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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

January 11, 2002

Floor-to-Ceiling Art at Fall Student Exhibition


FRED LEBLANC

Anna Hewitt '02 kneels next to the human figure she sculpted from tissue paper and paraffin wax, an experimental medium she discovered during her advanced studio class.

Kerry Kelley '02 is doubly pleased when she peers through the lens of the scanning electron microscope in lab classes. The biology major sees not only powerful, clear magnifications of plant samples but a world of geometric shapes and linear designs to inspire her art, the lifelong interest that she says "keeps her sane." Kelley's artwork was displayed December 6–9 as part of the fall student art exhibition, which highlighted work by 250 students from drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and advanced studio classes.

Opening night of the biannual event was nothing short of the "wild affair" promised by Assistant Professor Joseph Smith, one of the show's four coordinators. The walls of the drawing studio in the Central Services Building were covered from floor to ceiling with charcoal sketches, oil paintings, photos, fabric panels, prints, and colorful collages. Tables were filled with metal and clay sculptures. Even the floor was a showplace, displaying free-form installations, a waterfall with running water, and several huge sculptures of plaster-covered Styrofoam. The collection drew a crowd of students, faculty, administrators, and parents, even Mount Holyoke's chamber singers.

"The show lets us feed off each other and feel like we've really accomplished something," said Kelley, whose pieces included an oversized clay replica of a well-worn brown clog; a polished sculpture of welded steel; and silk-screen and lithograph prints with leaf designs hinting at their creator's love of science. Kelley was most proud of her abstract plaster and Styrofoam sculpture, which she referred to as "my onion." The smooth white sphere measured several feet across in all directions; it was spotlighted outside the building, too large to maneuver inside.


FRED LEBLANC

Top: Kerry Kelley '02 displays a welded-steel sculpture and lithograph print, two of her fall term art projects.

Bottom: Jennifer Steinnagel '03 shows a Birkenstock sandal, a clay sculpture inspired by her own shoe, and a woodblock print whose repeated design created a three-dimensional perspective.

The piece was one of several oversized representations of shells, vegetables, and fruits that developed from a Sculpture I assignment to sculpt a volumetric form from nature. The project, Smith explains, helps students see complex structures in natural forms and translate them into geometric shapes, such as cones, spheres, and planes. For many students, he says, this close observation and imitation inevitably leads to critical thinking about changing the observed object into something more interesting than an exact copy. "Even naming the sculptures can be limiting," Smith says. "We encourage students to move away from the limitations of language, away from pure imitation of the subject matter, and toward making decisions about how changing formal qualities, such as dimension, shadow, and balance, can change an observer's understanding or experience."

Jennifer Steinnagel '03 was pleased with her plaster sculpture but couldn't name it her most prized piece among the seven she displayed. "Asking which is my favorite is like asking which one of your children you like best," she said. "I like each for a different reason, for how it feels, or for its color, or for how difficult but satisfying it was to create." By showing work from many media—oil paintings on Masonite and canvas, sculptures of clay and metal, prints from woodblock and metal plate—the studio art/art history major demonstrated the great versatility she will need in her future career as an elementary school art teacher.

Students from the advanced studio class displayed a wide range of work. Their unique, self-assigned projects had been critiqued twice weekly by peers and professors but had been created outside the classroom, free from the confines of specific assignments. For her final project, studio art major Anna Hewitt '02 chose to sculpt with tissue paper and paraffin wax, a combination of materials she discovered by experimentation. Her finished piece, a hollow human figure formed by a slow process of hand shaping without form or model, featured an almost-opaque, smooth surface that looked as fragile as onion skin. "I'm just happy it worked out. I enjoyed making it," said Hewitt, who relished the creation process and is eager to experiment with a more flexible but sturdier mixture of tissue paper and beeswax. More important than the figure itself, Smith agrees, is the independent thinking process and self-motivation it reflects: "In her final project, Hewitt achieved the confidence to move beyond specific class assignments and to develop and pursue personal art challenges on her own."

Art lovers who missed the fall semester student art exhibition should watch for the spring show, scheduled for the end of April.

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