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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Filming a New York minute

Everett Aison sits in the studio room of his Bellingham home where he works on his artwork. Aison co-founded the film school within the School of Visual Arts in 1964. // Photo by Ian Koppe
Everett Aison sits in the studio room of his Bellingham home where he works on his artwork. Aison co-founded the film school within the School of Visual Arts in 1964. // Photo by Ian Koppe

After spending most of his life in New York, co-founder of the School of Visual Arts Film School Everett Aison made the cross-country journey to become a Bellinghamster.

Aison continues to help young artists grow during his retirement by contributing films from his school to show Western students. Through his involvement on campus, Aison has taken to mentoring students interested in art and film.

In early January 2016, Aison brought a 90-minute culmination of movies by film students at the School of Visual Arts to Western focusing on senior thesis films. The film features ran in the Viking Union Gallery.

From contributing to Roman Polanski’s film “Night in the Water” to drawing quick sketches of people in the subway, Aison takes inspiration from his everyday surroundings, he said.

This is the first time work from the film school has been shown in the northwest, Aison said.

“People ask me why I came to Bellingham,” Aison said. “So my answer is, what brought King Kong to New York? The answer is: a woman.”

The woman? Everett’s partner, Janet Murray, a native of Olympia, Washington, Aison said. The pair met at a community garden in Brooklyn 10 years ago, he said.

Aison said he and Murray knew they wanted to come to the Pacific Northwest after retiring. They decided to move to Bellingham after Aison was invited to Village Books to read his first and only novel, “Artrage” he said. He liked the city immediately, he said.

Contributing to the collegiate  art scene

Amy Hill, a Western alumna, graduated in spring 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

“[Aison] saw my bachelor of fine arts show… and left a letter for me that he really liked it and was really into what I was painting,” Hill said. Hill and Aison have spoke about art back and forth ever since her show, she said.

“He has taught me a different way to look at work. He has a wide variety of taste, more than anyone I have ever met,” Hill said. “It is cool to see someone can be into minimalist art and appreciate things that aremore illustrated.

Aison doesn’t personally know any of the students who made the films, but wanted Western students to see what undergraduates across the country are doing, he said.

Western senior Jean-Louis Gazabat, director of the Viking Union Gallery, chooses art that circulates through the space. During the last academic year, Aison approached Gazabat to show films from the School of Visual Arts, Gazabat said. The schedule was full for the year, but Gazabat approached Aison about the movies again this year, Gazabat said.

Gazabat wanted to show the films because he’s been trying to fill the gallery with more diverse subject matter and mediums, he said.

“Diversity is very important. We could use more diversity here,” Aison said. “It’s really whitey town, isn’t it?”

One of the movies shown is called Kush, which is by the School of Visual Arts film student Shubhashish Bhutiani. Kush has won multiple awards, including the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival, according to the film’s website.

Students have complete freedom over the movies they make, Aison said. They choose one adviser out of the 140 professors from the film school to help them through the process, Aison said.The films include animation, live-action, documentary and one experimental film.

Illustrated by Everett Aison
Illustrated by Everett Aison

Illustrated by Everett Aison
Illustrated by Everett Aison

Before Bellingham

Aison was born and raised in Amsterdam, New York.

“I grew up in a large, part European part American family. A Jewish family,where they argued all the time,” Aison said. “I really learned how to tell a story- I would sit in the corner of the room. I had nine aunts and uncles, two sets of grandparents and I intuitively learned storytelling.”

Aison dedicated his career to drawing, writing, directing and photographing stories. He has been interested in art since he was a kid, he said, noting that he was initially attracted to cartooning.

While attending Syracuse University, he said he studied illustration and worked as a cartoonist for the Syracuse newspaper.

After college, Aison shipped off to serve in Korea from 1956 to 1958, a time in which the fighting was over, he said.

In 1959, Aison attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City for a year to study typography.

After graduating, he said he illustrated an opening sequence for a close friend’s short film. The drawings depicted a cowboy moving from Texas to New York City to become a painter, he said.

“I saw on the screen when the film opened what my drawings looked like in title design, and I realized I wanted to do that,” Aison said.

During his career, Aison produced designs for about two-dozen films, he said. 

Additionally, Aison has written and directed three short films.

He also helped create two children’s books in the early 1960s titled “The American Movie” and “Arthur.”

“Arthur” was republished by the New York Review of Books in October 2015, Aison said. “Arthur” is about a bird who stays in New York for the winter, instead of flying south with his friends, Aison said.

“It took 54 years, but I got a very strong review in The New York Times,” Aison said.

After contributing to several books and multiple films, Aison co-founded the film school within his alma mater, the School of Visual Arts, with Silas Rhodes in 1964, Aison said.

“[Rhodes] was a visionary,” Aison said. “He saw years ahead of his time the strength of film and how popular film would be.”

With Aison’s experience of graphic design and film-making, Rhodes thought it would be a good idea for him to help establish the film school, Aison said.

In New York, Aison met his first wife Cathy Aison, who was one of the original animators of Sesame Street, he said. Together they had two children, Courtney and Patrick Aison. His son Patrick is a screenwriter in Hollywood who sold his movie, “Wunderkind,” to J.J. Abrams, which is currently in development, Aison said.


  1. Everett Aison was an instructor of mine at the School of Visual Arts,and I will never forget the time he brought John Avildsen into our class to give us an impromptu lecture on filmmaking.I did go on to work on some animated features,with the legendary Shamus Culhane serving as my mentor.

  2. Great article about Everett. We’d like to link it to our webpage and use the photo with Western Front photo credit on one of our blog posts about an upcoming Script Studio on which Everett is a panelist. Can we have your permission to do so?
    Thank you.
    Cheryl Crooks
    Executive Director


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