When Erica Met Monika
Erica Quinn ’10 arrived on the Juniata campus in 2006, primed to study literature. After taking “Beginning Photography” in her first year, Erica felt her focus shifting. Writers are always describing epiphanies as “seeing the light,” but for Erica her realization happened in the dark.
“Being in the darkroom is very soothing,” says Quinn, who is now pursuing a master of fine arts degree in photography at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. While Quinn had dabbled in taking photos before Juniata, it was her first course with Monika Malewska, assistant professor of art, that inspired her to switch from fiction to f-stops. “She is an incredible teacher, always giving me books to read. Having someone that dedicated to helping me was something I had never experienced,” she says.
Soon Quinn’s bookbag was filled with cameras, film and photo paper instead of classic novels. She decided to take art history courses like art historian Karen Rosell’s “20th Century Art” and “Women in Art.” She took more art history courses while studying at the University of Leeds, worked in the College’s museum studies program, and eventually worked as Malewska’s darkroom assistant.
Like many artistic-minded students before her, the budding photographer had to create her own academic program (her POE is photography and literature) because Juniata had no POE in fine art. Well, that’s all changed.
Inside the Studio Arts POE
In 2009, art historian Karen Rosell got together with Malewska and ceramic artist Bethany Benson to talk about creating a studio art POE. The meeting wasn’t a historic moment. The College offered an art major in the past. Indeed, one of Juniata’s first professors, David Emmert, was a respected painter. But for most of the life of Juniata’s POE, which emerged in the 1970s, Jack Troy taught ceramics part-time along with fine artist Sandy McBride, who taught full-time. Thus, scheduling did not allow for a full slate of art courses.
“We’ve seen a slow, steady increase in the number of students interested in studying art and we’re seeing many more high school students at open houses who know about our fine arts courses and museum studies program,” says Rosell. “Ideally I think we would also like to expand the digital art area to a full-time position, but I think we’re competitive. Can we compete with the finest art schools? No, but I don’t know of any colleges our size that can do that.”
With the addition of Pat Howard, who teaches digital art and photography courses, and adjunct faculty, Juniata had enough personnel to offer the same range of courses other liberal arts institutions featured.
Like most college and university art departments, Juniata requires a strong foundation in all aspects of art. To that end, each student must take “Beginning Drawing,” “Design and Color,” “3-D Design,” “Ceramic Sculpture” and “Survey of Western Art” to expose each artist to a wide range of skills and ideas. After that students can choose singular study areas such as 2-D (painting, drawing, photography) or 3-D (ceramics, book-making, sculpture) or sample impressionistically in mixed media (which can include digital art and art history).
One of the advantages to studying art at Juniata is that students are not tied into a rigid curriculum and can wander through the course catalog to find courses capable of inspiring them artistically and intellectually. “As a high school student I knew I needed to know more than art,” says Steven Horwath ’12, of Fairfax, Va. “Going to a liberal arts college means you can study anything—and be more open to the world.”
“The selling points for our program are the same as for other Juniata departments—small classes and faculty-student interaction,”
The crowning experience is each artist’s Senior Capstone project, in which the students are required to produce enough artwork for a student show and arrange their own show at the Juniata museum, a local arts space or a “guerilla” space such as an empty storefront. “They have to show somewhere and we tell them to start hitting the pavement to find places,” Benson says. “There aren’t many art galleries here, but all of our seniors have found spaces.”
Easel Does It
Once students have found the fine arts POE they find all sorts of outlets for their work. Elaina Robins ’12, of York, Pa., has won Juniata’s Student Photo Contest countless times. Horwath draws a comic strip for the Juniatian newspaper. Nick Brown ’12, of Jerusalem, Israel, had a ceramic piece accepted into a national art exhibit last year. Each year student work is displayed at the Juniata College Museum of Art as well.
In a contrast starker than a Robert Motherwell painting, the competiveness of many art schools is notably absent at Juniata. “All of us have different styles,” says Qi Tan ’12, an international student from Chengdu, China who specializes in painting. “We all look at each others’ work and give suggestions. I try to learn from them and try new things.”
The community of art appreciation extends beyond the studio as well. Sara Pilchman ’12, of Long Beach, Calif., recalls many students complimenting her work at the College’s periodic ceramics sales and finds the entire College community much more aware of art on campus. “People here are really excited by ceramics.”
Art students have been known to incorporate the campus into art projects. Elaina Robins ’12, of York, Pa. recounts conceptual art projects where a zebra sculpture appeared at various locations around campus as well as a “guerilla” art show of tape sculptures in random locations. “At Juniata you don’t really get the feeling of being judged,” she says.
The Art of Teaching
Well, the Juniata faculty is expected to judge the work emerging from College kilns, printers, darkrooms and easels, because that’s sort of the point to education. However, the divergent styles of Benson and Malewska in drawing out art students to develop a personal style and point of view receives universal praise from their students.
“Monika has a unique personality in which she’s very open to your interpretation of things,” Robins says. “Monika encourages me but I can tell she wants me to find my own style,” adds Horwath. “If she sees a bad idea she doesn’t come out and say it. She offers suggestions on how it could be better.”
The ceramics students also point to critiques by Benson as a formative experience. “She can be very tough,” says Pilchman. “If something isn’t working, she’ll tell you to fix it but she helps you notice things in your work that will help you find your own style.”
Students point to a minor difficulty in scheduling three studio art areas (2-D, 3-D and digital art), if students want to pursue all three disciplines within their POE, because the studio courses require a significant chunk of time (90 minutes to 2-plus hours, depending on the course) on whatever day they are taught.
Still, the POE’s requirement for all studio artists to take at least four art history courses provides opportunities for students to find influences outside the studio. Almost all the fine art POEs point to seminal art history courses that influenced their personal work. “Taking art history classes is different than studio art because you’re seeing students from different (disciplines) and getting their ideas,” says Robins.
Rosell points out that the “cross-pollination” of studio art students and art history students can energize her classes. “(Studio art students) have a different way of looking at art,” she explains. “They can talk about it from their own experience and that makes the discussion
All of the art and art history faculty see further opportunities for cross-pollination. Rosell says any of the field trips to art museums that art history students regularly go on will be made available to fine arts POEs if any seats are available and Benson would like studio art students to “shadow” a museum studies student to learn how to frame, hang and present art.
Of course there are existing programs that allow interaction between the two disciplines as well. The yearly Student Exhibition is curated and installed by students taking the museum studies practicum, and Benson explains it’s still a bit too soon to standardize interactions between the two disciplines when such connections often happen naturally.
Naturally occurring interactions are sort of the intellectual currency at Juniata. Just ask Kirsten Olson ’11, who didn’t take a ceramics course until her senior year. She ended up with a double POE, anthropology and art. Somewhat incredibly, she’s doing the same thing at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, earning a master’s degree in anthropology while also earning a master of fine arts degree. She sees Juniata as a place where artists can become “big thinkers.”
“The more you know, the more able you are to pull ideas from a larger pool and communicate them more clearly through your art,” she says. “From my experience at Juniata I’m better equipped to research, write and communicate ideas.”
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