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.
From his service as a U.S. Army officer and a career teaching high school English to embracing a stint as a stay-at-home father, Kelly Stephenson M.F.A. ’20 had always cherished a desire to someday write a novel.
So, while his daughter Clare was preparing to graduate from high school, Kelly and his wife began seriously considering “the next phase of my life. We were talking about what’s next, and she said, ‘why don’t you apply to grad schools and see where you get in?’ Hollins University was at the top of my list because I knew it had a really strong writing program. I applied, I got accepted, and we decided that it must be fate.”
“I was terrified,” he recalls. “I was older and I hadn’t been to school in 30 years except to earn my teaching license. It was nerve-wracking, too, because my family wouldn’t join me here,” but remain at their home in Princeton, New Jersey, until Clare finished high school. “I was going to be a geographical bachelor.”
Nevertheless, Kelly came to Hollins motivated to finally begin writing that novel. “I decided at my first tutorial that I had a good idea and I was going to push forward with it. For the first half of my first year, I wrote fervently and completed seven chapters. In the second half, I started revising.”
Kelly states that the amount of writing he completed in his first year at Hollins “was great. The instruction I got from my professors in terms of taking my writing to the next level was wonderful.” And while he missed his family, “having my space to write was fantastic. It really did make a big difference with my writing and what I was able to accomplish.”
One of the attributes of the creative writing program that Kelly praises is its emphasis on the rewriting process. “During my revisions, I was encouraged to deepen my characters’ inner life, and I started assimilating that naturally into my writing. I also learned my strengths and my blind spots as a writer. I was definitely enriched by the instruction I received. I thought I would improve around the edges, but I got the opportunity to not only write a lot, but also to write better.”
Kelly believes the M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins offers a unique and beneficial approach in other ways. “They have a sense of what the student needs, and one of those things is the fire to write. If you’re just getting slammed, it’s discouraging. They want you to keep doing what you’re doing well. The philosophy during rewrites is not that what you’ve done is a disaster, but how can you build upon what you’ve already done. I had some things worth polishing.”
He adds that he was inspired to pursue writing in different genres. “I wanted to be a novelist, but I was encouraged to write poetry and creative nonfiction, and I have eight good short stories that I’m proud of. Some programs have a tendency to put you into a certain genre.”
Kelly sees further upsides when comparing Hollins to other creative writing schools. “There’s much more competition in those programs between the writers themselves and in getting attention from faculty. At Hollins, it’s not like that. I was never made to think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to write better than this person.’”
The sense of destiny that Kelly and his wife feel led him to Hollins may have also played a role in determining Clare’s college destination. “I had a class in high school that focused on helping you find what you want out of college and where the best fit might be,” she explains. “I was very interested in single-sex colleges, and Hollins kept coming up for me.”
At the same time he was on the Hollins campus with Clare for a visit, Kelly learned that he had been accepted into the M.F.A. program in creative writing. On top of that welcome news, Clare was forming a very good impression of the university. “I liked the feel of community during my tour. The vibe was very comforting to me. It felt good in terms of how women grow into the type of person I wanted to be. As a liberal arts school it really was set up to help me to explore what I really wanted to do in life.”
Clare, who is also an aspiring author (she hopes to double major in creative writing and the performing arts), was accepted at Hollins during Kelly’s first fall at Hollins. She became a residential first-year student during her dad’s second year in the creative writing program, when he also taught an undergraduate class, Fundamentals of Writing Poetry and Fiction.
In order to give Clare space to grow and engage in her education on her own, Kelly says he purposefully kept their interaction on campus to a minimum. “We didn’t see each other that much except on weekends, and that was more as a father and daughter rather than fellow students.” There was the occasional overlap: Kelly shared a faculty office with Visiting Lecturer in English Sydney Tammarine, who taught Clare in a creative writing class (“I made it a point not to talk about Clare with Sydney at all.”), and this spring, they actually shared the same instructor (“Clare had Karen Bender [Hollins’ Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing] for a class and I had her for a tutorial.”). Still, Kelly says Clare’s first-year experience “was so great. She’s really found a great group of friends who are very nurturing and helped her acclimate into a study routine.”
Clare adds, “It helped that I was close enough to my parents’ apartment in Roanoke where I could come over whenever I wanted.”
When Hollins transitioned to remote instruction in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly and Clare found that their individual academic experiences became a bit more intertwined when they both had to complete their studies for the semester from that apartment.
“I think for Clare it was a weird experience sitting at a kitchen table and me coming in to get a snack,” Kelly says. “Plus, my wife was working in the next room, so we had several people at any given time in the pockets of our apartment.”
Moving forward, Kelly is seeking to finish his novel as well as a memoir about his time as a stay-at-home dad. “I’m taking another year to get a big chunk of writing done with a goal of getting publication. As one of the oldest graduates of the M.F.A. program, I realize I have a narrower window to see my dreams come true.”
Clare is excited to return to campus this fall, and hopes to expand her Hollins experience beyond the classroom. “I’m looking into internship opportunities and considering study abroad.”
“I’m so happy she is here in this kind of environment,” Kelly says. “Not everyone gets to see their son’s or daughter’s educational experience up close, and I think Clare made a great choice in Hollins.”
Every day, people ask me what they can do to “get in shape” at home. One of my favorite lines is “I want to get fit, but I love (insert comfort food)! I just can’t help myself when I’m stressed.” It’s safe to say that we are experiencing astronomical stress right now, hunkering down in our homes, so not only do the cookies/pizza/nachos make us feel better, they’re also steps away. All the time. Spoiler: you don’t have to choose between cookies and fitness.
Generally speaking, most people who are out of their normal routine (and who isn’t right now?), or who have never subscribed a regular fitness program, set a HUGE goal to meet, give a thousand percent, get injured or frustrated (or both), and end up back on the couch in a matter of days or weeks. Add the mental turmoil of watching the news and re-learning how to exist in society during a pandemic, and the motivation to try again is all but gone.
So, how do we get off the couch and into a routine? My answer is always: baby steps.
Moderation is key, to everything. I love cookies. I love wine. I love pizza! I’m also addicted to my bed, reading the news, and kissing my hairless dogs. I could easily spend hours enjoying any of these things nonstop but that would end up making me sick, anxious, and ineffective at the rest of my life (except maybe kissing the dogs). Same goes for exercise – it’s neither healthy nor sustainable to disrupt your entire life to meet a fitness or wellness goal.
So, grab a snack, something on which you can make notes, and get comfy while we make a plan together.
First thing: Identify your goal.
Do you need to stretch and move your body? Do you want to burn calories? Would you like to feel stronger? Regardless of the goal, setting a realistic and specific intention is paramount. Now write it down.
Second: Make the journey fun.
My primary suggestion for people who have lost motivation, become deconditioned, or have trouble sticking to a fitness program is to find something enjoyable to do that involves moving your body. It’s really that simple: if you approach exercise as a task or as punishment (bad) for enjoying pizza (good) your inner rebel will resist.
Remember what you enjoyed when you were a kid? It counts as exercise now.
Think: skateboarding, rollerskating, riding a bike, walking outside (especially on hills), hiking, dancing, hula hooping. These are things you can do for long periods of time at a steady state, which means lots of calories burned. AND, steady state cardio keeps you in a fat-burning heart rate zone.
Next to your intention, make a list of the activities you enjoy that you have the equipment to perform where you are right now.
Third: Set attainable goals!
Most of us make huge goals (great!) but no step-by-step plan to follow to get there. Start with scheduling 10 minutes a day outside or just laying on a yoga mat. Ten minutes won’t interrupt your day or cause you to reschedule anything. As you begin to enjoy your time and plan around your activity, add a few minutes when you can. Soon, that 10 minutes will become 30 or 45 and you will look forward to it.
Schedule an activity into your day that feels like a reward for getting up a little earlier or scheduling a little time for yourself before lunch or after work (or these days, putting on pants or brushing your teeth). Those hills on Hollins’ campus have some gorgeous views that make the trek worth it – and you’ll strengthen your legs and heart at the same time. Make a playlist or save the next episode of your favorite podcast to listen to – employ as many of your senses as you can and the time will not just be enjoyable, but pass quickly.
Now, grab your scheduler, find the places where you have time to fill, and make an appointment with yourself to spend 10 minutes in a place you enjoy at the same time each week.
Fourth: Be smart.
Safety is key when you’re not working with an instructor or trainer. These seemingly tiny details are what can make or break your routine: Keep water handy if you will be outside for long periods of time; wear good shoes if you are performing high-impact activities (i.e., running); go at a pace and within a range of motion that doesn’t cause pain; dress appropriately for the activity; warm up, and cool down.
Note: Many of us have trouble finding motivation to work out alone – I certainly do. If I didn’t have clients who paid me to train them remotely right now, I’d be hard-pressed to get out of my jammies at all. Group fitness classes offer social stimulation in addition to kick-ass workouts. Online livestreamed group workouts are everywhere, for every level (and you can turn your camera off if you don’t want to be seen but want to enjoy the group).
So! Some ideas and resources for you:
Walking (briskly…in a cute new activewear combo that makes you feel ahhhmazing).
Yoga: Gaia has streaming classes anywhere from 15 minutes long to two hours (Who has time for that?? Not me.) for all levels! You could leave a mat at work and do 15 minutes before lunch.
With me! I lead short Pilates mat classes on Facebook Liveand post a daily and weekly “ab challenge” on Instagram and IG Live. Join in!
Lastly, perfect for social distancing, get a FitBit. You can set daily goals for steps, weekly goals for exercise, and make or join groups with people from all over the world to meet benchmarks together. They also happen to be on sale right now.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Be patient. Wash your hands. Make time for fun.
Courtney Collado is a professional dancer, personal trainer, and master Pilates instructor from New York City, currently living in Kansas City, Missouri. She is earning her M.F.A. through Hollins’ low-residency dance program, and when not in social isolation, is a practicing choreographer, dance teacher, and corrective movement specialist who enjoys kissing her hairless dogs, playing Just Dance with her eight-year-old son, and writing the newsletters for Missouri’s local Sister District chapter.
To ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors, all museum events and programs are cancelled through at least the week concluding Friday, April 10.
The Wilson Museum is working on ways to host online exhibitions of its upcoming shows, and will provide updates on its website and Facebook page. Currently, a PDF of the catalogue for the Robert Sulkin: Photographs 1973-2019 exhibition is available for download on the museum website’s publications page, as are several catalogue PDFs for past shows.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Hollins University alumna and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is coming to Hollins Theatre.
Trethewey’s Native Guard, which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007, will be presented in a theatrical reading with stunning visuals and live music on Sunday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. on the theatre’s Main Stage. Admission is free with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. A conversation with Trethewey, who earned her M.A. from Hollins in 1991, will immediately follow the performance.
Native Guard juxtaposes the deeply personal experiences of Trethewey, a child of a then-illegal marriage between her African American mother and Caucasian father living in 1960s Mississippi, with the experience of a soldier in the Native Guard, the first African American Union troop in the Civil War. Years after her mother’s tragic death, Trethewey reclaims her memory, just as she reclaims the voices of the black soldiers whose service has been all but forgotten.
The evening of poetry and theatricality stars January LaVoy, an Atlanta-based actress best known for her role as Noelle Ortiz-Stubbs on the ABC daytime drama One Life to Live. She has appeared on Broadway and guest starred on several prime time network series, including Elementary, Blue Bloods, and N0S4A2. The cast also features Dominic Taylor, a writer, director, and scholar of African American theatre who is currently the resident professional teaching artist at Hollins Theatre, and Roanoke’s own Shawn Spencer, a renowned jazz and blues vocalist.
Native Guard is the second volume of poetry by Trethewey that Hollins Theatre has adapted for the stage. Bellocq’s Ophelia premiered in 2012 and the following year was one of five full productions from the southeastern United States chosen for performance at the Region IV Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
The photography of a distinguished member of the Hollins University faculty who taught for nearly four decades is the subject of a new exhibition at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum.
Robert Sulkin: Photographs 1973-2019, which is on display January 16 – March 29, is a retrospective exhibition highlighting the work of the award-winning photographer who joined the Hollins faculty in 1980 and retired at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. The exhibition presents 120 images selected from 40-plus years of making photographs, ranging from his early social landscape works created in the mid-1970s to what the artist refers to as his landscape intervention work from 2019. Throughout his career, Sulkin has worked in series, and these will be displayed together somewhat chronologically.
Like many photographers working at the end of the 20th and early 21st centuries, Sulkin witnessed and experienced changes in technology that had profound effects on his work. Collectively his studio and/or photoshop-based fabrications comment on aspects of culture and track a progression of style and experimentation, some playful, some farcical, and some serious.
Of his work, Sulkin says, “Broadly, my photography deals with the futility of the individual attempting to cope in a technology-driven world spinning out of control.”
The musical version of a beloved children’s story that has sold millions of copies around the world is coming back to Hollins University this fall.
Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical returns to Hollins Theatre, October 19 – 26. Based on the 1945 book by Margaret Wise Brown, a member Hollins’ class of 1932, the tale of the bunny who won’t go to sleep was adapted for the stage by Chad Henry. It was first presented in 2011 as the inaugural production of the Hollins Legacy Series, which was created to reimagine the work of Hollins writers as plays, musicals, and original theatre pieces. Hollins Theatre featured a revival of Goodnight Moon in 2015.
“We are working to make this show a great tradition here in Roanoke and a wonderful gift from Hollins to the community,” says Ernie Zulia, director of the Hollins Theatre Institute. “Along with six public performances, we are scheduling four performances for schoolchildren and are expecting as many as 2,000 kids to arrive here on buses throughout the run of the show.”
Goodnight Moon comes to the stage with whimsical costumes designed by California designer Amanda Quivey, lighting by Hollins resident designer Ann Courtney, and scenery by Disney artist Ryan Wineinger. Zulia describes the stage set as “a wondrous room filled with toys and pictures that comes to life before your eyes. The kittens, the mittens, the red balloon, and the cow jumping over the moon are all there, along with a few surprises. Goodnight Moon really is for children of all ages – we are proud that thousands of people have already seen the show over the years, and now it’s here for a new generation to enjoy.”
Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage will host the public performances of Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical on Saturday, October 19, at 11 a.m.; Sunday, October 20, at 2 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, October 24 and 25, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, October 26, at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children under 12. For ticket sales and more information, visit www.hollins.edu/theatre or call the Hollins Theatre Box Office at (540) 362-6517.
The works of two Hollins playwrights were recently showcased at an event that champions gender parity, diversity, and inclusion in the American theatre.
She Made Space, written and performed by Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18, and And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky by Rachel Nelson ’07 were featured at the 2019 Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), held July 12 – 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The WTF stages productions and readings that are written and directed by women and feature casts and crews that are at least 50 percent women.
She Made Space is an honest and touching story spotlighting a twenty-something intellectual American lesbian tourist who arrives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. “The play traces the steps she has taken to get there in consideration of the occupation of space – both inside, and outside, of herself,” Cope-Levy explains.
“There was something incredibly gratifying about performing She Made Space, a show that celebrates queer communities and identity, in a queer-centric space,” she says. “The intimacy of it allowed the audience to interact with me in a way that has never really happened before. This is the first time I think this show has ever seen a predominantly female and queer audience. Having not performed the show myself since we workshopped it in 2016, it was also meaningful for me personally to put this character back on and share my words in such a physically personal way.”
A powerfully poignant play, And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky explores moving through grief, together and alone. “On the eve of a total eclipse of the sun, three women throughout history each contemplate the things and people they have lost,” Nelson says. “As the light begins to fade, their stories become deeply intertwined in unexpected ways.”
She adds that crucial work was done with the production last winter in order to prepare it for venues such as the WTF. “This show was in residence at Hollins in January of this year, and that residency gave us incredible clarity about rewrites, which really paid off in this production. It also generated support with the students – after having seen it through multiple drafts, they really care about this show and have a vested interest in where it goes next.”
The staging of each play was made possible by all-Hollins casts and crews. She Made Space was directed by Lauren B. Ellis M.F.A. ’20 and stage managed by Shelby Love M.F.A. ’20. “Lauren has done such a brilliant job directing this production and this show is a true labor of love for us both,” Cope-Levy says. “We are hoping to take it back on the road to other fringe festivals.”
And because of the efforts of Susie Young ’10, Natalie Pendergast ’17, Kendall Comolli ’20, and Megan Gilbert ‘20, the production of And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky persevered despite a significant setback.
“I had to evacuate my home in New Orleans due to Hurricane Barry the day before the festival, so I could only contribute long distance,” Nelson says, “and the team really had to rally at the last second. Susie stepped up as a director and performer, and her genius and fortitude really made this happen. She and I have been working on this play for three years now, and even though I wrote it, it’s based on a lot of conversations and explorations that we did together into grief. In so many ways she’s the heart of this project.
“I also want to thank Natalie for her performance; Kendall (the show’s original stage manager), who filled in as an actor; and Megan, who took over as stage manager. I am incredibly proud of all of them.”
“Of course we were bummed to not have Rachel with us,” Cope-Levy adds, “but her team demonstrated how important it is for theatre artists to be interdisciplinary – and how well Hollins prepares us for that.”
The Artistic Home, an entity designed by Nelson and Hollins Theatre Chair Ernie Zulia, is a major force behind the success of the two plays. “It supports recent Hollins grads through their first years in the professional theatre community by offering them connections with more established alumnae and current students. At the same time, they make exciting new theatre,” Nelson explains. “The WTF is a perfect example of the kind of work The Artistic Home does. There were several generations of Hollins family in collaboration – current Hollins students worked alongside Hollins professors and alumnae of the theatre program. This kind of cross-generation pollinating creates a team that mutually supports the growth of our young professional alumnae and enriches the education and professional experience of current Hollins students.”
“I physically felt my heart burst in witnessing The Artistic Home’s manifestation in these two back-to-back productions,” Cope-Levy says. “I also want to acknowledge the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins for its ardent support of She Made Space from our early workshops all the way through to this fringe festival tour.”
Nelson notes that “writing a play is often an isolating experience,” but her ties to Hollins ensure she doesn’t feel alone during the process. “I know I have the support of a community, and that I’m not writing into a vacuum. Events like this festival always remind me that the Hollins community is so much bigger than just the campus. It really does stretch around the world.”
Top Photo: Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 performs She Made Space, which she wrote.
The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum is highlighting the work of a bestselling author/illustrator/graphic novelist in a new exhibition.
Ben Hatke: Nobody Likes a Goblin, on display through September 15, features 40 original watercolors from the children’s book and invites viewers of all ages to walk through the story with “Goblin,” from his happy life in the dungeon shared with rats and his best friend Skeleton, to his journey out into the world after adventurers kidnap Skeleton and steal everything they own.
“It’s impossible not to instantly empathize with the little, green-eyed goblin who is just minding his own business before his life is upended,” wrote April Spisak in her review of Nobody Likes a Goblin for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. “Hatke’s got an impressive gift for capturing the forlorn with little to no words.”
The Wilson Museum exhibition showcases Hatke’s working method, in which picture books and graphic novels begin as sketches with loosely conceptualized characters and locations. Visitors can scroll through pages from the artist’s sketchbooks on an iPad and view a video about Hatke. The exhibition also features original artwork from his books Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Little Robot, Mighty Jack, and the New York Times bestseller Zita the Spacegirl.
A graduate of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, Hatke later continued his studies at the Charles Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy. He currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and five daughters.
“Having a voice and a young audience comes with a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of joy and a lot of excitement,” Hatke said. “The harder and more contentious times are, the more serious the role of the artist is in the world.”
The Wilson Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. Admission is always free.
Please join the Wilson Museum for an opening lecture with Ben Hatke on Friday, July 12, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 119 of the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center. A reception and book signing will follow in the first floor lobby.
Image Caption: Ben Hatke, illustration from Nobody Likes a Goblin, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
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.