Collaboration is Truly a Gift: Reflections on Faculty-Student Research

Summer at Hope College is, for many faculty and students, a time of research, writing, and creative activity. Hope is nationally known for the many opportunities students have to be involved with the scholarly projects of faculty in all four academic divisions.

Dr. Anne Heath in Vendôme, France.

In the Department of Art and Art History, we are very fortunate to have the Borgeson student-faculty research grant, foundede in 2016 thanks to the generosity of Clark and Nancy Borgeson. In 2017, I first teamed up with senior art studio major Emily Lindbloom. I was in the early stages of a new research project, and I wanted Emily to create drawings of medieval shrines that I had been researching, but which have since been lost to history. Emily’s drawing skills helped me to test out what I thought the shrines might have looked like, which I based on my study of medieval environments and archival research.

Studio art major Emily Lindbloom in Vendôme, France.

Two years later, I am completing an article on one of those shrines: the shrine of the Holy Tear at abbey church of La Trinité in Vendôme, France. This shrine once displayed what medieval people believed was the tear Christ shed at the tomb of Lazarus. Emily’s experimental drawings helped me to be more exact in my research. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s quite another thing to reconstruct it. Every detail suddenly becomes a question. Getting to this point in my research in 2019 took hundreds of hours of meticulous archival research, careful study of the church’s interior space, and exhaustive study of countless examples of medieval art. To come up with a new visualization of the Holy Tear shrine, however, I needed Emily again to help me create a new drawing that I could use for publication.

For Emily, standing in La Trinité transformed an abstract research project into a lived experience

This summer, again with a Borgeson grant, Emily was able to join me at La Trinité while on the Paris May Term.  For Emily, standing in La Trinité transformed an abstract research project into a lived experience. “In my ongoing research with Dr. Heath, I had seen many pictures of La Trinité. However, standing there, I fully recognized that no picture would ever do the building justice,” Emily says. “Meeting La Trinité ‘in person’, allowed me to visualize Dr. Heath’s hypotheses more clearly. With my eyes, I collected and connected visual information for creating the reconstructive drawings of the shrine.”

Emily photographing the interior of La Trinité

After meeting in France, Emily and I worked for the rest of the summer on campus. Hours were spent pouring over new drawings, changing the smallest details until the finished drawing was just right. Emily describes the process like this: “It is often long and detailed. Before I worked on the final drawing on high-quality paper using a nibbed pen, I went through at least five preparatory drawings, each time receiving feedback from Dr. Heath. We also discussed methods for communicating conjecture and uncertainty. Accuracy and detail is important to both of us, but we also need to be upfront with readers in what we do not, and cannot, know. This means that elements of Dr. Heath’s ideas about the shrine will sometimes be ‘sketchy’ in nature, or conveyed as a dotted line, suggesting the unknown. The process has encouraged me to slow down when drawing in order to truly consider what is known and unknown.”

One of Emily’s drafts of the shrine

In the give-and-take between what I gathered in my research and how Emily translated that information into a visual picture, she experienced first hand the nature of humanistic research.

“Art historians go about their research in multi-layered, connective, and process-oriented ways,” says Emily. “Most profoundly, I learned that in historical research, there are no clear answers, but this should not deter one from asking interesting questions. In fact, after watching Dr. Heath in her work, a lack of clear answers actually heightens the importance of her research as an act of cultural preservation. Art historians take on the role of stewards for culture, creativity, and humanity itself.”

All the while we worked our renderings of the shrine at La Trinité, Emily developed her own body of work. Emily used the readings that helped us understand the shrine, such as the writings on vision from Saint Augustine, to inform her paintings. Emily took these ideas and thought about how she could make art that also addressed the philosophical problem of representing God. Ironically, while Emily’s drawings of the shrine are very architectural and exact, her own body of work became very abstract.

Paintings in Emily’s Hope studio

Ironically, while Emily’s drawings of the shrine are very architectural and exact, her own body of work became very abstract.

As Emily explains, “While in Paris, doors caught my attention because of their unique character, bold color, and ornate detail. Yet also as I began to pay attention to the doors, they took on multiple meanings and revealed several connotations. I came to see these doors as representative of hiddenness, mystery, ambiguity, and hope. Reading with Dr. Heath helped me develop and root my ideas within the context of art history,”

“I was also intrigued by Ellsworth Kelly’s window series, which I saw at the Pompidou Center in Paris,” says Emily. “This led to an in-depth study of the meaning and history of the color blue. I was drawn to how the medieval church used blue in stained glass.  I began to take these traditions and experiment with ways of including them in creating contemporary artwork.”

“I believe there is something at the core of art that extends beyond self-expression that must be communicated through one’s work.”

As in the humanities, reading is an essential component of creative output in the arts. Emily and I read and discussed in coffee shops, in sunny spots on campus, and in the DePree Art Center. For both of us, conversation sparked new ideas.  I thought about new directions I could take my research on La Trinité, and Emily thought about the purpose of her artwork.

“I found that the more I read, the more my ideas were no longer associated only with self-expression. Instead, I created a body of work from an intellectual grounding that responds to other artists, art movements, and styles. Today we live in a culture where we tend to think of art as solely a means of self-expression. But I believe there is something at the core of art that extends beyond self-expression that must be communicated through one’s work. This revelation was actually freeing to me. Instead of dealing with the pressure that students feel of coming up with unique ideas, I pull up a chair and participate in the conversation that is, in essence, art history. I hope that as I continue to create, I can make connections between studio art and art history. I want my work to be a dialogue set against the backdrop of art history.”

“I hope that as I continue to create, I can continue to bridge connections between studio art and art history. I want my work to be a dialogue set against the backdrop of art history.”

Working together this summer, both Emily and I had the privilege of doing what we love to do. Our research and creative practice were enhanced by our time together, by our discussions, and by our fresh eyes on each other’s work.  Collaboration is truly a gift.

Object Lesson: Christ’s Life by Rembrandt van Rijn

Lent is a time for prayer and reflection on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. On April 9, the Kruizenga Art Museum opened a focused exhibition of etchings by the 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn that includes eight poignant scenes from the life of Christ. These beautiful images may inspire special contemplation as we prepare to celebrate the Easter Season, but their broader meaning and relevance continues to resonate throughout the year.  

The Holy Family. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1632.  Etching and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.10

Throughout his life, Rembrandt made sketches of ordinary people he encountered in the course of his daily activities. He then used these sketches as models for many of the figures that appear in his prints and paintings. This etching of the Holy Family illustrates Rembrandt’s prodigious ability to observe and record the mundane details of everyday life. It shows Mary nursing the baby Jesus in the foreground while Joseph leans against a wall in the background reading a book. There are no haloes, angels or other signs of the Christ child’s divinity. Instead, Rembrandt has captured the moment when Jesus seems to be nodding off after his feed and the slightly disheveled, tired-looking Mary—who has kicked off her shoes to relieve the pressure on her aching feet—is preparing to return to the sewing basket that stands open beside her.

The Flight into Egypt: a Night Piece. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1651. Etching, engraving and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.4

This print from later in Rembrandt’s career adds drama to this image of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt by setting the scene at night. Dense areas of cross-hatching on the plate create an inky darkness that envelops Joseph, Mary and Jesus as they flee King Herod’s murderous wrath. Rembrandt’s technique is so effective that the untouched areas of the paper inside Joseph’s lantern truly appear to glow with light. Rembrandt revised the plate for this print many times until he achieved the visual effects he desired. Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print). Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), ca. 1649. Etching, engraving and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.13

Rembrandt was masterful in his ability to create complex visual narratives. This print, for instance, conflates several stories from the Gospel of Matthew in which Christ ministers to the sick, debates the Pharisees on points of religious law, exhorts a wealthy young man to give up his possessions, and declares that children belong to the kingdom of heaven. It has long been recognized as one of Rembrandt’s masterworks for the variety of facial expressions and bodily gestures evident in the crowd of figures around Christ, and for the dramatic play of light and dark passages throughout the composition. Some scholars think that Rembrandt did not sell this print during his lifetime, and that he only gave impressions to close friends and important patrons. The relative rarity of the print drove up its value to the point where an impression once sold for one hundred guilders, a very high price for a print and the equivalent of about four months wages for an average worker at the time. 

The Raising of Lazarus. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1632; this impression late 17th-early 18th century. Etching and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.6

Rembrandt created this print when he was only twenty-six years old. He had just moved from Leiden to Amsterdam and he used the large, dramatic image to advertise his artistic abilities to potential patrons. The print depicts a story from the Gospel of John in which Jesus resurrects a man named Lazarus who had died four days earlier. The gospel says that after raising Lazarus from the dead, Christ proclaims, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” The image captures the climactic moment when Jesus commands Lazarus to come forth from his tomb. The blazing light that emanates from Jesus’s body gives the scene a theatrical quality and emphasizes the miraculous, almost magical power of Christ.    

Christ Driving Money Changers from the Temple. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1635; this impression 17th-early 18th century. Etching. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.9

All four gospels say that when Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, Jesus was outraged to find merchants and money changers operating in the temple courtyard. He accused them of turning the holy site into a “den of thieves” and drove them out with a whip made of cords. Here, Rembrandt conveys the inherent drama of the scene by placing Christ at the center of the composition, his body torqued as he raises the whip to strike the merchants and money changers who cower before him. The expressions on the faces of the people and animals surrounding Jesus clearly show the shock and confusion caused by the sudden explosion of his righteous anger. The frenetic cross-hatching and jagged line-drawing further enhance the feeling of energy and emotion in the image.   

Christ Before Pilate. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1636; this impression 17th-18th century. Etching, engraving and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.2

This print portrays Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the people of Jerusalem for judgement. It is one of Rembrandt’s most ambitious etchings and took more than a year to complete. Scholars now think that Christ and the other figures in the center of the image were drawn by Rembrandt himself, but that the surrounding parts of the composition were completed by Rembrandt’s workshop assistants. One of the figures in the central group who appears wearing a plumed cap and leaning over the balustrade bears a striking resemblance to Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and may have been included by the master as an amusing allusion to the status of artists as observers and interpreters of history. 

The Crucifixion. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), 1635; this impression 17th century. Etching. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.8

As Rembrandt matured artistically, his compositions became increasingly subtle and sophisticated. In this image of Christ’s crucifixion from 1635, Rembrandt leaves almost half of the printing plate empty, allowing the blank space to magnify the feelings of sorrow and desolation evoked by the anguished figures that surround the cross. Rembrandt experimented with different ways of inking the plate for this print to make the image appear lighter or darker. This impression, which may have been taken during Rembrandt’s lifetime, has an even, mid-range tone.

Christ Carried to the Tomb. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), ca. 1645; this impression 17th century. Etching and drypoint. The Sarah and Grace Collection, 2018.8.3

Part of Rembrandt’s genius was his ability to imagine and convey the inner feelings of the characters in the stories he depicted. This etching of Christ’s followers carrying his body to the tomb perfectly captures the somber dejection they must have felt after Christ’s execution and before his resurrection. The jumbled, nervous lines of the landscape around the figures further magnify the mood of uncertainty and confusion. This is one of the few etchings that Rembrandt did not re-work and re-print in multiple states. It exists in only one state, and the quality of this impression suggests that it may have been printed during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

All of these prints are included in the focus exhibition Rembrandt Etchings, on view at the Hope College Kruizenga Art Museum from April 9 to June 1, 2019. The museum is located at 271 Columbia Avenue in Holland, MI. Public visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-4pm. The museum is closed on all campus holidays, including Easter weekend. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Object Lessons: Mexican People Portfolio

In 1946, the Taller de Grafica Popular (People’s Graphic Workshop) in Mexico City published a portfolio titled Mexican People that consisted of twelve lithographic prints by ten different artists depicting scenes of Mexican working life. The purpose of the portfolio was to help Americans better understand the peoples and cultures of Mexico as both countries struggled to readjust to new global economic conditions after World War II.

Silver Mine Worker. Francisco Mora (Mexican, 1922-2002), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection

The Kruizenga Art Museum purchased an intact copy of the Mexican People portfolio in January, 2016. It has since become one of the most heavily used artworks in the museum’s teaching program as every year it is shown to multiple Spanish language, history, and interdisciplinary studies classes.

The Taller de Grafica Popular, or TGP, was a printmaking collective that was founded in 1937 to promote the goals of the Mexican Revolution and other left-wing causes. During its heyday from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, the TGP produced thousands of low-cost prints and posters aimed at supporting workers’ rights, combatting corruption and violence, and promoting national and international unity.

Lime Kilns. Raul Anguiano (Mexican, 1915-2006), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection

Publication of the Mexican People portfolio coincided with the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican-American War, which lasted from 1846 to 1848 and resulted in the United States claiming a large portion of Mexico’s northern territory. It also coincided with a renewed conversation about immigration that occurred as American politicians debated what to do about the Bracero program, which brought hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers to the United States to fill vital farm and factory jobs during World War II. Although Bracero workers were supposed to come into the US on fixed-term labor contracts, some wanted the ability to extend their contracts while others wanted to stay in the US permanently. Many American farmers supported extending the Bracero program as they had become highly reliant on Mexican labor to maintain their agricultural output. In the end, the Bracero program was extended until 1964 and provided a legal channel for more than five million Mexicans to work in the US on a seasonal or full-time basis during those years.

Lumber Workers. Alfredo Zalce (Mexican, 1908-2003), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection

The Mexican People portfolio presents a positive image of Mexicans as being hardworking and industrious. It includes captions in both Spanish and English that explain the subjects of each print and shows on a map of Mexico where the different scenes are located. The portfolio was distributed in the United States through Associated American Artists, a New York-based gallery that was dedicated to providing original works of art at affordable prices to middle-class consumers. Approximately 250 copies of the portfolio were issued in the United States. Some of the portfolios were broken up and the prints were sold off individually; other copies of the portfolio were kept intact.

The complete portfolio is on view in the Kruizenga Museum through January 26. Admission is always free and everyone is welcome. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm.

Silver Mine Worker

Francisco Mora (Mexican, 1922-2002), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection, 2016.1.1.2

Mexico is home to some of the richest silver deposits in the world.  After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, huge quantities of Mexican silver were shipped overseas to fuel the economies of Europe and Asia. Historically most Mexican silver was mined by hand. Miners often worked in low tunnels with poor ventilation and drainage and accidental deaths were common. The exploitation of Mexican mines and miners continued well into the 20th century, as we see in this Francisco Mora print depicting a miner working in the state of Hidalgo north of Mexico City.

Lime Kilns

Raul Anguiano (Mexican, 1915-2006), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection, 2016.1.1.4

Lime is a calcium-rich mineral that was traditionally produced by burning limestone or chalk in large kilns. It is a vital ingredient in cement and concrete around the world. In Mexico it is also often used to whitewash adobe houses and to prepare maize for cooking. Making lime can be dangerous. The smoke from the kilns contains particles that can damage the lungs, while the intense light of the kiln fire can damage the eyes. Raul Anguiano captures the hot, back-breaking nature of lime production in this image of a lime factory near the town of Tula de Allende in central Mexico.

Lumber Workers

Alfredo Zalce (Mexican, 1908-2003), 1946, Lithograph, Hope College Collection, 2016.1.1.11

The Lacandon Jungle in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico is a lush tropical rainforest filled with a bountiful variety of trees, plants and animals. Because it was remote and difficult to access, the Lacandon Jungle remained relatively intact until the late 19th century. Since then, however, large sections of the rainforest have been cut down to make way for mining operations, coffee and rubber plantations as well as agricultural farms and ranches. Today only ten percent of the original forest remains untouched. This print depicts sawyers in the Gulf Coast port of Ciudad del Carmen cutting tropical hardwood logs from Chiapas into standard lengths so that they can be shipped off to market in the United States and Europe.

Student Profile: Studio Art Major Brianna Derfiny

Now that the fall semester has ended, senior art studio majors have some time to reflect on what they learned in ART 365, the independent studio projects course. They will also look forward to ART 350, the art studio seminar, this spring. The goal of these two seminars is to create a body of work for the senior show, which will open on April 5, 2019.

Brianna Derfiny with her completed work in the Student Juried Art Show

Brianna “Bri” Derfiny of Southgate, Michigan will be spending her inter-semester break contemplating how her practice in ART 365 will transfer to her project for ART 350. Like her classmates in the class of 2019, Bri is at the cusp of transforming from a student into a practicing artist. With that comes the essential question: how to I develop habits of artistic practice that will keep me making art after Hope College?

The studio program at Hope is designed to address this question. The curriculum is set up as a pyramid and is a hybrid of art school and liberal arts curricula. Whereas at an art school, students would immediately focus on one medium, students at Hope develop skills in a wide range of media. At the pyramid’s base, every studio major must take foundational courses in the each of the media offered: painting, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, photography and design. In these courses, students (both majors and students in the general education curriculum) spend the class time practice skills under the close supervision of a professor. Bri explains, “Throughout college, I have always had to stick to the boundaries of an assignment.  It’s like living in an imaginary box.”

The middle of the pyramid, students choose advanced studio courses from blocks, where students can track themselves into 2D or 3D practices. At this level, students work with more freedom with assignments that have broader perimeters. Bri explains that the advanced course are still assignment-based, but in addition to skill, students must now bring content to the work.  Bri says, “Technique is still important, but much of the assignment is about thinking more broadly and working on a topic you want to go with. In figure drawing class, Professor Sullivan always wanted a concept while you are focusing on technical skills. An idea always needed to be there.”

Bri with senior Art History major Nina Kay discussing work from ART 365

At the top of the pyramid is the ART 365/350 sequence, which models the design of art school. These courses function as capstones to the art studio major. In the fall, Art 365 is a seminar that is not skills based, but completely focused on teaching students how to work without the perimeters of an assignment. Class time is dedicated to discussion and critique, and all studio work must be done outside of class.  A challenge for students is to develop consistent habits and a work schedule that will keep them in the studio working on their art practice in the midst of all of the other things going on in their lives. In reflecting on her experience, Bri says, “I really like making art in general. In ART 365, coming up with ideas is the easy part. Having to work through the idea and actually create the work is challenging.”

One of the benefits of being in the studio seminar is having a space to work.  In the fall, seniors share a studio space in the DePree Art center, but in the spring they will have their own studios. “Over the summer, finding the time and the space to make work was challenging. I had a job, but I tried to draw in my sketchbook every day. Having a space to work is essential,” says Bri. “I feel I have always had a good work ethic. It makes it much easier when you are passionate about it. So, I feel like it is really easy to spend a ton of time in the studio. And even if I am not working on art, I can be taking notes on what I potentially do the following week.”

Last semester, Bri branched out from her comfort zone and combined her work in drawing and rendering with more conceptual work such as performance and process-based work. “I think my rendering skill and my shading are what I am best at. My work has a strong realism attribute to it.  I tried to escape it this semester and experimented with abstract and geometric shapes. I also tied different forms of art. I have done spoken words before, but never performed them in an artistic setting. Having done that and being able to render the way that I do leads me in the direction to including more poetry in my rendered work.”

Bri in the senior studio of DePree holding a drawing from ART 365

Next semester in ART 350, Bri and her classmates will take the habits they have been developing and the experiments that seemed the most successful and move towards creating a body of work for the senior show. While some students will produce mixed-media and installation-based works that are very reflective of Hope’s hybrid curriculum, others will hone a particular medium in which they excel.

As Bri thinks about her part, she feels both the excitement of having freedom to create her own body of work, as well as the intimidation that comes with such freedom. “It is all the things. It’s exciting and somewhat intimidating to have to create a body of work that is good and that shows off your skills and concepts.

“Moving forward I am gong to do more rendered work, because that is what I like and what I think I am best at. But it was really helpful to see that I can conceptualize an idea without rendering it completely. I want to incorporate some performance in some way, so I would render works that have performative elements with them.  I have an idea for one, but I am not necessarily sure how I would implement that same idea throughout different works. That is what I will have to figure out next semester.”

Juried Art Show Provides Hope Students With Invaluable Experience

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

The annual juried art show opened in the DePree Gallery on Monday, November 19th.  Twenty-eight students have work in the show, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, textiles, new media, and installation art.  This year the guest juror is Patrick Earl Hammie, a professor of art at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champlain.

People may wonder what a juried art show is, and why does the Department of Art and Art History include juried shows in the exhibition program?  How can someone judge a work, and based on what criteria?

Rembrandt van Rijn, Holly Family with a Curtain, 1646 (Image in the public domain)

Juried art shows are an essential part of an artist’s training.  Juried competitions have roots in antiquity.  The Roman author Pliny described competitions in Athens in which the greatest artists of Ancient Greece, Praxiteles, Zeuxis and Apelles, participated. Competition was thought to bring out the best in artists, as is the case in sport: the better the opponent, the better one plays. The most famous artist competition in antiquity was the dual between the well-established Zeuxis and the underdog Parrhasios.  Zeuxis painted grapes that looked so real, birds flew up to the painting and tried to eat them. On his turn, Parrhasios placed a curtain on the stage. When Zeuxis told Parrhasios to reveal the painting behind the curtain, only then did Zeuxis realize he had been fooled by Parrhasios’s life-like painting of a curtain. Many artists, including Rembrandt, refer to this story in their works as a way to show off their skill and compete, so to speak, with the great painters of antiquity.

Pietro Antonio Martini, The Paris Salon of 1787, 1781 (Image in the public domain)

Once art academies were established in the 16th century in France and England, juried shows were an important part of the academic curriculum. Students participated in juried shows in which the faculty decided which paintings would be exhibited at the public exhibitions, called Salons. Faculty chose works that it deemed represented good taste. Such competitions often determined the careers and reputations of artists.  As a result, the faculty controlled public demand for certain artists and artworks. (If only that were the case today!)

Juried salons often caused controversy.  In 1863, the Salon committee rejected the works of several artists, including the French modernist Manet and the American painter Whistler, due to their new and non-traditional approaches to style and subject matter.  These artists complained to the Salon committee and were given an alternative exhibition space called the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of the Rejected Ones).

“Having an outside person come and talk to us about our work (after jurying) was helpful because he was objective.  He doesn’t teach or know us, so he responds to what he sees.” — Holle Wade ’20

Despite controversies, judging art by outside jurors gives a student a fresh perspective of his or her work. Juried performances are part and parcel to the cultivation and training of young musicians, as well. Having to perform in front of a stranger might be nerve wracking, but it trains young musicians not just to master skill but also and importantly to develop musicianship. Because of the close teacher-student relationship that is the nature of music and studio art instruction, outside jurying is essential for broadening the feedback students receive. Studio and art history major Holle Wade ’20 offers this insight, “having an outside person come and talk to us about our work (after jurying) was helpful because he was objective.  He doesn’t teach or know us, so he responds to what he sees.”

Juried artwork must stand on its own … meaning the work itself must do the talking.

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

When a student submits work to a juried show, the work must stand on its own.  This means the student-artist will not be present to explain what he or she meant or intended when the juror looks at the work.  The work itself must do the talking. In preparing for the exhibition, the student-artist must think about the details that are all too easy to overlook in a regular assignment.  For example, the student must come to a point where the work feels finished.  This includes a myriad of decisions such as (and not too different from essay writing): Is my main idea clear? Is it a relevant idea? Does my work have a perspective? Have I used my skills intently? Have I straightened the edges, dried the paint, polished the plate?  How should I display my work?  Good art is less about inspiration than about decisions.

Student Juried Show at the DePree Gallery

At Hope College, the guest juror is alone in the gallery as he or she selects the works for the show. The juror looks at each work individually as assess the work’s merits.  The juror also tries to make a coherent show by considering how the works will function together as an ensemble. When Hammie spoke about his process in jurying, he said that he looked for works that connected to him on a personal level.  For Hammie, the question was: what is visually arresting about this work? Hammie looked at whether the artist’s intent was clear.  He also selected works that surprised him or confronted him with the unexpected: confident skill, nuanced colors, bold size, and new media. Walking through the exhibition, the visitor can feel Hammie’s attraction to bold colors, compelling formal presentations of the body and interplays of scale and materials.

The student juried show is an invaluable opportunity for Hope College students that is not typical of undergraduate studio art education, even at many elite institutions.

All of the artists in the show should feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that their work is exhibited in a professional-level art gallery. “It’s a new feeling to have your work displayed for everyone to see,” says Wade. “Hammie chose work that makes you think. It’s more than just technical skill. It’s about looking and not walking away.” The student juried show is an invaluable opportunity for Hope College students that is not typical of undergraduate studio art education, even at many elite institutions.

Object Lessons: Calculus in the KAM

How is art relevant to calculus and calculus relevant to art? Every semester for the past two years, Dr. Stephanie Edwards, professor of mathematics and chairperson of the department, has been bringing her Calculus I and II classes to the Kruizenga Art Museum to consider exactly these questions.

To answer the first question — how art is relevant to calculus — the students begin by learning about the art-making process in which artists break down an envisioned artwork into smaller constituent components and then work out the logistical steps that are needed to transform each component into reality. Students are helped to understand the often experimental nature of art making by looking at a group of preparatory drawings, trial prints and sculptural models that show how artists figure out certain aspects of their artworks, including forms, compositions, and color schemes.

Students begin by learning about the art-making process in which artists break down an envisioned artwork into smaller constituent components and then work out the logistical steps that are needed to transform each component into reality.

Next, the students look at a group of finished artworks that reveal how artists sometimes make mistakes when putting together the different components of their artwork, resulting in passages that are flawed or show obvious signs of correction. In many cases the class is able to reverse engineer the creative process and speculate about how and why the mistakes likely occurred.

Finally, the students are asked to compare the processes of art-making to the processes of mathematical problem-solving. Different students see different parallels between art and math, but most end up agreeing that the processes of both disciplines are similarly creative and dynamic.

Now, the second question: how is calculus relevant to art? Dr. Edward’s students are asked to step into the shoes of a Ming-dynasty Chinese bell maker.

Temple Bell. Chinese, 17th century. Bronze. Gift of David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton, 2014.23.160.

Now, the second question: how is calculus relevant to art? Dr. Edward’s students are asked to step into the shoes of a Ming-dynasty Chinese bell maker. The students learn that in 17th-century China, bronze bells were made using full-size wax models that were encased in clay molds and heated to melt the wax, leaving a hollow space in which to pour the molten bronze. Because bronze was expensive, bell makers did not want to buy and melt too much of the semi-precious metal, so they calculated the volume of bronze they would need using the dimensions of the wax model.

Hope calculus students do the same thing, but instead of using a wax model, they use a Ming Chinese bell that was cast around 400 years ago. By measuring the bell’s circumference, its thickness, and the length from its crown to its rim, the students are able to use the math skills they learned in class to figure out the bell’s volume, allowing some variation for the bell’s irregular decorative features. Admittedly, there is usually no pressing need to know the volume of an already cast bell, but this class exercise provides an opportunity to apply practical math skills while at the same time learning about an interesting historical artifact.

One last lesson: The bell above would have been used in a Chinese Buddhist temple to call monks to prayer and to meals. It is not like a Western-style bell that is swung and rung with a clapper inside the bell. Rather, bells like this were hung in a stationary position and struck on the side with a padded mallet. It was cast in clay molds using the lost-wax technique. The body of the bell was cast first and then the double-headed dragon loop was cast directly onto the top of the bell later. The Chinese have been using bronze to make both sacred and secular objects since the 3rd millennium BCE.

Bruce McCombs Exhibit in Final Days

The Bruce McCombs exhibit currently in the DePree Art Center and Gallery is your opportunity to feel as though you are walking through campus while indoors and in one place. Multiple realistic watercolor artwork of Hope buildings and scene-scapes by the long-time Hope professor are on display until Friday, November 9.  McCombs’ profound artistic talent and his unexpected perspectives gives viewers angles of Hope’s campus they may have never considered before. His mesmerizing use of light, reflections and shadows will also capture your imagination as it first did his.

Stop by the gallery soon to catch the college in art form.

The De Pree Art Center and Gallery is located at 275 Columbia Ave., between 10th and 13th streets.  The gallery is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.


Art by Bruce McCombs
Art by Bruce McCombs
Art by Bruce McComb
Art by Bruce McCombs
Art by Bruce McCombs
Art by Bruce McCombs

Hope Connections Play Critical Role in Exhibit at the Kruizenga Art Museum

The exhibition Living Tradition: Contemporary Ethiopian Christian Art from the Sobania Collection, on view at the Kruizenga Art Museum until Saturday, December 15, would never have happened without critical contributions from current and former Hope College students who worked together with the museum staff in various capacities as donors, artists, curators and catalog designers.


Neal and Liz Sobania donated their large collection of Ethiopian Christian art to Hope.

The person most responsible for the Living Tradition exhibition is Dr. Neal Sobania ’68, who, together with his wife Liz, donated all but two of the 67 artworks featured in the exhibition. After graduating from Hope, Neal served for four years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. He then went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Ohio University in 1973 and a PhD from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies in 1980, where his research focused on nomadic herders of northern Kenya. Neal returned to Hope College as a history professor in 1981. He taught at Hope from 1981 to 1995 and at Pacific Lutheran University from 1995 to 2015, while also directing the international education programs at both institutions. The Ethiopian Christian art on display in Living Tradition is part of a much larger African art collection that the Sobanias have been donating to the Kruizenga Art Museum in installments since 2015. The Sobania gift is one reason why the Kruizenga Art Museum now possesses the largest, most diverse collection of African art in West Michigan.

Ethiopian-born artist and 2003 Hope alumnus Daniel Berhanemeskel spoke at the Kruizenga Art Museum about traditional Ethiopian painting materials, techniques and styles.

Artist Daniel Berhanemeskel ’03 painted four of the icons that are included in the exhibition and also donated a set of Ethiopian priest’s robes that are among the visual highlights of the show. Daniel belongs to a prominent family of Ethiopian religious artists and has been painting since he was eight years old. With support from Neal Sobania and former Hope art professor Del Michel, Daniel came to Hope College in 1999 to major in art. After graduating from Hope, Daniel earned an MFA degree from Michigan State University and has continued his career as a painter while also working as a computer programmer in Northern Virginia. Daniel gave a gallery talk at the Kruizenga Art Museum on September 22 that drew more than 70 people, the largest audience ever to attend a gallery talk at the Kruizenga Art Museum.

Thanks to an endowment established by John H. Dryfhout ’64, the Kruizenga Museum is able to employ student interns to research its collections and help curate exhibitions. Nina Kay, class of 2019, is a current Hope College senior who is double majoring in Art History and Women and Gender Studies and minoring in Creative Writing. Nina worked at the museum as the John H. Dryfhout intern in the spring of 2018, helping to curate the Living Tradition exhibition by cataloging, researching and writing labels for all of the icon paintings in the exhibition. Nina’s work on the exhibition also led her to ask questions about the role of women in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which in turn prompted the curatorial team to add an entire section to the exhibition addressing that topic. Students have participated as curators or preparators in every major exhibition organized by the Kruizenga Museum since it opened in September, 2015.

The last major contributor to the exhibition is Tom Wagner ’84, who currently works as a photographer and graphic designer based in Grand Rapids. Tom designed and produced the catalog for the exhibition. A digital copy of the catalog is available free of charge on the museum’s website and a limited number of printed copies are available for purchase at the museum. The Living Tradition catalog is the second exhibition publication produced by Tom for the Kruizenga Museum. The museum strives to produce at least one exhibition catalog every year to showcase the research and writing of student curators.

The Kruizenga Art Museum functions as an educational resource for Hope College and the greater West Michigan community. The museum features two public galleries as well as a classroom and climate-controlled storage space for its 4,000-object permanent collection. It is named in honor of a leadership gift from Dr. Richard and the late Margaret Kruizenga of Holland, both of whom graduated from Hope in 1952.  

Additional information is available at The museum is located at 271 Columbia Ave., between 10th and 13th streets and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hope Alum Wins at ArtPrize

We kick off this new blog, The Arts at Hope, with fantastic news! Last Friday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hope alumna Megan Constance Altieri ’13 was named a winner in ArtPrize, the West Michigan-based international art competition recognized as one of the world’s largest annual public art events. Altieri’s piece, Sonder, won the $12,500 Installation Public Vote Award.

Installed on the grounds of the Grand Rapids Public Art Museum, Sonder “illustrates the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as our own,” reads the description of the work on the ArtPrize website. “In our awareness of even a single other person, we begin to grasp the magnitude of the 7.6 billion coexisting realities all as specific and important as one another. Over the past two years, Altieri has gathered fragments of overheard conversations and hand-stamped them on articles of clothing matching those of the speaker.”

Sonder is moving for its empathy as it offers viewers a greater awareness of lives lived outside their own. The public engagement with the piece was also touching; at any one time, dozens and dozens of curious people engaged with the work, taking in and talking about its significance.

“Megan was one of those students I’ll never forget. She was constantly in the studio and devoted herself fully to her art, yet also had the best sense of humor,” recalls Dr. Heidi Kraus, associate professor of art and art history and director of the DePree Art Gallery. “You could always expect to see Megan laughing, but the seriousness with which she approached her work was never in question. The department is so proud of her—although we certainly aren’t surprised by her success. She was and remains a bright light in our program here at Hope.”

When she’s not winning an ArtPrize, Altieri — who also was a four-year women’s soccer player for Hope — is an art teacher at Wellspring Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids.

Watch Altieri talk about Sonder‘s creation and relevance.

Congratulations, Megan Constance Altieri! Your alma mater is happy for and proud of you!