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Art Department Reflects Today's Art World


Mary Russell Curran


Ensconced in Armstrong Hall for more than six decades, the art department now finds itself with new faculty, new courses, and—coming soon—a new home. The changes are apropos.

“We do our best to be up-to-date, and we cover a lot of different areas,” says Chris McOmber, the first art historian to join the department as a full-time, tenure-track professor. “We introduce students to what is going on in the art world right now.”

McOmber holds a PhD from the University of Iowa and was a part-time instructor before her recent appointment. She teaches a full range of courses, from ancient and classical periods to the 20th century, and enjoys linking up with other curricular areas. She is now preparing a course to be cross-listed with women’s studies, “Ave/Eva: Images of Women in the Christian West.”

Sandy Dyas, hired last year, teaches photography and will offer “Intermedia” for the first time in spring 2002. Dyas holds an MFA in intermedia art and video from the University of Iowa. Her primary interests are photography, performance art, and process-oriented mixed-media work.

Fresh from the West Coast, Maria Schutt brings expertise in fibers to Cornell, filling the gap left by Ursula McCarty’s resignation. She earned an MFA at the University of Arizona and enjoys “the mystery” of using organic and invented materials to make paper and other art. She recently took students to see the University of Iowa’s special collections and Center for the Book, as well as nearby gallery exhibitions focused on artists’ books.

Although Schutt and Dyas are part time, department chair Doug Hanson emphasizes that their 4/6 positions affirm Cornell’s commitment to a strong instructional program. The department graduates between 15 and 22 majors a year, and students may now minor in studio art or art history. Moreover, students most often take art to meet their fine arts requirement.

“We have a solid program in painting and drawing, ceramics and sculpture, art history, photography, and fibers,” Hanson says, noting that few institutions include fibers and textiles in their art departments. Hanson is in his 29th year of teaching ceramics and sculpture. His colleague, Tony Plaut ’78, a full-time professor since 1992, teaches painting and drawing as well as collage and assemblage and an upper-level seminar.

Cornell’s Armstrong Gallery and substantial art collections are in the capable hands of half-time director Susan Coleman, who holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. She curated the current exhibition of art by area college faculty and is planning a major retrospective for next fall of the works of Professor Hugh Lifson, who retired last spring after 35 years on the faculty.

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