top of page

Blog Posts...

Rhona Gross and The University of the Arts (part 1 of 5)

When Richard Amsel attended The University of the Arts from 1965-1969, it was then known as The Philadelphia College of Art. It’s one of the oldest schools for art and music in the United States, and Amsel’s time there was fruitful not only in his development as an artist, but the meteoric rise of his career. He was still an undergraduate when he won the nationwide contest held by 20th Century-Fox for the HELLO, DOLLY! poster campaign, and only 21 years old.


In editing the documentary, I felt it best to feature this period at the start of the film, rather than use the all too familiar chronological tropes. Amsel’s early childhood and family upbringing will instead be peppered throughout the film, as we learn more and more about the artist’s life and certain revelations come to light.


Amsel graduated in 1969 – 55 years ago! – and I consider myself fortunate to have filmed testimonials from five different people from his art school days. I’m also very happy to share that they’re all still with us.


First of these interviews was with Rhona Gross, one of Amsel’s classmates. We filmed in her home outside of Charlotte, NC, back in the summer of 2017. Gross recalled warm stories of how open and approachable Amsel was with his fellow students, and how everyone marveled at his talent. She also detailed how challenging the school’s art program was – in many ways, it represented a trial by fire – and resulted in a high dropout rate among students after the first year.

She also described the joy she felt watching Amsel’s career throughout the years, and her heartbreak upon learning of his death from AIDS complications. Gross didn’t hold back her disgust and fury in the indifference of the Reagan administration, and the blatant, rampant homophobia of that time.


For those who’ve seen our film’s teaser trailer, it is Gross’ voice that closes the video: “When he passed away, the reason for illustration may have passed with him…”


I’ll write more soon about the other testimonials I’ve filmed regarding The University of the Arts. In the meantime, I can’t help but look back on that summer trip. It proved both extremely productive yet bittersweet. I crammed more interviews into one week than in any other throughout the whole production: two in North Carolina, two in Pennsylvania, and three in New York. It demanded a lot of driving, long hours, and an unhealthy, excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks.


When it was over, I was exhausted, and spent several days visiting my father at his home in Pennsylvania. It would be the last time I’d see him alive, and I can’t help but feel pangs of guilt for not having made more time for him. So much of our lives are spent in a frenzied rush to get from one place to the next, to finish one thing after another, that we lose sight of staying still.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page