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Remembering Matt

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Students in Albright's Design 1 course created a book of artwork to honor classmate Matt Rein '17, who died in an off-campus fire. The book was presented to Matt's family and is available online.

By Hilary Bentman

Matt Garrison, M.F.A., and Richard Hamwi, Ph.D., knew they would have to address the empty chair.

The next time Design 1, a course they co-taught, was scheduled to meet, one of its members would be missing.

Tragedy had struck the Albright community.

Sophomore Matt Rein, an environmental science major and member of the men's swim team, had died in an off-campus fire on Sept. 13.

"How could this be? One day a young man is in your class and the next day he won't be," said Hamwi, professor of art.

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Lauren Cormier '16

Hamwi and Garrison, associate professor of digital media, wanted to reach out to Matt's family and help their students address the loss.

The result is a collection of student artwork celebrating Matt's life, which was presented to his parents, David and Janice Rein of South River, N.J., and is available for preview and purchase at www.blurb.com/books/5945700-matt-rein.

The 28-page book includes student ink and pencil drawings and digital media designs, inspired by their classmate's strength and character.

"One of the messages of the book is how many lives Matt has touched," said Garrison. "Years from now when his parents open the book, hopefully they will smile."

Most of the designs are abstract and energetic, drawn from a vibrant palette reminiscent of the tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts Matt liked to wear. Several images evoke water, including one created by Matt's close friend and fellow swimmer Lauren Cormier '16.

Cormier created a graphic image that pays homage to the shark tooth Matt wore around his neck. Her design is abstract, set against a background of electric blue, suggesting both sky and water.

"Matt was very outgoing," said Cormier. "He was who he was and wasn't afraid to be himself. He was a very hard worker, funny, a gentleman."

Cormier, who has become close with Matt's mother, hopes his family sees the book and realizes "there are people out there who care and that he is not forgotten."

The book also includes inspiring quotations and a photograph by history Professor John Pankratz, Ph.D., of a memorial held on campus honoring Matt. Albright chaplain Paul Clark '73 contributed a poem written specifically for Matt and appropriately titled The Swimmer:

Light and darkness mingle
paving the way…
the shabby flooring
of the Ancients.
There is something
opening before us,
there is something
breathing within us.
Not even seeking…
we will find it.
Not even knowing…
we will live it.

Janice Rein said she was "overwhelmed and touched" by the tribute. Her son, she said, would be thrilled with his book but "would not believe that someone would want to do all this for him."

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Raymond Reyes '15

"He was a quiet and humble guy and never thought he made a difference. I'm happy to know that he sure did and so happy that Albright has chosen to continually remember and honor him."

The book's cover features an image of Matt swimming, incorporated into a design by fellow sophomore Ryan Brown.

Brown says he was honored to have his image used for the cover. Though he did not know Matt well, Brown embraced the idea for the book and said he and his fellow classmates worked quietly in the week they developed their pieces, wanting to present their best work for their classmate.

"If that's not incentive to work harder at the piece, what is?" said Brown.

When the Reins viewed an early version of the book, they requested only one revision – the addition of a piece of artwork Matt had created.

Page 1 now includes a drawing Matt did in high school of a Grateful Dead grinning skull with lightning bolt forehead. He was a fan of the band.

"Matt had always loved art, even as a little boy," said his mother, adding that he took classes both in school and out. "He loved drawing, painting and sandcastle building. He was extremely meticulous in his work and was a perfectionist."

Matt received an Albright art scholarship, the first from his high school to receive an art scholarship, said Janice Rein.

Beyond producing art, Matt also loved learning about different artists and their techniques, said his mother.

Garrison and Hamwi saw evidence of this in their student's approach to assignments. He was self-expressive, inquisitive and insightful, they said – qualities they could detect even in the few short weeks he was part of their class.

"He had a real sensitivity and understanding of what we were talking about and no problem thinking abstractly," said Garrison. "He seemed fearless. Whatever we presented, he seemed excited to work on."

Added Hamwi: "Matt had strength of presence and that was reflected in his work."

 

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