thangkas, Tibetan images of meditational deities used to prepare the believer to “die before you die,” to understand what is eternal about oneself and prepare to relinquish one’s mortal being.

In 2010, he was awarded a CUNY BA Scholarship to Study Abroad for a full semester.  He went to Nepal to study Buddhism, thangkas, and life in the Himalayan mountain range.  There he completed, in addition to thangka paintings, a 3-credit independent study in poetry for which he produced over 20 pages of long and short form poems to describe the sights and sensations of trekking in the mountains. One of these treks included climbing to Annapurna Base Camp, an arduous two week trek through snow and ice to 4130 meters.  His account of this trek (which included his sleeping assignment next to a buffalo) was awarded the Tessie K. Sharps Prize for Non Fiction Writing.

He also spent 10 days in silent prayer and meditation in a Buddhist Monastery, which he wrote about for a 30-page non-fiction manuscript.  His trip was not limited to art, writing and religion alone; with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, he visited with Americans being held in the Central Prison, bringing them supplies, companionship, and news from the outside world. With the help of his Religion mentor, Professor Barbara Sproul, he has kept in contact with the American prisoners, and more importantly with their families left behind in the U.S.

Prettyman has created rain forest and dolphin dioramas for the American Museum of Natural History, painted murals at The New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo.  He spent the summer of 2011 creating a 50-foot-tall hanging scale model of the solar system for a Canadian astrophysicist.  “Scientists and artists often feel the same enthusiasm for the truth and beauty found natural world, but they have different ways of expressing their discoveries.  In my work, I’m trying to convey not just the discoveries of science but also that sense of truth and wonder I and the scientists both feel.  It’s there whether we are discussing how to paint a T-Rex defending her young or how, exactly, does a dolphin break the surface of the ocean?  If we do our work right, the museum going public will feel our excitement, too.”  Closer to home, he recently designed a mural for New York City high school students and AmeriCorps volunteers to paint on Van Brunt and Wolcott Streets in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Prettyman is excited about the digital future of storytelling.  In an Advanced Seminar in Writing, Prettyman worked on a story that could be viewed on a Kindle or webpage.  The story’s main characters are based on the Hindu concept of Maya, or illusion, and are trapped in a bar during a snowstorm.  The story is conveyed through a computer-animated snowstorm that drifts through and obscures the text in places, helping the reader relate to the characters’ experience. It is viewable online at http://www.embassylane.com/santa/.

Upon graduating, Prettyman was hired as an adjunct instructor by the Religion department at Hunter.  He is also still working with Profs. Adluri and Raver, Religion, Hunter on a Regent’s Research Fellowship to translate and interpret major Hindu texts from the original Sanskrit.