Anna Johnson ’21 Wins National Kennedy Center Award for Excellence in Sound Design

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced that Anna Johnson ’21 is among the national awardees for 2021 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF).

Johnson received the Kennedy Center Award for Excellence in Sound Design for her work on Hollins Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was presented virtually in October 2020. She and other student artists were selected for outstanding achievement in a range of disciplines from eight virtual regional festivals that were held in January and February of this year. Johnson’s sound design for Curious Incident won first place honors from the KCACTF Region IV, which includes colleges and universities from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Virginia.

Kennedy Center first-place awards for excellence in scenic, costume, lighting, and sound design each come with a $1,000 cash prize.

“This has been a remarkable year that forced students to adapt, and in doing so these students found new ways of working that have expanded their toolkits in ways that will make them stronger artists and change-makers in the field,” said KCACTF Artistic Director Gregg Henry.

A theatre major, Johnson graduated from Hollins in May and will be pursuing an M.F.A. in sound design at the University of Memphis this fall. Read her recent profile, “‘I Know What I Want Things to Sound Like.'” 

KCACTF encourages and celebrates the finest and most diverse theatrical productions from colleges and universities. Through regional and national festivals, KCACTF celebrates the achievements of theatre programs, individual students, and faculty of colleges and universities throughout the United States. Since its establishment 52 years ago, KCACTF has reached millions of theatregoers and made important contributions to the professional development of countless college and university theatre students nationwide.

 


Hollins, Roanoke College Welcome Nominations for the 2021 Perry F. Kendig Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2021 Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards, which recognize individuals, businesses, and organizations in the greater Roanoke region that provide exemplary leadership in or support for the arts.

The deadline for nominations is Thursday, July 1, at 4 p.m. EDT. The nomination form and other information can be found at https://kendigawards.com/.

 

Celebrating 36 years this year of honoring excellence in arts and culture, the Kendig Awards have been co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College since 2013. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an awards presentation gathering was not held last year. A celebration for the 2020 nominees/winners and 2021 nominees/winners will be held jointly this fall at Roanoke College on a date to be announced at a later time.

Kendig Awards are presented in each of the following categories:

  • Individual Artist (selected from all disciplines, including dance, literature, music, media arts, visual arts, and theatre)
  • Arts and/or Cultural Organization
  • Individual or Business Arts Supporter

Individuals, businesses, and organizations from the greater Roanoke region (which includes the counties of Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the town of Vinton) are eligible, as are past Kendig Award recipients from 1985 – 2012. Programs and full-time employees of Hollins University and Roanoke College are eligible to be nominated as well.

“Hollins University and Roanoke College have actively sought ways for students to immerse themselves in the Roanoke Region’s vibrant arts and cultural community,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our students are often fortunate to find themselves working alongside a local visual artist in their studio or in the community, performing in a local theatrical production, or learning about arts administration during an internship at a non-profit organization.”

“Roanoke College is proud to join with Hollins University to support arts and culture in the Roanoke Valley,” added Roanoke College President Mike Maxey. “Our region has a vibrant arts community that enriches all of us. The Kendig Awards honor and highlight those who make that happen. The Kendig Awards are highlights for all to remember and observe.”

Named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts, the awards were presented by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge for 27 years.


“I Know What I Want Things to Sound Like”: Hollins Senior Earns Design Honors From Prestigious Theatre Conferences

When theatre audiences immerse themselves in a live drama, musical, or comedy, they delight in the playwright’s words and the director’s vision coming to life through a talented cast of actors. They marvel at the visual look and quality of the sets. Yet there’s one crucial aspect of a stage production where curiously enough, the better it’s executed, the less it’s noticed.

“People usually only notice the sound design when it’s bad,” laughs Anna Johnson ’21. “You can’t do it for the praise.”

Nevertheless, the senior from Asheville, North Carolina, “just fell in love immediately” with sound design when she served as the audio board operator for a production during Fall Term of her first year at Hollins. “Getting to see the impact theatre had on both the cast and the campus was just really incredible.” Johnson had enrolled at Hollins intending to study chemistry, but “from that moment I knew that I was going to be a theatre major.”

From the Black Box Theatre and new works from Hollins playwrights to Main Stage productions, Johnson has honed her craft through 26 shows. She recently earned coveted recognition from two of the nation’s premier college theatre conferences: The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region IV and the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) both honored her with first place awards for her sound design work on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, presented virtually by Hollins Theatre in October 2020.

“It has this beautiful, natural rhythm,” Johnson says of the Tony Award-winning drama. “I was trying to honor that by breathing life into it, which especially in a static environment such as Zoom was really important.”

Johnson got to lead sound design on a production shortly after her initial experience as a board operator. Wanting to learn more about sound, she worked closely with Hollins Theatre Technical Director John Forsman and a senior who trained her in QLab, a sound design software program. At the end of Fall Term her first year, Johnson was approached by Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins, who was planning for the annual Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works.

“Todd said, ‘Our sound designer can’t be here for Winter Festival, do you want to come design?’ I had never designed a play before, but he had full faith in me.” Johnson wasn’t exactly pleased with her debut design (“It sucked. It was not good.”). Still, she recognized she was building a foundation for subsequent success. “I formed relationships with my peers and the faculty, and I was willing to give it my all, even if I wasn’t very talented at that point.”

Despite the challenging start, the Winter Festival of New Works would ultimately become “my favorite thing that Hollins does,” Johnson says. “I’ve done seven shows with Winter Festival and I’ve gotten to know a lot of the playwrights. They’re truly incredible and it’s been fun to form those connections.”

Johnson discovered that she was especially passionate about working on new plays. “You get to be one of the collaborators in the room trying to bring the show to life, and that first production of a show is so important. Letting the playwright see their work on stage, fully produced for the first time, really informs them of how they want to proceed with their next draft.”

Johnson says sound design is unique from other areas of theatre design because “there’s not really a vocabulary for it. I’ve had directors say, ‘Oh, I want it to sound purple.’ That really doesn’t mean anything, so design is certainly a process.”

The sound designer’s work starts coming into focus even before the first production meeting. “Sound design is a lot of paperwork, so I create these cue sheets for my initial meeting with the director. It has every possible sound cue we could have in the show,” Johnson explains. “You come in with a statement for what you think the design is going to be for the show, and what’s going to help it. From there, you start collecting sound files and meeting weekly with the director.”

Preparations for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time began early in 2020 as the show was scheduled to be Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage spring production. All of Johnson’s work had been completed for what she describes as “one of the most technically complicated shows you can do” when Hollins announced in March that students would be sent home and all campus activities and events canceled because of the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson was hopeful her plans could still be put into action for a fall production, but the public health crisis was ongoing and large gatherings remained off-limits. With an actual stage production of Curious Incident on hold indefinitely, the decision was made to present the show virtually last fall via Zoom livestream. That meant the production company members, none of whom had ever done a Zoom show before, had to start from scratch.

“It was kind of wild. We only had a month and a half to put Curious Incident up for the fall and we had no idea what we were doing.” Johnson says it was initially heartbreaking to realize most of the original technical planning had to be cut, “but I just had to keep in mind that everybody was dealing with it. With this production, somebody was in Missouri, somebody was in California, somebody was in Pennsylvania. John Forsman and Kiah Kayser (McDonnell Visiting Faculty with the theatre department and video designer for Curious Incident) had to send every actor a box with costumes, props, and a green screen, which many people ended up duct taping to their living room walls.”

Working closely with Kayser, Johnson often put in 17-hour days. The show’s original stage manager graduated from Hollins in the spring of 2020, which necessitated Johnson and Kayser calling their own cues during the tech rehearsals and performances. “Usually you have maybe 30 sound cues, but our Zoom show had 200 official cues and over 1,100 internal cues, which doesn’t include the video cues. You have to gain a rhythm in order for it to be seamless. I would go to Kiah’s office every day and we would sit there and talk about the cues for hours: ‘This needs to coordinate here, this is how we should do this.’ You don’t always have the opportunity to do that in theatre, to collaborate with somebody that closely.”

Johnson cites one act of Curious Incident as an example of how their work came to fruition successfully. Christopher, the play’s main character, is a teenager on the autism spectrum who spends the entire second act of the play on a journey to London via his first trip on a train, even though he hates loud noises. “It’s beautifully written how he experiences things for the first time and you get to see him live those moments through. I had to create the entire world through soundscapes because in Zoom, you don’t have the benefit of a set. You don’t have a clear idea of where the actors are. Kiah’s video design really helped with that.”

The recognition from KCACTF and SETC has been gratifying for Johnson, but the enduring benefit she sees from her “incredible experience” working on Curious Incident has been the ability to step back and see the ways she has grown as a designer, paving the way for her to pursue an M.F.A. in sound design at the University of Memphis this fall. “As a sound designer, I know I have weaknesses, but I have a fairly clear artistic voice and I know what I want things to sound like,” she says. She’s incredibly busy this spring, submitting her work to festivals to build her portfolio, sound designing and acting in Hollins Theatre’s virtual production of Decision Height in April, sound designing another show, and writing a musical for her honors thesis, all while holding down a full-time job at a local Staples.

Over the past four years, she also believes she has grown profoundly on a personal level, thanks in large part to the support she’s received from the entire theatre department. “I suffer from bipolar disorder, and the theatre faculty have helped me through some difficult times in my life. I can take control of some things in ways I didn’t realize I could. Todd Ristau, Ernie Zulia, Kiah Kayser, John Forsman, Lauren Ellis, Anna Goodwin, Susie Young, and Rachel Nelson all saw potential in me when I didn’t see potential in me.”

Johnson holds dear Zulia’s description of Hollins Theatre not as just an academic department but as an artistic home where alumnae are always cherished. “Alumnae have gone out into the world and done incredible work, and then they get to come back and bring that love of Hollins and love of theatre. For students, that truly has an impact. I hope one day they’ll bring me back as a sound designer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wilson Museum’s Online Exhibitions Spotlight Work by Artist-in-Residence, Art Faculty

The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University is presenting two new online artist exhibitions through April 25.

Eleanor Ray: 2021 Frances Niederer Artist-in-Residence showcases paintings by the New York-based Ray, who is creating work and teaching a seminar at Hollins this semester as part of the program that brings a nationally and internationally recognized artists to campus each spring. Many of Ray’s paintings offer glimpses of places known from the history of medieval to contemporary art, from the 14th and 15th century frescoes in Italy by Giotto and Fra Angelico, to Robert Smithson’s earth work in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Donald Judd’s concrete and aluminum works in Texas, and Agnes Martin’s artist-built house and studio in New Mexico. Ray also paints pure landscapes, and in many of her works, there is a push/pull between architectural elements, strong shadows, warm light, and soft gradations of colors.

“I like the idea that the small painting is kind of monumental rather than miniature – that it can contain a bigger space, like the imaginative space of a book,” Ray said not only about the scale of her paintings, but also the idea of placing oneself in an immersive setting created by another either through the use of words, or as in Ray’s case, through carefully composed or framed visual components, and leaving it to the reader or viewer to imagine being there.

Ray received her undergraduate degree from Amherst College and completed her M.F.A. at the New York Studio School. Her numerous awards and residencies include the Ucross Foundation, Wyoming; Edward F. Albee Foundation, New York; the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting; and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize.

Elise Schweitzer: Painted Arches and Walled Gardens features a labyrinth of rich color and liminal spaces in a body of work that was created by the associate professor of art at Hollins during her recent sabbatical. Schweitzer is well-known for her large-scale figurative action-filled oil paintings, and Wilson Museum Director Jenine Culligan noted, “These small, beautiful, jewel-like gouache paintings are conceptional departures. One could describe them as cerebral exercises filled with experimentation, sometimes humor, and focused on the play of light, shapes, and color.”

On her shift in style, Schweitzer said, “When I am composing a figurative painting I am always thinking about the direction of the light, the relationship of colors, the balance of opaque to translucent areas in the painting…I think part of making this work was cutting through the need to have a realistic reference and instead just painting the thing that I had always been excited about, without the motif.”

A member of the Hollins faculty since 2013, Schweitzer teaches painting and drawing. She has shown her paintings in Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, and won numerous awards and grants.  She has taught landscape painting classes in Italy and participated in an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Her paintings are included in Manifest Gallery’s Painting Annual 1, 3, and 4.

 


Balancing Act: Hollins Professor Deftly Juggles Filmmaking with Teaching

Pursuing scholarly or creative work while ensuring a meaningful experience for students in the classroom is a daily challenge for every college professor. Associate Professor of Film Amy Gerber-Stroh, who chairs the film department at Hollins and codirects the university’s graduate programs in screenwriting and film studies, has accrued 40 years as a professional filmmaker and nearly three decades teaching film in higher education. For her, immersion in both vocations is the key to success and fulfillment.

“Teaching learners of all ages and abilities has been really rewarding. It has made me a better filmmaker, much more so than if I were balancing filmmaking and [the demands of] Hollywood,” she said.

Gerber-Stroh laid her foundations at Los Angeles’ CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), which was founded by Walt Disney. Alumni including directors Tim Burton and Sofia Coppola set high standards. “It’s a school that shaped me in terms of experimental directing and trying different things from an artist’s point of view rather than a consumer point of view. A lot of the other film schools in L.A. are really more geared toward the Hollywood box office.”

After CalArts, Gerber-Stroh admits she “got sucked into Hollywood and worked on a lot of strange stuff, mostly as a casting associate.” Her mainstream movie credits range from City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994), Angels in the Outfield (1994), and Tank Girl (1995) to Goldeneye (1995), The Craft (1996), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). Fortunately for Gerber-Stroh, casting work was just a day job. “At the same time, I was making a lot of experimental art films, and I was also working at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That was a great gig because I was able to make films about painters and sculptors. It honed my sensibilities and drove me artistically.”

In 2000, Gerber-Stroh launched her own production company, FlatCoatFilms, and began producing her own short films, documentary features, and animation projects. After joining the Hollins faculty in 2007, her task was to balance filmmaking with her new passion for teaching.

“It takes a long, long time to make films. I sort of rotate between longer and shorter pieces,” she explained. “Shorts can take a couple of years. Feature-length projects for independent filmmakers take anywhere from four to eight years. The reason is, if you’re not backed by a major production company or studio, the money is trickling in. You’re getting grant money, maybe you’re getting people who are investing in your films, or you’re getting GoFundMe campaigns going. Thanks to Hollins, I received seed money for my current project.”

Gerber-Stroh has addressed a variety of subjects in her films. Public Memory (2004) explores the meanings and motivations of American memorials. The Truth About Trees: A Natural and Human History (2015) is a three-part documentary series for PBS made in collaboration with the James Agee Film Project. Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? (2019), which imagines the possibilities if cell towers actually developed consciousness, won the Silver Award for Experimental Works at the 2020 University Film and Video Conference. (“Professors who make films have developed such a great community, and so it was really nice to win an award there.”) Cell Towers also earned awards and acclaim at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival and Chicago’s International Art House Film Festival.

But the greatest source of inspiration and material has come from both sides of Gerber-Stroh’s own family. In My Grandfather Was a Nazi Scientist: Opa, von Braun and Operation Paperclip (2011), she uncovers the secret past of Dr. Eduard Gerber, who was among hundreds of Nazi scientists brought to the United States after World War II through a classified and controversial government program. She’s currently writing, directing, and producing a hybrid documentary called Hope of Escape. It tells the story of how her forebears escaped slavery.

“Some scholars believe Cornelia Read, my great-great-grandmother, and her mother, Diana Williams, were born free in Charleston, South Carolina. But we know that, at some point, they became enslaved. They learned they were about to be sold and separated forever, so they had to get out of there. At the same time, Cornelia had a sweetheart. This is the man who would become my great-great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould. He was also enslaved and planning his escape from Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Cornelia fled by train in a harrowing journey. William eventually escaped in a skiff on the Cape Fear River and was picked up by the U.S.S. Niagara, a Union steam frigate that was blockading the Wilmington harbor. I detail their escapes, getting into what they both were thinking and feeling, while giving insight into their lives, their times, and the obstacles they faced. Both my great-great-grandparents were literate, highly educated, and wrote beautifully. Literacy for the enslaved was illegal in the South, but someone was definitely teaching them. What it was like to be enslaved and educated, and acknowledging the benefits of having lighter skin, are also aspects of their escape that the film will examine.”

Gerber-Stroh has a compelling primary source, a diary that William Gould kept during his escape and continued to write as a sailor for the Union during the Civil War. “My uncle, named for William Gould, wrote a book about this diary, which is one of just three in existence that depicts such an experience. It’s located in the Massachusetts Historical Society and is a great resource for me, serving as a jumping-off point for how I’m going to approach the story.”

Quite a few boldface names played roles in this epic history. Diana and Cornelia grew up in family circles that included the Ball and Laurens families (of Hamilton fame). “Sometimes you would have to pay what was called ‘ransom money’ to gain your family’s freedom. The famous abolitionists Henry Highland Garnet and Lewis Tappan, along with the Rev. James Crawford, gathered money from as far away as England, where many abolitionist societies were dedicated to helping the enslaved. The Duchess of Sutherland was truly an angel investor in that 19th century GoFundMe!” said Gerber-Stroh.

As the film project has ramped up, meaningful opportunities have arisen for Hollins undergraduates. Film major Anja Holland ’21 served as one of Gerber-Stroh’s research fellows on the project. “Anja really helped me with historical research, finding scholars, developing a production schedule, and looking for locations.” Filming is set to begin this summer in Wilmington on the Cape Fear River and also in Charleston.

Gerber-Stroh is devoting her spring term sabbatical to continuing work on Hope of Escape. “This is a really great time for me to dig into my roots and tell the story. It’s a popular genre in film right now—I’m thinking of Harriet (2019)— but Cornelia, William, and Diana had a unique experience that I think audiences will appreciate. I’m very excited. How many filmmakers get the chance to make ‘profiles in courage’ of family members they’re proudest of in the whole world?!”

Watch Gerber-Stroh’s presentation, “Filmmaker in Academe: Producing Films Large and Small,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.


M.A.T. Student’s Gift for Creating Miniatures Earns Spotlight on HGTV’s “Biggest Little Christmas Showdown”

As an undergraduate student at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Amanda Kelly decided to embark on an ambitious artistic project: purchasing and building a Willow Dollhouse Kit. Because of its size, assembling the kit in her dorm room would in and of itself become an ambitious undertaking. But, she also struggled to acquire the modern miniature objects that were essential to filling each of the dollhouse rooms.

“Through my study of illustration and oil painting, I had developed the patience and creative eye for miniature making,” Kelly, who currently is pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a visual arts endorsement at Hollins University, recalls. “So, when I wanted something specific, I attempted to create it myself.”

Kelly found collecting and making miniatures to be an exhilarating process. Soon, her work began attracting admirers who sought out her creations, and this in turn led her to launch her own business, Panda Miniatures, as well as a dedicated Instagram page that currently boasts more than 34,000 followers. The presence of Kelly’s miniatures on social media also captured the attention of the producers of a new HGTV holiday series for 2020: Biggest Little Christmas Showdown, a four-episode competition in which “the nation’s best miniaturists…face off to create the merriest mini holiday houses, complete with all the festive, tiny trimmings.” Kelly and her fiancée and partner in Panda Miniatures, Bree Sepulveda, were subsequently invited to vie for the grand prize of $50,000, which Kelly notes “would be amazing for our wedding.” The pair successfully competed against two other teams in the series’ debut episode (which originally aired November 27 and is available for viewing in its entirety online) and will be among the three finalists when Biggest Little Christmas Showdown concludes on December 18.

Teacher's Desk Miniature
Teacher’s Desk, 1:12th scale. Miniatures “are such a mystifying art form because of their ability to teleport the viewer into another world.”

A native of Brooklyn, New York, who recently relocated to Roanoke (she teaches art at a local middle school), Kelly believes miniatures “are such a mystifying art form because of their ability to teleport the viewer into another world.” She considers creating realistic and contemporary miniatures and scenes her “go-to style. I love when miniature scenes or dollhouses have a cluttered and lived-in look to them as if someone just left. An empty glass, receipts on a counter, trash overflowing, half-eaten chocolate bars – those are the details that bring a miniature scene to life.”

Kelly admits that “making tiny objects by hand is tedious at times, but it has taught me to be a perfectionist and to be proficient in scale accuracy. These became essential skills when I began 3D modeling and utilizing my 3D printers for unique miniature creations.” Her professional opportunities have included making miniature props and sets for clients such as Coca-Cola and Swarovski as well as various TV shows.

Another benefit Kelly cites from her work is the camaraderie she has experienced with others who echo her passion. “The community of miniature artisans has always been so welcoming to me as a young artist, and I appreciate how everyone is eager to share designs with each other.” With so many miniature conventions canceled this year due to COVID-19, she enjoyed seeing other miniaturist friends on the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown set. “It’s a pretty close-knit community…you could say it’s a ‘small world,’” she adds, laughing.

In their preliminary competition, Kelly and Sepulveda and the two other teams were challenged by Tony Award-winning actor and series host James Monroe Iglehart to “take tropical Hawaiian vibes and make a structure inspired by the island greeting ‘Mele Kalikimaka,’ Hawaii’s way to say ‘Merry Christmas.’” The contestants were given a month in advance to begin building their projects and finish up to half of their miniatures; Biggest Little Christmas Showdown’s November 27 episode covers the 12 hours the teams had to complete their designs. At the end of the time period, a panel of judges evaluated each creation based on three criteria: interpretation of the theme, creativity, and execution.

“‘Mele Kalikimaka’ is the perfect theme for Christmas because it forces you to think out of the box,” Kelly says during the show. She and Sepulveda created a floating tiki bar, a pontoon they dubbed “Santa’s Tiki Boat,” augmented by a sandy beach, a palm tree, and even two “sand people” in the classic snowmen shape.

Kelly and Sepulveda skillfully overcame some unexpected challenges and setbacks during the 12-hour construction marathon and emerged triumphant with the judges, who praised their structure as a “completely unexpected approach” and “Jimmy Buffett having Christmas on the beach.”

Golden Bat Tattoo Shop Miniature
Golden Bat Tattoo Shop, 1:12th scale

“What set us apart from the other teams is our attention to detail,” Kelly says, “things that just take it to next level of realism.”

As she and Sepulveda prepare for the competition final, Kelly continues to find encouragement in a particularly cherished childhood memory.

“When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was play with my Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse. It was built from scratch in the 1980s and filled with vintage miniature furniture. During special occasions, Grandma Kelly would hide a miniature chocolate bar inside one of the rooms of the dollhouse and encourage me to search for it. I would carefully open tiny drawers and peek behind little cabinets until I found the hidden treasure. When I found the miniature chocolate bar, Grandma Kelly rewarded me with a handful of M&Ms. We continued this tradition until I inherited Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse after she passed away in 2016.

“As 2020 comes to a close, I think of the miniaturists who came before me, like my Grandma Kelly, who inspired me to keep creating and bringing the joy of miniatures to the world.”

 

Top photo: Miniatures of Amanda Kelly (left) and Bree Sepulveda from the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown wrap party.


Hollins Announces Eleanor Ray as 2021 Niederer Artist-In-Residence

Brooklyn-based painter Eleanor Ray is the Frances Niederer Artist-in-Residence at Hollins University for 2021.

Each year, the artist-in-residence program brings to campus a nationally recognized artist who produces work and teaches a special seminar. The program is named for a beloved art historian who taught for many years at Hollins.

Ray makes small-scale paintings of encounters with specific places, including well-known or art-historically significant sites, and others more anonymous. As art critic and curator John Yau described her work, “The unoccupied interior or landscape becomes a sacred space, a place of solitude and reflection. The windows remind us that there is an exterior and interior world, and that we always occupy both.”

Ray earned her B.A. in English and art and the history of art from Amherst College, and her M.F.A. in painting from the New York Studio School. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Nicelle Beauchene Galler, New York; Howard’s, Athens, Georgia; and Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York. She has been the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting, and her work has been supported by residencies at Steep Rock, the Motello Foundation, Yaddo, Ucross, Jentel, The Edward Albee Foundation, and the BAU Institute. Her work is in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

 

 


Penguin Random House to Publish Hollins Author’s Debut Novel

Rebekah Lowell was drawn to Hollins five years ago to pursue an advanced degree in children’s book writing and illustrating. At the same time, the university’s graduate programs in children’s literature offered her sanctuary and the chance to regain her identity after enduring a decade of domestic abuse. Today, Lowell holds a Master of Fine Arts degree and says she has made great strides in finding her true self again. The Maine resident has also sold her debut book, The Road to After, to the Nancy Paulsen Books imprint at Penguin Random House.

“When I first arrived at Hollins with my young daughters, we drove straight from a women’s shelter,” Lowell recalls. “The first week in classes, I almost had to return home because of the level of trauma we had all been through. But Ruth Sanderson (author, illustrator, and professor in Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature) and Amanda Cockrell (who retired last year as director of the children’s literature graduate programs) were creative, generous, and supportive. After being at Hollins for a few weeks, I knew I had found a safe place to not only heal, but to thrive.”

Susan Bloom Discovery Award
This year, Rebekah Lowell M.F.A. ’19 received the Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, which honors emerging writers and writer/illustrators.

Publishers Weekly describes The Road to After as “an illustrated middle grade novel written in verse about how the beauty of the natural world helps a girl reclaim her life after years of captivity and domestic abuse at the hands of her father.” Lowell says she was “compelled to write about my past” after she had been enrolled for a few summers in the M.F.A. program.

“The words first showed up as a picture book manuscript, but the content needed more room to breathe,” she explains. At her home in February of 2016, she used verse to expand on the story “because it begged to be written that way,” and completed a rough draft. Candice Ransom, the author of 150 children’s books and a member of the children’s literature graduate programs’ faculty, agreed to help edit the book; by the following summer, Lowell was laying out the entire novel on classroom tables in the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center at Hollins.

After developing a few more drafts, Lowell felt she was ready to reach out to an agent for representation. In the spring of 2018, she signed with Wendi Gu at Janklow & Nesbit, who, Lowell says, “fell in love with the project. We workshopped it more, and about 16 drafts later, we started sending it out to editors.” In April 2019, Penguin/Paulsen bought The Road to After at auction, and the novel is slated for publication in the spring of 2022.

Lowell is quick to express her gratitude to Ransom and other professors and classmates for their help in bringing her novel to fruition. “Throughout revision, prior to the sale, there were many times when I wondered if the voice was unique enough, if the psychological abuse was coming through, if my presence as the mother in the book was too strong. Hillary Homzie, Lisa Fraustino, Julie Pfeiffer, and others offered to read the text and provide feedback, even outside of classes.”

Lowell graduated in May, and while she deeply misses being on campus this summer, she hopes to return one day in another capacity.

“The wonder of Hollins stays with me,” she says.

 


Wilson Museum Exhibition Inspired by the Ideas of Immigrants and “Otherness”

Each summer, the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum collaborates with the Master of Fine Arts program in children’s book writing and illustrating at Hollins University to present exhibitions by faculty and visiting artists.

Award-winning author and illustrator Mary Jane Begin, who will become chair of the program on July 1, deconstructs the creative process and shares the development of two book projects, Revolution and Ping Meets Pang, in the exhibition Mapping the Imagination, which will be on display June 28 – September 9. Begin has selected artwork that reflects both the inspiration for the story concept and for the technical style that fit each book, as well as formation sketches that explore the organic, iterative nature of creativity.

Revolution is based on the story of Begin’s grandmother, who immigrated to America and worked as a child laborer in the textile mills of New England. Ping Meets Pang is about two pandas that are convinced that the other is not a panda because they don’t look or act alike. Each of these stories were inspired by the ideas of immigrants and “otherness,” topics that have been deeply resonant for the artist as she continues to contemplate the current cultural and political landscape. Begin explores these themes through an investigation of story, style, materials, and imagination.

Begin is best known for her acclaimed picture books Little Mouse’s Painting, Before I Go to Sleep, A Mouse Told His Mother, retellings of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Willow Buds, and tales inspired by Wind in the Willows. Her latest picture book is My Little Pony: Under the Sparkling Sea, published by Little Brown Books. She has served as a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design for the past 21 years.

The Wilson Museum will host Begin for an artist lecture on Friday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 119 of the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center. A reception and book signing will follow.

The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University is open Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m., and Thursday, noon – 8 p.m. Admission is always free.

 

Image: Mary Jane Begin, Illustration from Ping Meets Pang, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

 


With Gratitude To Her Parents and Professors, Yitazba Largo-Anderson ’19 Finds “The Power Of My Voice”

When deciding on a college, Yitazba Largo-Anderson ’19 needed to look no further than her own family for sound advice. “My dad is a professor and my mom is a librarian, and they value education,” she explains. “They urged me to go to a liberal arts school because they knew it would help me round out who I am as a person.”

The campus beauty and “a really strong creative writing program” are what Yitazba says drew her particularly to Hollins after living most of her life in Phoenix, Arizona. “I came here not knowing what I wanted to study, I’m interested in so many things,” she adds. After taking classes from several disciplines, she chose to major in English with a concentration in multicultural literature and a minor in social justice.

Yitazba describes her Hollins experience as “finding the power of my voice,” and she cites the crucial roles many faculty members have played in that quest. “[Professor of English] TJ Anderson, [Professor of English] Pauline Kaldas, and [former Visiting Assistant Professor of English] Nick Miller challenged me to think differently and critically about literature, how it was going to impact me, and what I was going to take from it.”

Those lessons deeply influenced the ways she has transformed her love of writing poetry.

“Poetry to me is not only something you read or that’s visual. It’s also very sensory. I love doing music with my poetry.”

Yitazba’s talent for expression evolved when she met Mary Eggleston, a voice instructor in Hollins’ music department. “I had never taken voice lessons before, and Mary helped me come out of my shell with singing. I’ve never had someone teach me how to challenge my voice to go higher than it did the week before, or become a sound that carries in a room.” This spring for the first time, she sang opera for a campus recital.

Last year, Yitazba felt another important breakthrough while participating in theatre. “Hollins professors make suggestions to one another about students who could benefit from some activity. [Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies] LeeRay Costa talked to Rachel Nelson in the theatre department about asking me to play a part in a production she was directing. I’m shy and I never considered being on stage, but I loved it. I want to speak my poetry more now in public, and instead of just submitting my work for publication, I’d like to get into slam poetry.”

Yitazba’s roots are Scotch-Irish and Diné (the Navajo Nation’s preferred name, it translates to “of the people”), and while she has always been attached to Native American culture through her grandmother, she never had the opportunity to engage in a serious exploration of Native American studies until she came to Hollins. “It was the first time I had ever experienced a whole class dedicated to Native American women and taught by a Native American woman, [Visiting Instructor of Sociology] Shari Valentine.”

Yitazba will spend the next year engaged in a fellowship at the College of William and Mary’s Swem Library. She’ll be working with their Project Outreach initiative on making inclusivity and diversity more prevalent in academic research. She then hopes to attend law school and focus on some aspect of Native American law, but doesn’t intend to make a legal career her lifelong vocation.

“I’d like to get an M.F.A. in creative writing after law school and eventually teach Native American voice through poetry in conjunction with Native American studies. My parents and my professors have all inspired me – Shari Valentine has especially been a constant source of encouragement, and I want to make an impact on a student like she’s done for me. I want to pass that gift down to someone.”