Boston Foundation announces second group of Brother Thomas Fellowships

Six local artists benefit from the generosity of a renowned ceramic artist

October 10, 2011

BOSTON – Today the Boston Foundation announced the second group of Brother Thomas Fellows – six local artists will receive no-strings-attached $15,000 fellowships from the Boston Foundation. The biennial fellowships are made possible by the Brother Thomas Fund, established at the Boston Foundation in 2007 to honor the legacy of Brother Thomas Bezanson, a Benedictine monk and ceramic artist credited with elevating the status of ceramics from craft to fine art in the United States with the extraordinary quality of his work and his artistic vision.

The fund, which has been supplemented by grants from the Boston Foundation’s Permanent Fund for Boston, will help “struggling” artists, in keeping with the wishes of Brother Thomas. The individual fellowships are granted biennially. F. Javier Torres, Senior Program Officer at the Boston Foundation, led the review panel.

The 2011 Brother Thomas Fellows are:

    Sachiko Akiyama, a painter and sculptor, was born in New York of Japanese parents, and attributes the reserve reflected in her work to a Japanese sensibility. In her artist's statement, she cites ''belief in attaining knowledge not through action, but through silence, introspection, and passivity." Akiyama is an assistant professor of sculpture at Boston University College of Fine Arts. She holds a Bachelor of Art in Studio Art from Amherst College, a Master of Fine Art in Sculpture from Boston University and attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Akiyama is a resident of Boston’s Back Bay/South End neighborhood. Sachiko Akiyama’s website: .

    Angela Cunningham, a ceramic artist with a B.A. in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary and an M.F.A. in Ceramics from Pennsylvania State University, works as a full-time studio artist through Mudflat Studios in Somerville, MA. Cunningham has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Korean World Ceramic Bienniale and the Smithsonian Craft Show. She makes objects that beg to be touched, through exquisite detailing, seductive surfaces, and provocative imagery. Cunningham is a resident of Somerville. Angela Cunningham’s website: .

    David Valdes Greenwood, the author of three books: Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same Sex Marriage; A Little Fruitcake: A Childhood in Holidays (a Today Show Top-10 holiday books pick); and The Rhinestone Sisterhood. As a playwright, his work has been staged across the US and in the UK. A Huffington Post Parents blogger, he has been a columnist for AOL and Boston Globe Magazine. Valdes Greenwood is a resident of Arlington. David Valdes Greenwood’s website: .

    Wendy Jehlen, a choreographer, incorporates elements of a wide range of styles. Jehlen has studied South Indian dance forms since childhood. While an undergraduate at Brown University, she was introduced to West African dance and a wide-range of modern and contemporary dance styles. Jehlen also works with deaf performers and poets, and uses American Sign Language poetry in her choreography. Jehlen's emotionally powerful choreography has been performed in the US, Europe, India and Japan. She holds a Bachelors in Storytelling, Ritual and Performance from Brown University and a Master’s degree of Theological Studies in Religion and Performance from Harvard University. Jehlen is a resident of Somerville. Wendy Jehlen’s website: .

    Chandra Dieppa Ortiz received her B.A. from Florida State University, a Post-Baccalaureate degree in Painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a Master’s degree of Science in Art Education from MassArt. She works in an inter-related series of paintings, mixed media collage, assemblage and works on paper that explore the historical and contemporary use of storytelling. Ortiz uses Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop to create complex rhythmic compositions where fragments, symbols and images play against textured surfaces. Her work explores issues of race, class, gender and culture and creates a dialogue between communities and generations. Ortiz is a resident of Boston’s Back Bay/South End neighborhood. Chandra Dieppa Ortiz’s website: .

    Robert Todd, a filmmaker interested in “non-fictional material poetry,” has produced a steady stream of short films that refuse to be categorized. His work has been shown in several countries and has received a number of awards. In his series of film poems, the filmmaker and artist confronts romantic notions of places and social interests. Todd never storyboards; rather he creates his films from a library of footage, almost all of which he's shot himself. "I shoot it in response to what's in front of me," he says. "I put myself in a location where I might get something, but I don't know what." Todd is a resident of Jamaica Plain. Robert Todd’s website: .

Panelists who collaborated with the Boston Foundation to help select the 2011 Brother Thomas Fellows included individuals from community based and landmark cultural institutions in the Greater Boston area with multidisciplinary expertise.

“We are delighted to recognize these extraordinary artists with a Brother Thomas Fellowship,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “We know that exposure to arts and culture can improve educational outcomes and support development, and is extremely important to the Massachusetts economy. Beyond that, the arts provide us with a sense of who we are and unify us across all barriers. With this fellowship and Brother Thomas’ legacy, these artists can enrich their communities and our Commonwealth.”

Brother Thomas was a pioneer in pottery who lived for much of his adult life as a lay member of religious communities – first in a monastery in Vermont and later in a convent in Erie, Pennsylvania – and created works that are currently included in over 80 museums and a host of private collections. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston owns 16 of his works and was one of the first major museums to recognize the extraordinary quality of his ceramic art. Other ties to Boston include a long-term relationship with Bernard and Suzanne Pucker, owners of the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street, who represented Brother Thomas.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of $733 million. In Fiscal Year 2010, the Foundation and its donors made more than $82 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of close to $83 million. The Foundation is made up of some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges. For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.