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Pratt Honors Alumni Who Created Big Bird, Scrabble and Chrysler Building

By Janet Upadhye | October 23, 2012 7:40am

CLINTON HILL — Without the Pratt Institute, the Chrysler Building might not have triangular windows set in decorative arches, Corvettes might not have sleek curves and Betty Boop’s dress might have been floor length.

Not to mention Big Bird, Scrabble, and the Waldorf Astoria’s Art Deco design.

That's because all of these cultural icons were created by Pratt graduates.

The innovative art school turns 125 years old this year, and to honor the anniversary, Pratt has created an art exhibit of the most influential works created by alumni and faculty.

Over the past few months, Pratt has asked the public to vote for the top 125 iconic works of all time. The result of that vote will be displayed in “125 Icons.”

The exhibit opens in November at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery.

Finalists include Joseph Barbera, the seven-time Academy Award winner who created some of the country’s most beloved children’s cartoons, including Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and The Jetsons.

Barbera’s prolific career, which spurred thousands of cartoons Saturday mornings enjoyed by countless children, began with a few art classes in Brooklyn.

Pratt also produced the engineer who designed the airplane for the first solo transatlantic flight. At the request of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Donald A. Hall built the Spirit of St. Louis in just 60 days. Hall graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1917 with a certificate in mechanical engineering.

Betsey Johnson, 70, the outrageous fashion designer, also studied at Pratt. An alumna of the Fine Arts Program, Johnson went on to become the “Queen of Rock ’N ’Roll Fashion,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Johnson was particularly known for her “rocker-chick aesthetic that influenced 1980s fashion.”

Pratt is also showing logo designs by its alums that have been burned on the American psyche, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Ghostbusters and IBM.

The school raised more than $1 million at its anniversary gala this month. The money will go toward scholarships for current and incoming Pratt students who, perhaps like their predecessors, have a strong chance of creating the next big cultural game-changer. 

Julie Taymor, Tony Award winner and director of The Lion King, was honored at the gala. She stressed the importance of institutions like Pratt in educating artists.

“There is no soul of America without the arts," she said. "Without the arts we don't have a culture, a history. We're not human.”

"125 Icons" will be on display at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery from November 30, 2012 through January 19, 2013. For more information visit Pratt's website.