Faculty Focus: Alison King


College of Fine Arts and Production

Alison King

Title: Assistant Professor

Years at GCU: 1.5

Academic degrees: 

B.A. in World Art History, Eugene Lang College

BFA in Illustration, Parsons School of Design

M.A. in Art Education, Teachers College at Columbia University

Faculty scholarship (publications, scholarly presentations, fellowships, etc.):

I’m a public scholar. I interpret design history in ways that are useful and accessible to citizens so they can live beautiful, connected lives.

I’m a frequent speaker at schools, museums, libraries, community groups and conferences and am often featured as a subject area expert on radio, podcasts and television. Most recently I was a keynote speaker on "The Art of Transformation" during Phoenix Design Week, sharing insights about teaching and learning in the arts. (GCU is a sponsor of phxdw.com.)

My most recent book is "Making Architecture," a monograph on the art of designing and building architecture in the desert Southwest, written and designed in collaboration with 180 Degrees Design + Build.  Most recent article is "Bauhaus Spirit, Sonoran Style" for Phoenix Home and Garden magazine, about the lasting influence of Germany’s Bauhaus school of design on the desert Southwest 100 years later. I had a television package on Channel 3 in early January, about architect W.A. Sarmiento and the value of preserving midcentury modern architecture.

Notable research in your field:

Since 2003, I have been a vanguard in scholarship documenting the midcentury design history of central Arizona at ModernPhoenix.net. I am the authorized biographer of Ralph Haver AIA, a leading midcentury architect in Phoenix Arizona, and have located and documented thousands of his homes and buildings nationwide. I wrote the monograph "Ralph Haver: Everyman’s Modernist," which was re-published and expanded upon further with ongoing updates at RalphHaver.com. Working in collaboration with the estate of Al Beadle, I am the steward behind BeadleArchive.com, which authenticates and catalogues the architectural designs, photographs and drawings of renowned Arizona architect Al Beadle.

My most recent book is "Making Architecture," a 19-year retrospective monograph written in collaboration with 180 Degrees Design + Build and published in October 2019. The book describes the firm’s process of designing and building modern architecture as well as working with older structures through preservation and adaptive re-use. Writing and designing this monograph was one of the true highlights of my career.

I both organize and attend local and national conferences and tours that promote scholarship and excellence in preserving midcentury modern design. I also research and maintain central Arizona’s most comprehensive map of midcentury modern architectural stock.

Notable employment in your field:

Associate Professor of Graphic Design and History at The Art Institute of Phoenix for 18.5 years before joining the team at Grand Canyon University in 2018, upon the Art Institute’s closure.

Learned how to teach adults in schools on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, East Harlem and Queens as a technology curriculum consultant, helping New York City schoolteachers learn how to integrate new technology into their everyday curriculum during the dawn of the internet and emergence of digital photography in the mid-'90s.

After 10 years in New York City, moved back to Phoenix, started teaching college and conceived ModernPhoenix.net, the world’s go-to source for information about midcentury modern architecture and design in central Arizona. Writes, codes, photographs and illustrates the majority of the content of ModernPhoenix.net and is a social media influencer in the world of architecture and historic preservation. Organizes an annual home tour and a full program of talks, film and exhibitions during Modern Phoenix Week, an annual 10-day celebration of midcentury and contemporary design in Phoenix.

Has been honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Institute of Architects, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Phoenix New Times for helping citizens understand their local design history.

What are you most passionate about in your field?

I love the thrill of discovery when I’m hot on the trail of a new lead in my research. Sometimes these journeys take years. I’m constantly absorbing facts and details along the way that might seem insignificant at the time but often end up being very important later on when I’m drawing the threads together.

I manage a huge digital archive and have amassed a tremendous amount of data at my fingertips. It gives me tremendous pleasure when someone asks a seemingly obscure question about local history and I can quickly come up with leads and documents that further their own quest.

I love examining and interpreting primary sources. More about that below.

I love making art and design. I love supporting my own research through art and design that I make. Will make art to support my research habit!

What aspect of your teaching style is the most distinctive and/or memorable?

I’m fairly dramatic for an introvert! As an educator and entertainer, I set up unforgettable experiences that motivate people to create art and design. I tap into emotion to make ideas stick and encourage people to care. I’m told my enthusiasm is infectious. Students might not be feeling the same passion I do just yet, so a good part of that emotion and enthusiasm has to flow through me first -- whether I’m up there presenting an obscure Design History topic or something ordinary, such as how to properly export a PDF. Humor, spontaneity, interactive questions and hands-on activities keep things interesting and memorable.

In History of Design class we start by immersing our hands in clay, one of the first ways that humans used to record portable language, then try our hand at gold leaf, which was used by medieval scribes to illuminate the Bible. As we progress though these primitive technologies we deepen our empathy and appreciation for materials. When studying the Bauhaus we act in the spirit of the young Bauhauslers, whose faculty and students were breaking boundaries in design education 100 years ago! It’s all terribly fun and connects us to the artisans who came before us.

I encourage my students to get out there and try new things they’re not used to, to explore new avenues and boldly go forth into areas that make them slightly uncomfortable. All these experiences build character and become useful for application in future projects.

What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

I’m an active Instagrammer and recently was recognized by the Phoenix New Times as a Top Phoenix Artist You Should Be Following on Instagram in 2019. Social media marketing is very serious play, and I love bringing the skills I learn out there in the wild back into the classroom.

I follow in the footsteps of Charles and Ray Eames, who believed that work was fun and play was work. Am I working? Am I playing? Does It matter? It’s all research, and it’s all part of being a human.

I like going to the library to research topics that spark my curiosity. I love digging through museum archives and primary sources. One of the best vacations I ever had was a trip to Los Angeles in which I got access to the Getty Research Institute, slipped on white gloves and turned the crumbling pages of Ver Sacrum magazine by the Vienna Secessionists, breathing in the ink and drinking up the innovations of my artistic heroes. I hit up L.A.’s best taco joints between visits to houses designed by Wright, Eames, Neutra and Schindler. It was pure time travel and really filled my cup.

One way I like to explore creativity is through cooking, which is a fun way to experiment with new materials, flavors, packaging and presentation. During winter holidays I practice the art of making savory caramel. I’ve dialed in an unusually spicy Pepita Crack that has people begging for more.

I also practice calligraphy, which is a study that never ends. For the past two years GCU has hosted Calligraphy Boot Camp at COFAP as part of its sponsorship of Phoenix Design Week (phxdw.com). I’m constantly improving my calligraphy teaching materials and skills so we can develop the next generation of local talent in this ancient art.

Writing "Making Architecture "was terribly fun. I love fitting pieces of a story together like a puzzle. I got to work with a terrific team and enjoyed every minute.

My family enjoys camping and backpacking, and we love a good, long road trip. We especially love exploring the Lost Coast of Northern California.

What is something interesting about you that most people don't know?

I’m a pretty open book, so this question is really hard.

If you had told me at age 16 that I would become a historian, I would have laughed in your face.

My research has been 100% privately funded through tourism, events, sponsorships and art sales. I don’t need to write grants because people find value in what I do. This allows me to take on some worthy research quests pro bono. I make my discoveries transparent in real time on social media and am easily accessible to the public when they are in need.

The secret to my productivity is to take plenty of naps!

Filming television and recording live radio still makes me nervous after all these years, but I find it’s typically worth the effort and gets 3% less terrifying each time.

I rage against typos but still make them myself.


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