Most architects approach their work thinking about what they will build. Helen Ann Bennett ’22 thinks about what is missing.
And she learned that approach from the best. Bennett landed the internship of a lifetime her junior year working with famed designer, sculptor, and architect Maya Lin through Colby’s Lunder Institute for American Art. Known for striking, minimalist works like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lin designed a multimedia memorial to biodiversity loss titled What Is Missing? that was displayed at the Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville.
Bennett, along with environmental studies major Cal Waichler ’21, spent a year collaborating with Lin and her team to build a conceptual timeline as part of the memorial, researching extinction events, legislative changes, and conservation efforts in the state of Maine. “It was such an amazing opportunity,” said Bennett. “Working collaboratively on a research project for this memorial was such an incredible learning experience for me. I wanted to make sure we accurately captured her vision.”
Now, she works as Lunder Special Assistant to the Director at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., crafting executive communications in her first post-graduate role. That’s no surprise to Jessamine Batario, Colby’s Linde Family Foundation Curator of Academic Engagement and Bennett’s academic advisor for the Lin project.
“It was absolutely clear to me that Helen is a special student,” said Batario. “She really cares, and her engagement is so thoughtful and genuine.”
Designing her own path
The recent graduate applies some of those same architectural principles to her own life. Colby students can choose from 56 majors and 35 minors—or, like Bennett, design their own. Her independent architecture and design major pulled coursework from art, physics, math, and theater to build a comprehensive approach to thinking about the built environment we live in—and what a sustainable future looks like.
At Colby, Bennett explored multiple mediums, including sculpture, photography, and graphic design. “One of my favorite projects I worked on was at the start of the pandemic. We were working digitally, at home, and I wanted to capture the feeling of being out of place,” said Bennett, who was born in San Francisco, raised in Princeton, N.J., and now lives in Williamstown. The result, A Sensitivity to Time and Place, juxtaposes common items of furniture with natural environments.
“I’m inspired by sustainable projects that are functional but beautiful,” said Bennett. “This is the physics minor in me, but I really look at order, precision, and simplicity in my creative process. It’s exciting to me to think differently about how we interact with landscapes and built space.”
Beyond the year-long internship with Lin, Bennett took advantage of several programs at the Colby Museum designed to support students looking to go deep into design and curatorial careers.
Her junior summer, Bennett received funding from DavisConnects to study the Bauhaus Movement—a style known for highly functional designs, abstract shapes, and industrial materials—in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in honor of its 100th anniversary.
Bennett spent her senior summer as a curatorial intern at the museum, which extended throughout the school year, tackling tasks from teaching in the galleries to academic engagement. “Summer interns at the Colby Museum work full time. They’re fully embedded into the work culture here and expected to directly contribute to the museum’s mission and initiatives,” said Batario. “Helen was a big part of that.”
Said Bennett, “There were so many opportunities that came my way because I was open to them and because my advisors and supervisors at the museum encouraged me to apply. I’m so grateful to have been able to do so much.”
The first step toward a career in architecture and design
This yearlong fellowship at the Clark Art Institute gives her a front-row seat to day-to-day life in one of the country’s top contemporary art museums, helping with everything from donor relations to event planning.
“I just decided to apply, not really knowing what would come out of it,” said Bennett. “I have so much respect for the institute, and it’s been an exciting place to think about architecture and design. I’m definitely learning so much. I often communicate with different departments and people from different academic backgrounds, and that’s something Colby set me up to do well.”
From here, she plans on applying to architecture school. Said Bennett, “The biggest thing I learned at Colby was how open-ended a career in architecture can be. It doesn’t just have to be the built environment. I think a liberal arts education really prepared me to explore my artistic passions wherever they take me.”
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