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Art Department Reflects Today's Art World

 

Mary Russell Curran

 
Spring brings a flurry of senior thesis exhibits, the capstone experience for art majors. Here, Codi Josephson '99 talkes about her work with gallery visitors. She now teaches art at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The art department’s upcoming move to Alumni Hall will fulfill the dream of Blanche Swingley Armstrong, class of 1891, who donated funds to build Armstrong Hall. She and professor Nama Lathe, who taught from 1922 to 1949, envisioned a building dedicated to the visual arts. However, generations of art professors—notably Phil Henderson, Tom McGlauchlin, Wilbur West, Vivian Heywood, and Hugh Lifson—shared Armstrong with music and theater. Soon, Armstrong will be renovated and expanded for music and theater.

When renovated, Alumni Hall will provide expanded and updated instructional and studio space for art faculty and students and, says McOmber, “will better reflect what we’re about.” Plaut emphasizes that the new facility and equipment also will be safer, more serviceable, and attractive to prospective students as “a great place to learn and to create.”

Opportunities for students have always been a departmental priority. Topics courses focus on African art, Native American art, and other non-Western art traditions. Hanson takes students to villages in Michoacán every other year for “Ceramics in Mexico.” He also recently took students on a 12-day trip to Japan and facilitated a visit from two Chinese potters. Additionally, he involves students in his international work with Potters for Peace and the National Conference on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA).

Faculty and students agree that One-Course-At-A-Time increases opportunities for field trips and internships. Plaut routinely takes students to Chicago to the Art Institute and other museums and to contemporary galleries. He and his colleagues have helped students arrange internships with the Cedar Rapids arts organization CSPS, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Studiolo, an artists’ cooperative in Iowa City.

Brian Dailey, a senior from Golf, Ill., praises faculty members for “their commitment to educating people” and for their “inclusive, multicultural focus.” He says professors always “put the meaning of a work or an object in the context of its history” and are ready “to challenge student assumptions about art-making and their experiences of the world.”

Dailey took part in an art service project with residents of the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa and spent last spring in the Chicago Arts Program sponsored by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, studying at the Art Institute and completing an internship with a painter.

Dailey’s classmate Brett Dennis, of Bloomington, Ill., completed a semester-long “Arts and Social Change” program in Zimbabwe, focusing on the country’s traditional and contemporary pottery. He says Cornell students “are challenged to think critically about what they’re doing” and have the rare opportunity to “mix our own clay and fire our own kiln, even in the middle of the night.”

The two are typical of Cornell art students, who value their hands-on experiences in the visual arts while gaining, as Rebecca Rinquist ’00 says, “a broader liberal arts education than you’d ever find at an art school.” May it be ever thus.

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