This portfolio showcases artwork created by the Williams College Class of 2020 Senior Studio Art majors Katie Brule, Emma Egan, Nicole Ford, Maria Heredia, Emily Peckham, Sarah Scire, Ceci Swenson, and Wylie Thornquist. During the spring 2020 Senior Studio Seminar, this group of students worked with Pallavi Sen, Assistant Professor of Art, to explore a wide range of topics including identity, personal and collective history, mythology, language, perception, astronomy, color, and materiality.
In March 2020, when the Williams College campus switched over to remote learning, the students continued to develop their work from their new locations. Produced both within and outside the studio, the work spans a variety of mediums including film, audio, textiles, digital art, painting, drawing, book arts, and sculpture. In many cases, their projects reflect the challenges of creating art in the context of a global pandemic. In lieu of an exhibition at the museum as done in years past, Nina Pelaez, WCMA Curator of Programs and Interpretation, worked with Pallavi Sen and the class to create this portfolio which offers a look into the students’ creative reflections.
During the summer of 2020, WCMA interns reached out to the recent graduates for virtual studio visits. Several of the artists spoke in detail about their work and practice in the resulting interviews, which can be watched on our YouTube channel.
My mother wanted to make hearts to put up in our windows. People in our neighborhood and her friends are doing it, all over the internet they’re doing it—making rainbows out of paper cut-out hearts of hope and love and faith and all the things that make my stomach hurt if I think too hard about them. She wanted me to help. She doesn’t think she’s creative enough, you see, even though she is in her own way. And anyone can cut out paper hearts. I told her no one would be able to see our windows from the road. And so our windows have been bare for ten weeks now; my pursuit of being right ignoring the need to be kind. I find myself stuck in the mud of rationality and refuse to budge when spontaneity tries to pull me out. Rationalizations leave no room for indulgences. Please could you be more tender, I tell myself. I can feel how the cold spreads into those around me with each mumble and refusal to laugh; I beg myself to be warmer; my hands are freezing to the touch.
My love shows in the things I make. If I can’t use my hands for warmth, then I’ll use them to make something warm. Cinnamon rolls for my father’s friend; he’s fifty today, celebrating with a computer instead of a party. Cookies and cake for my brothers, muffins for my mother; a hand-painted card for a friend, a poem in my mind for a boy I no longer know how to talk to. I put my love into the making and the process, and I hope that they see and understand what is there, inarticulate in my own mouth. I make these towels for my mother. Stitching each one, taking care on the corners, pricking myself accidentally without feeling the sting. Choosing the colors, simmering, coaxing them out of the materials and into the fibers, hoping they will soak up my love with them. Experiments at communication and coloration that fail as often as they succeed. They are for her hands to use until faded and threadbare. They are a rainbow of my own, though missing a few colors, subconsciously making up for the one I refused to indulge.
I hope you understand.
Artwork by Emma Egan ’20, Senior Studio Major
When I was younger, my mom worked at a local video rental shop. I would spend some of my weekends with her there, cozied up in a beanbag chair, popcorn in hand, watching every movie from the children’s rentals shelf. One day, one of her coworkers sat me down with a battered copy of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and from the second the opening credits began, I was mesmerized. I watched a small truck speed through fields of lush green, cool blue water gently flow through creeks, and tangled wood swaying in a thicket. Things I had seen in my own life had been turned to magic by Miyazaki’s quiet and reflective animation, and I immediately fell in love with his ability to weave life into story. Every chance I had in the store, I would ask for the next Miyazaki film, until I had seen them all. Everything about his style made my heart sing.
The experience was unlike the cartoons I had watched before. It felt calm, and though I may not have fully understood the plot, I did understand the emotion and the beauty of each still. More than anything, I fell in love with the way he captured the wind brushing across the surface of an overgrown field. The movements of nature he was able to capture in his work are so intrinsic to the world we live in yet so minute to our perception of it. His animations were able to challenge me from a young age to see the beauty in these small moments that may otherwise go unnoticed, and I learned to marvel at the world as it is. To this day, every time I see shadows of the wind blow through a grassy hill, steam rise from a boiling kettle, or the reflection of fire flickering on skin, I am reminded of an art form which has touched me for so long. In moments like this one, when I crave the normalcy of daily life, I find comfort in looking for the movements that Miyazaki would delight in showing. In times of trouble my eyes constantly search for moments of respite in the familiar, for serenity and divinity in dirt and grass and sea foam. My own pursuits in animation and storytelling have only just begun with my work in the past year, and though it may not show in style, I take immense inspiration from the way Miyazaki’s movies made me feel. I aim to spark wonder in the same way he is able to, even if it’s just through small paper puppets.
Though my work relies on stories of my own experience, I hope to allow viewers the chance to look back on their histories with wonder, and to feel. Though I may never learn how to animate the dancing of grass under a warm summer breeze, or the unpredictable crash of waves and seaspit, I hope that through my own work I can help others see beauty which may exist unbeknownst to them. Small moments of care, resilience, and love are just what I need in these uncertain times, and I hope these animations will bring comfort to others as well, even if it’s just a short point of respite. Sometimes the best thing to do is sit and watch the world go by.
Growing up by the sea, I’ve always loved boats.
When I was younger, I would make little boats out of anything I could find, leaves, sticks, and scraps of paper became mast and sail. My mother and I would walk the winding park path to a small opening by the riverside. The inlet serving as our dock, we launched the boats into the swirling river. I would watch them float with an equal mix of patience and hesitation. I had quickly learned that not all boats are ready for sea, but if you keep trying, keep rebuilding, and keep your head up, eventually, one will float. And it will feel like magic in front of your eyes.
Though I didn’t know him well, I’ve been told that my great grandfather had a knack for making friends. They would visit often, and he’d always have snacks ready. He loved them all, but Peter had a special place in his heart.
No matter the weather, he’d set some peanuts out on the front deck and wait for Peter to drop by, and he always did. My great grandfather thought, no matter what form they may take, you should always be kind to a friend.
(and always have some peanuts ready for their next visit…)
Skymap Lines, Artwork by Nicole Ford ’20, Senior Studio Major
I am an astrophysics and studio art double major. After coming home from Williams, I missed both my art studio space and the on-campus observatory where I would operate telescopes for students. Being in the Boston metropolitan area, I especially missed the dark skies of Williamstown. One unexpected gain of coming home, however, was that I got to explore the nature reservation next to my apartment. I encountered an amazing variety of plant and animal life growing and developing throughout the spring months.
I decided to combine digital art with my familiarity and knowledge with the stars by designing my own skymap of animal constellations. I particularly tried to focus on capturing the colors of stars as we would see them looking through a telescope (or maybe on a very clear night). Stars vary from white to shades of light blue and light orange. The blue and orange colors are based on the surface temperature of the star (counterintuitively, red is cooler and blue is hotter). In making these constellations, I attempted to capture the variety and distribution of shades of stars that one would actually see in the night sky. The colors used for the stars also became the colors used (in a more saturated form) for the constellation drawings. I also chose to focus on several of the animals that I’ve observed closely during my time in the nature reservation. Through this collection of constellations, I was able to explore and process how I perceive and relate to my new surroundings since leaving Williams.
After all, constellations are designed for this very purpose—to make unfamiliar things feel more familiar, to make the unknowable feel knowable. They function as a form of communication and storytelling, enabling us to express what we are seeing and experiencing, and to make us feel more connected with the world around us. The scale that stars occupy in the night sky is mind boggling—they can live for billions of years, expand to sizes larger than our entire solar system, and they’re so far away that, even traveling at the speed of light, it could take millions of years to reach them. But by drawing out familiar environmental imagery in the sky, the stars begin to feel slightly more accessible. At the same time, by translating common plants and animals into the night sky, they become imbued with a sense of importance and reverence. This sense of awe is well-deserved, just as it is for the stars; these plants and animals have lived on this planet for longer than humanity has existed, and they watch us just as we watch them.
The process of embroidery forces you to slow down. There is a methodical aspect of the process where you are forced to anticipate how you are going to render the design on fabric and the distance between the stitches. I started working with embroidering about a year ago to help with my hand-eye coordination for art conservation, but I quickly recognized that I could mimic a woven design on the surface of a material. I chose silk because of its transparent, hazy quality. This visual effect is representative of how I see my indigeneity. I know it’s there and I see it in my facial features, but it is also very fragile and translucent. Because I grew up in the states and rarely returned to Bolivia, and my Bolivian family continues to reject our indigenous ancestry, I do not know specifics about my ancestors. I saw the silk as this manifestation of knowing but not being able to fully realize those thoughts. The color red is a color I often return to because of its connection to colonialism and the exchange of materials that occurred between Latin America and Europe. It also alludes to blood and the body in a visceral way. Embroidering on silk was difficult because the fabric does not hide the backside. I spent hours thinking about which colors and stitch would give me the best visual image.
I have been living in Williamstown for about a month and a half now. In that time—and in the month prior, during which I was living at home—I have thought a lot about how this particularly crazy time has left me feeling. A few weeks ago, I decided to begin recording these thoughts and feelings through drawing, and the resultant work has in turn become a way of documenting this time as a whole. Looking to the future, I am curious how COVID-19 will be remembered at both a personal and a global scale. What imagery will become representative of this time? What stories will we tell our grandchildren? For my own family, perhaps these drawings will become part of our history, preserved along with photo albums and old tapes. I like the thought of that. So, for posterity’s sake, here goes…
I went grocery shopping today for the first time since being back in Williamstown. I wore my mask and my gloves, but I walked around the store for a good 20 minutes before realizing that there were arrows on the floor. I kept my distance from people as much as I could, but an old woman asked me to grab a can of baking powder for her from the top shelf. She wasn’t wearing gloves and she was definitely fewer than 6 feet away from me, but I couldn’t say no. Being tall has its downsides.
I can’t help but notice the looks that people give one another these days—a mix of nervousness and suspicion. Maybe I’m just projecting—it’s kind of hard to tell how someone is feeling when their face is half-covered. Sometimes I smile extra hard when I pass someone on the street, hoping that it reaches my eyes to let them know that I’m not just blankly staring. I’m not sure that it works—I haven’t noticed many smiling eyes in return. Everyone is just so on-edge, so distrusting. It makes sense, but it still feels weird.
I call this one ‘Re-Creation.’ I got a good laugh out of it.
My friends haven’t watered their plant in a while. I didn’t really notice it until I started drawing, but once I put my marker to paper, all of the signs suddenly jumped out at me—the yellow and brown leaves, ends withered; a dry trunk emerging from a pot of dusty soil. Someone gave him a drink while I was working. He looks happier already. I wonder how long it has been since anyone even noticed him sitting there in the corner. I wonder what he’s seen in that time.
The dishes in the sink have been there for four days. Instead of washing them I’m drawing them.
I finally broke down and let myself have take-out. The idea of contactless pick-up is hilarious to me. I mean, there has to be contact somewhere—at least one point of entry amid all of that cooking and packing and paying—right? It seems like it would be virtually impossible for there not to be, but I haven’t had Chipotle in sooooo long. :/
If there is anything that quarantine has shown me, it’s the beauty in the every-day.
I love the drive back from the store because there are always a few minutes during which I’m able to forget how weird the world is. They’re usually in full swing by the time I get to Spring Street, my mask and gloves off, my mouth mindlessly moving along to the same five songs that manage to fit themselves into the drive. The sign above Images always snaps me out of it, though, returning me to the new reality as I turn into the parking lot.
I went to Walmart today. It was more crowded than usual. I was wearing a sweatshirt that had ‘Health’ written across the front, and I feel like people were giving me looks. Maybe they weren’t, but I still think it’s funny given the circumstances.
Finals officially start tomorrow, but I’ve had two due already. My professors have told us not to stress, but I can’t help it. At the same time, though, I am not worried at all — if there’s anything that I know now going into my last finals period (yikes), it’s that the work will get done eventually.
Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m happy here. I’ve been thinking about how many people have died in the past three months, how many people have lost someone, how many people are living alone through all of this. I’ve been thinking about Mom and Dad. I know that they miss me, and I haven’t been calling as often as I promised I would when I left. I don’t know, maybe I’m selfish for coming back.
The weather has been nice and I’ve been taking breaks from work more often than I should. Since online classes started, I feel like I’ve been doing just enough to get by. I hate feeling like this, like I’m slacking, but I just can’t seem to find the motivation to push harder. I’m tired at the end of most days, even though I’m not doing much.
Last week, I bought fake flowers for our kitchen and coffee tables, even though I’m only here for two more weeks. The other day, I swept, vacuumed, and mopped the apartment floor, fluffed couch pillows, and Windexed our glass table just to get rid of the fingerprints on it. Today, I cleaned and reorganized the fridge…need I go on?
Artwork by Ceci Swenson ’20, Senior Studio Major
Artwork by Ceci Swenson ’20, Senior Studio Major
Artwork by Wylie Thornquist ’20, Senior Studio Major
Artwork by Wylie Thornquist ’20, Senior Studio Major