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Rochelle Levy

1979

Fine Arts


Cissie was born in New York City in 1937.  Her father was in the garment industry and her mother was a designer/model. Her father used to bring home fabric from which Cissie made clothes for her dolls. She remembers an aunt who brought her oil paints and remembers copying some of the oil paintings that her mother had in her personal collection. Her mother was very good at drawing. Although she attended the opera and other shows, she was not otherwise exposed to art in formal settings and her father discouraged her from pursuing art. She never took any formal art lessons as a child. As a child, she rode horses and also went to the beach often. These are two themes that appear over and over in her art.  

Cissie was married after attending Barnard College for 1½ years and then moved to Philadelphia with her husband. She promised her father that she would finish her education but got pregnant soon after. Five children later, she was on the Board of Managers at Moore and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She realized that she could wear two hats at Moore – a student and a board member. It took Cissie eleven years to complete her degree. However prior to attending Moore, Cissie never stopped drawing and painting – beach scenes, horses, and her children.  

Because Cissie attended Moore at a non-traditional age, she became good friends with many of the professors. Her age also led to her acting as a mentor/mother to many of her classmates. Of course, while she attended school, she was still raising her family, often getting up at 3:00 or 4:00 am to get work done before her own children woke up. While she was in school, she had an exhibition at Wheaton College. Phil Simkins, Tom Chimes, Louise Stahl – these are some of the teachers who she remembers. Because Moore is a small college, individual students get a lot of attention and they are pushed to the utmost by the professors. She graduated in 1979.

Her husband was involved in thoroughbreds and Cissie was involved in the show end of it. Cissie’s first art exhibition, entirely of horse paintings, was at Aqueduct Race Track, which had just opened a gallery space. At this gallery, Mickey Rooney purchased what she thinks was the first painting she ever sold.  

She describes her work as realistic impressionism or post-impressionism. She likes different seasons, different times of day, and doing a different take on things. She says that art is about what is inside you and that she does not give others feedback on their art because she does not know what’s inside them – she only knows what’s inside herself. When asked why she paints, Cissie remarks, “I do it because I have to.”

Cissie joined the board at Moore because she knew several of the board members through family connections. She joined in the late 1960s or early 70s (she couldn’t remember the exact year). She was also the chair of the board from 1988 – 1998. Because she had been a student at Moore, she could bring the student’s point of view to the board.  She was chair when Mary-Linda Merriam Armacost, the first woman president in several decades, was hired at Moore. It was during Mary-Linda’s time that students were first allowed to be non-voting members of the board.  

Cissie loved going to college as an adult although it was very challenging. It was wonderful having her mind stimulated, questioned at all times, or as she phrases it – “keep the book open” and keep pushing yourself.  

Cissie was instrumental in the development of the Goldie Paley and Levy Galleries at Moore. She hired Elsa Longhauser as the first curator of the galleries, who had wonderful ideas about how to form the galleries and came up with innovative ideas, bringing who she refers to as “outsider artists” to exhibit at the gallery. The mission of the gallery has always been to “be the best,” and to serve as an educational tool and to be an integral part of the College. Karen Daroff, a Moore graduate, designed the Galleries.  

Cissie has been involved with Moore for decades. She says it is fun to walk into Moore now, entering Wilson Hall, and think back to how it used to be the ASTM building and how the board discussed whether they would be able to acquire the building. It is nice to know that she had a part in making that happen. It’s hard for her to say, looking back, on what specific initiatives have taken place during her time with Moore. She says overall the space has increased and improved while they have kept the class sizes very small.  There is a very high ratio of faculty to student. They have the most individualized attention of any art school in the city. “It is wonderful that we have grown but that has not changed.”  She also believes that there is a need for single gender colleges and that Moore is correct to fulfill this niche. “The city is the campus,” which is very beneficial to the students.  The school is trying harder to make the students take advantage of being right in the middle of the city.  

Cissie became a Moore trustee in the mid 1980s. She hopes that her legacy is that people do not become complacent and that they continue to dream. She also hopes that her legacy is that she encourages the next generation of young people to come back and give to the college (not necessarily monetarily), not just get from the college. She hopes to teach the next generation to advocate for the arts by serving as an example to them.

She is excited about the future of Moore because of some of the new people on the board who will be able to keep the college technologically current and financially stable. She is excited that people continue to be involved in Moore and that the board is diversifying. 

 In 1998, Cissie received an honorary doctorate from Moore. She describes herself as being very proud of the honor. “I couldn’t believe (that I as getting the award.) The only thing I ever wanted to do was paint and to receive a degree for doing what I love to do is very humbling.”