Art and Community Coexist in Senior Exhibition 2024

Humanities10 MIN READ

Held for the first time off campus, the exhibition celebrates student artistry while connecting with downtown

Marthe Unkap ’24, an economics and studio art double major, works to hang her senior art exhibition piece in the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center. The 2024 Senior Exhibition runs through May 26.
By Laura MeaderPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
May 20, 2024

Morgan Cheney ’24 spent her senior year photographing her experiences as a firefighter with the Waterville Fire Department. At the opening of the Senior Exhibition 2024, where her photographs are on view, she zig-zagged through the crowd to make an important introduction.

“Nana,” she said to a well-dressed woman at a café table, “I’d like you to meet Chief Esler. He’s been my supervisor this year.”

This one, tender encounter typifies the multitude of connections made at the exhibition’s lively opening on May 9 in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. For the first time, the Senior Exhibition appears off campus, in the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, the Colby Museum’s satellite gallery.

It’s a place where art and community commingle, where a grandmother and fire chief momentarily coexist.

“As a department, we felt it would be nice to connect with downtown,” said Professor of Art Bevin Engman. “The downtown presence is strong, and it’s a lovely gesture to the community, which we value.”

Hundreds gathered to be among the first to view the work of 18 seniors, the College’s largest group of students to exhibit their art. The show, on view through May 26, includes artwork by six painters, five sculptors, five printmakers, and two photographers.

Colorful paintings hanging on a wall
The art of Viva Goetze ’24, an environmental science and art studio double major, is one of 18 student on view in the Senior Exhibition 2024 in the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville.

“It is a joy to be here to celebrate the incredible creativity, artistry, and work of graduating studio majors in the Art Department,” said Jacqueline Terrassa, the Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby Museum of Art. She also acknowledged the students in the art criticism course who wrote for the exhibition catalog, “an incredible publication in and of itself.”

Engman, who coordinated the studio majors in their capstone course, expressed pride in the students’ efforts. “It is noteworthy how hard they worked to gain liftoff. I was quite impressed with this group’s ability to focus and the compassion and encouragement they showed for one another.”

Prize-winning art

Independent jurors evaluated the artworks and awarded two prizes. They agreed that this year’s show was difficult to judge. “They were so impressed, not just by the strength of the work on view but also by the range of mediums,” said Professor of Art Véronique Plesch, who as department chair oversees the jury process.

The 2024 jurors were Alison Hildreth, an acclaimed Maine-based artist; Cynthia Hyde, co-owner of Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, Maine; and Carl Little, a published poet and an author of more than 30 art books.

Three female artists at work in a painting studio.
Ava Stotz ’24, a studio art major (left), Vivian Sullivan ’24, a biology and studio art double major (back), and Emma Baker ’24, an art history and studio art double major (right), work on their final exhibition pieces in the Crawford Art Studios.

Jess Xing ’24, a studio art major, won the Charles Hovey Pepper Prize for meritorious work for her sensuous Memory on My Skin. The haunting, mixed-media work includes a painted latex form in soft pinks and pearlescent whites suspended within a frame; animated clusters of red dots emerge and pulsate beneath the skin’s surface. An accompanying video documents the artist’s body being exfoliated with a glove, red marks stippling her skin.

Xing was shocked at receiving the prize. Her work stems from a complex and difficult memory when her mother introduced the cultural tradition of exfoliation to her as a very young child. 

From Beijing and Vienna, Va., Xing came to Colby to major in biology. As a sophomore, she heeded her urge to create and switched majors to studio art, focusing on painting. As she explored her personal biography during critique discussions, she realized that the embodiment of her conceptual ideas required an expanded material expression. Many experiments culminated in the exhibited mixed-media installation.

“I’m very grateful to my painting professor and advisor Professor Bevin for her support in my transition,” said Xing, who plans to explore other non-traditional approaches this fall in an M.F.A. program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in its fiber and material studies program.

Sculptor Annika Hogan ’24, a studio art major with a minor in environmental studies, received the department’s President’s Prize for her calming, immersive The Water is Calling. Three balsa blocks—sculpted into smooth, flowing shapes—are bathed in rippling shadows cast by carefully warped plexiglass panels suspended above. Resting on a shelf are clay “pebbles” that viewers are encouraged to hold while listening to the sound of a river on nearby headphones.  

The prize gave Hogan confidence, but she noted that “the validation came from seeing all the work I’ve put into my sculpture practice on display in a gallery space where it could be appreciated.” 

A female professor talks to a student holding blocks of balsa wood in a sculpture studio.
Annika Hogan ’24, a studio art major (right), discusses how to mount her exhibition with Audrey Shakespear, visiting assistant professor of art, in the sculpture studio in the Crawford Art Studios.

She’s grateful for the supportive community she found in the sculpture studio, which she called a refuge. And she thanked Associate Professor of Art Bradley Borthwick for fostering her development as an artist. “It wasn’t until I heard his voice echoing in my head that I realized how profound of an impact he had on me.”

Hogan’s dream is to combine her creativity with her passion for environmental science and sustainable design. “I want to make a big impact and innovate conscientiously,” said the artist, originally from New York, N.Y.

Morgan Cheney received an honorable mention for the President’s Prize for her collection of photographs titled Pride in Duty. Ric Yamamoto ’24 earned an honorable mention for the Pepper Prize for his plaster-and-epoxy resin sculpture Bear with It.

On becoming an artist

The other senior artists in the exhibition are painters Emma Baker ’24, Maeve DiSandro ’24, Isabella Farren ’24, Viva Goetze ’24, and Vivian Sullivan ’24; photographer Max Jacobs ’24; printmakers Lily Craig ’24, Mina Ekstrom ’24, Samah Mohamedzein ’24, Ava Stotz ’24, and Marthe Godwilling Unkap ’24; and sculptors Raghav Kadambi ’24, Amani Tran ’24, and Ari Trueba ’24.

Becoming an artist was a thoroughly personal process for these students. After taking courses to experience different mediums and gain technical skills, they were prepared as seniors for the rigorous, two-semester capstone course. 

In the fall semester, they met for interdisciplinary critiques of work in progress, writing assignments, seminars, and collaborative discussions. This process supported students as they identified the conceptual direction of the work underway in their studios. 

It also involved considering questions such as, “Who are you?” and “What do you care about?” meant to encourage a depth of discovery. It wasn’t easy, Engman said, because students had to look at things that were sometimes challenging.

“I felt many of them looked deeply into personal biography and difficulties, sorting out identities, how they relate to their heritage and cultural inheritance, and thinking about where they are at this moment in time. But they persisted and found something beautiful in it, so that’s wonderful.”

The spring semester introduced students to aspects of professional practice. This included drafting an artist statement, preparing work for photographic documentation, creating an installation plan for their exhibit, and working through deadlines associated with the exhibition and catalog.

A catalog, too!

While senior art exhibitions are common at undergraduate institutions, accompanying catalogs are less so. Colby’s version offers a chance to meet the artists and understand their motives through artist statements and a critical essay by students in the Writing Art Criticism course, taught this year by Tanya Sheehan, the Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art.

Together, the student writers—Olga Lisabet ’26, Corrigan Rayhill ’24, Molly Sullivan ’27, and Lee Trombly ’26—visited individual artists in their studios, reflecting on keywords the artists generated about their practices, and debating as a class the points of connection they could draw between them.

“The whole process of writing the essays was very collaborative, from meeting with the artists in their studios to fine-tuning and editing with my classmates,” said Corrigan Rayhill ‘24, an art history and government double major who won the department’s Art History Senior Research Prize this year. “At the exhibition opening, it was wonderful to chat with the artists and discuss their finished works. It meant a lot to me to hear how excited they were about the catalog essay. I feel very grateful to have had this experience,” she said.

“Publishing a single, coauthored essay has the benefit of allowing the writers to compare the work of the studio majors with one another and to explore conceptual themes that cut across mediums and techniques,” said Sheehan.

Four students stand and take notes while another student points to and explains her artwork.
Students in the Writing Art Criticism course listen to Vivian Sullivan ’24 discuss her art. Student writers visited each of the 18 graduating studio art majors to learn about their artistic philosophies and process in order to write a collaborative essay for the Senior Exhibition 2024 catalog. (Photo courtesy of Tanya Sheehan, Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art)

Assembled by Grace Yang ’25, the catalog adds longevity to the exhibition and gives it a life beyond its run. It also adds to Engman’s overarching goal for this year’s capstone of building community.  For the senior studio majors, it’s a keepsake that represents their process of becoming an artist.

Building community was Engman’s overarching goal for this year’s capstone. She underscored that community is more than receiving support from a congregation of people. “It is also experienced when we exercise our responsibility to hold our place in the community by investing our energy in the success of others,” she said.

“It is the essential reciprocity of these two, the giving and receiving of thoughtful attention, that strengthens our community.”