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Deceased graduate remembered as ‘multidimensional, adventurous’

Risa Johnson

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Jennifer Tancreto, before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Photo courtesy of Mim Roeder.

Jennifer Tancreto, a recent graduate and renowned member of the Chico art community, died of breast cancer last Thursday.

She didn’t wear wigs.

And she didn’t want to be remembered as a victim, because cancer isn’t a fair battle.

Tancreto is survived by her mother Gail Tancreto, father Mark Tancreto, brother Michael Tancreto and her partner, Mim Roeder. While undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the last two years, Tancreto, age 32, continued teaching while earning her master’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in printmaking.

“It was this sort of matter-of-fact perspective,” said Roeder, a women’s studies and multicultural and gender studies lecturer. “There was no drama about it in her treatment— it was simply another challenge she faced. She wasn’t ashamed of it because it wasn’t something to be ashamed of.”

“Always eager for the next adventure”

Tancreto was hired to teach an upper division class in lithography, the form of printmaking on stone tablets, this semester. However, as the cancer worsened over the summer, she was unable to teach.

She attended Chico State as an undergraduate, double majoring in fine arts and art history, and then came back as a graduate student. An active member of the Chico art community, Tancreto served on an exhibition committee for the 1078 Gallery and was a graphic designer for Chico Printing.

Family, friends, northern California and all things outdoors, such as rock climbing, hiking, biking and backpacking, shaped Tancreto’s identity. She spent time in Italy and Guatemala where she applied her art history background and aspired to travel more in the future.

“Everything you can think a person might do, she’d pour her being into it,” Roeder said. “She was multidimensional. Everything she set her mind to, she was successful at.”

Tancreto received countless awards, some of which include the Outstanding Chico State Friend Award in 2013, Hopper MFA Award in 2014 and the Outstanding MFA Student Award in 2015.

“It wasn’t about her ego,” Roeder said. “It was about the deep respect she had for the people giving her the recognition. That regard for other people was the reason why she wanted to do so well.”

She was always humble, her partner said.

“For her, it was the process of making, sharing, collaborating,” Roeder said. “It was what drew her to the studio over and over again.”

Tancreto grew up in Red Bluff, California and relished the ease with which she could get to practically any landscape within three hours from Chico. That passion for the outdoors was reflected in her art.

A “curator of relationships,” on and off campus

Tancreto’s family welcomed Roeder since day one when they met 12 years ago, she said.

“The way she curated relationships came from her family, Roeder said. They not only love each other, but they really like each other. They’re regular people, but they’re extraordinary.”

One of Tancreto’s close collegiate relationships was with Matthew Looper, art history professor. In class discussions she would always be a leader and help others working in groups.

“She really stood out because she was intelligent and an outgoing person,” Looper said. “She’s really the best student I’ve had at Chico State.”

Looper was blown away by her thesis project.

“I couldn’t believe how good her presentation was,” he said. “It was better than I could have done. She had an incredible gift to help people understand things.”

Tancreto began as a teaching assistant with Eileen Macdonald, the only printmaking professor at Chico State. Macdonald remembers a hike they took together around the time they first met.

“She knew I was interested in hiking and said, ‘You know, there’s some people going up to Lassen for a full moon hike,’ so I went with her and some friends and Mim and her mom,” Macdonald said. “That kind of thing she was really good about— celebrating the area she was from and sharing that with people.”

When Tancreto took Macdonald’s printmaking class as an undergraduate, that became her specialty.

“She looked at her education even at that level in a holistic way,” she said. “She liked to experiment a lot. I remember she used her hair to make a piece. She also used photography negatives, some x-rays.”

Tancreto had recently started to build up an expansive network with her work at an exhibition in Japan over the summer, workshops at Kala in Berkeley years ago and with Paul Mullowney in San Francisco in May, to name a few.

Passion for printmaking

She was very interested in historical Japanese printmaking, which is built upon woodblocks. Tancreto enjoyed including pictures from her travels in her work.

“We would brainstorm together,” Macdonald said. “I was her mentor but we were on the same level.

There is a great sense of community in Ayres Hall, as printmakers spend countless hours together in the studio.

Garret Goodwin, studio art graduate student, was in Tanceto’s first class as a teaching assistant in fall 2011. He was an applied computer graphics major, but that was the turning point at which he changed his major.

In fact, it had such a strong impact on him that Goodwin and a group of five got class-inspired tattoos of an orange chair they always fought over in the studio.

“There was something about that class,” Goodwin said. “I’m the only one left; all of them have graduated now, but we all became pretty close, and we all got chair tattoos together.”

Tancreto helped Goodwin become serious about his artwork.

“Her demeanor was always quick and funny but serious and so knowledgeable,” he said. “Right off the bat, she knew that I was sarcastic too, and so we would talk across the room about stuff. I was always so happy when I would come in and she was here.”

Hanna Aist, studio art graduate student, remembers one-on-one conversations with her teacher.

“For me, especially, she was really interested in colors and gave us ‘outside of the box’ articles,” Aist said. “All of her color swatches — for me, it was like a kid in a candy store.”

Tancreto’s visible impact on campus will live on from students’ tattoos to her artwork hanging in the walls of Ayres Hall, to a future scholarship in her honor.

“She didn’t stop living when she got cancer. She wasn’t dying— she was living,” Roeder said.

The counseling center is open to all students and faculty from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. A celebration of life event for Tancreto will be held at Five Mile in Upper Bidwell Park on Oct. 17 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Risa Johnson can be reached at [email protected] or @risamjohnson on Twitter.

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Deceased graduate remembered as ‘multidimensional, adventurous’