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Saint Ignatius High School

Alumni Artist Featured at Cleveland Museum of Art

Todd Forsgren '99 paired his love for biology with his passion for visual arts to carve out a career path that has led him across the world. Now his work has landed back in his hometown, soon to be featured at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Binoculars and a telescope didn't cut it for Todd Forsgren '99 as his passion for birdwatching turned into something more. Instead, he grabbed his camera and found ways to get up close and personal with these creatures of the sky.

"I had an aptitude in science and passion for the outdoors," Forsgren says. "I started studying that before I knew that answers to the questions I had were better understood through the arts."

As a high school student, Forsgren discovered an interest in birdwatching with fellow classmate and runner Nick Barber '00, Ph.D. While the two would train and compete in cross country events, they were simultaneously fascinated by the nature around them. And then during his sophomore year at Saint Ignatius, he was gifted with photography equipment. Since there wasn't a photography class offered at Saint Ignatius at that time, he decided to take some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

"I was more focused on science," Forsgren says. He remembers having John Cooney '67 as a teacher and the way he made science seem approachable.

It may not seem like an obvious pairing, but Forsgren's passion for biology and the arts turned out to be the perfect pairing. He went on to study biology and visual arts at Bowdoin College and received a MFA in photography from J.E. Purkyne University.

Eventually, his work with ornithological photos caught the attention of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Through a multi-step process, Forsgren proposed the acquisition of two of his photos to a photography curator and they were selected to be added to the museum's collection.

"It was the end of 2020...it has been a rough year, so it was a great Christmas present," Forsgren says.

These are his first works in the collection, although his photographs have been featured in publications such as National Geographic, The Guardian, and TIME's Lightbox. The photos illustrate a technique used to study birds called mist netting. This netting is used to capture birds so researchers can study them before releasing them back into the wild. Forsgren worked alongside a scientist in the field to create these works of art at no harm to the subjects themselves.

Now that his works will be a part of CMA's collection, Forsgren recalls his own experience of seeing pieces of art there that had a profound effect on him during his youth. "It's cool to think that maybe one day my work might inspire other young artists."

Forsgren now lives in Montana and, when he isn't creating art, he is helping others to find their passion as an Assistant Professor of Art at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana.

"I find it really rewarding," Forsgren says. "We live in a culture where so much information is transmitted visually. I hear about my grad student in Cuba or at OU in different programs, and it's cool that I can help to start off these exciting careers."

And while he is more than 1,500 miles away from his Alma Mater, Forsgren is happy to stay connected to his roots. He participated in the 2017 Saint Ignatius Alumni Art Show and is willing to connect with any current students who may be interested in pursuing art as their passion.

His advice to budding artists? "Figure out what you're passionate about – be crazy, and keep working at it. There's a lot of passion so you have to work hard and live and breathe your passion in order to succeed."

While his photos aren't yet available at CMA, once they are catalogued into their collection, they will be available to view using the museum's online collection.