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Profiles in Art: Therese Ton

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The best pieces of art come with a story, something that can be passed on through the generations. At Swarthmore, one of the most beautiful stories comes along with Toscah, the name of Therese Ton’s ̕ 19 emerging bakery. Ton’s story is a powerful one, rooted in her family and her own determination to find her purpose.

Ton’s first time cooking was her attempt to perfect French macarons to serve to her aunt, whose love for baking was sky-high. She started baking in middle school, inspired by her aunt Anh and uncle Rick’s specialty — soft bake biscotti. The recipe came from her aunt’s Italian husband, who brought his own family recipe to the mix. Their biscotti — which were usually sent out as Christmas gifts — inspired a lot of praise and encouragement to start a business. But as they had full-time careers, her aunt and uncle were never able to start their biscotti business, which they had wanted to name “Tarabella” after the older of their two German Shepherds: Tara and Toscah.

So when Ton came to Swarthmore, she made a promise to her aunt and uncle that she would start their biscotti business before she graduated. The decision wasn’t easy to make, but it came as a result of realizing exactly what she did not want.

“What really catalyzed me to actually start it this past summer was I was working in Philadelphia at a biomedical research job at Jefferson Med school. I hated it. I really, really despised it. I dreaded going to work every day. Throughout the first few weeks where I was really miserable I had a reoccurring conversation that was going in my head.” Ton said, “Hey that conversation that you had with your aunt and uncle. I kept on remembering that conversation, and I was like, I need an outlet to keep myself sane, I already hate my job, let’s pick up another one that I somewhat like to do. So I whipped up a couple batches of biscotti.”

For Ton, baking became something of a refuge for her. After leaving an abusive home environment, Ton moved in with her aunt and uncle, shedding light on just how important the family ties are to this business.

“This business is like a big thank-you present for taking me in and for being the family that I always wanted, that was supportive and healthy and inspiring rather than feeling like something I dreaded to come home to,” Ton said.

However, Ton decided to change one thing about her business: the name. Tara has a lot of attitude and acts like one of those mean girls who knows they’re pretty. So instead, she chose the younger of the two German Shepherds, Toscah. Ton describes Toscah as herself in dog form: kind and happy-go-lucky.

Soon after, she decided to pursue her business further. She started selling her biscotti and other baked goods to Hobbs. Alongside her weekly deliveries to Hobbs, she started doing orders through her website, www.toscah.com. It began to spread around campus, and more and more people began to order desserts. This enabled Ton to realize where her passion really was and gave her the self-confidence that sometimes she didn’t always have during her time in college.

Alongside her aunt and uncle, Ton’s closest mentor at Swarthmore, Professor Sara Hiebert Burch in the biology department, gave her the emotional support and guidance she needed to make the decision to do what was best for her. For Ton, the more “secure” choice was to go into medicine, something that did not give her the same amount of joy baking did. She realized that there were three things that she wanted to do for the rest of her life: baking, teaching, and biology.

Soon she began to daydream about opening Toscah’s storefront in Philadelphia and how she could teach the biochemistry of baking to her customers in her bakery, and especially to low-income folks who don’t traditionally have access to this information. Ton realized how biochemistry is very inaccessible to many people and saw value in using baking to teach these lessons.

Ton’s dreams are quickly becoming a reality. She is now working to develop a curriculum about the biology of baking to teach to high school students for S.T.E.M. mentoring. Ton is also testing some of her ideas at Strath Haven High School, where she gets to perform demonstrations and test recipes.

What is most amazing about Ton’s story is her determination to make her dreams come true. She came from a low-income, abusive family to create her own successful bakery, and is now getting to pass on her knowledge to others. Her story is one that can remind us that when we feel lost, we can always come back to the ones we love most and what they have taught us.

Profiles in Art: Gene Witkowski

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Art can be a powerful tool for reaching many goals, including empowerment and personal growth. Gene Witkowski ̕ 21, a prospective music and math major, finds these and other qualities of art in his music. When I interviewed Witkowski to showcase his talent, he was genuine and candid, providing a beautiful look into the arts at Swarthmore.

 

When I talked to Witkowski about what it means to be a musician, I got to see the complexities behind the art he creates. What it means be an artist or creator varies from person to person, and his definition acknowledges the difficulties of authentically telling stories and being a voice for others.

 

“I think there’s an enormous sense of responsibility that comes with any form of creation. Through music I’m able to tell stories, and it’s important to recognize that even though those stories are yours, other people that you may not even know have experienced similar situations that allow them to see pieces of themselves in something you’ve created,” Witkowski said.  “For that reason, I’d like to think that with each song I write, I have the potential to change, or maybe even save, someone’s life by allowing them to live vicariously through me. And as a gay man and a member of the larger queer community, that sense of responsibility is even more potent.”

 

In Witkowski’s view, his love of creating music does not make him an artist, despite the fact that many would call him just that.

 

“I know other people might call me an artist, but I’d be hesitant to call myself that,” Witkowski said. “When people use the word “artist,” I think there’s an element of commercialism there, as if their art is simply a hobby or a profession, and in that sense I don’t think that I create art.”

 

For him, music is an essential outlet for processing emotions. Witkowski explained that he is not so much an artist as just a human who feels pain, love, loss, and any other other emotion. The only difference is that he chooses to express those emotions through his music.

 

Witkowski’s passion for music was in many ways established in his childhood. He began singing in church as a child and started piano lessons at the age of five, which his mother made him continue.

 

“My mom sang in church and gospel choirs when she was younger, and my dad toured as a roadie with a number of prominent bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I’d say I inherited my musicality from both of them,” Witkowski explained.

 

Witkowski explained how his musiciality was not simply an inheritance, but also something that they helped to facilitate.

 

“I remember wanting to be able to play a ‘boy’s instrument’, and my dad suggested the guitar, as well as promising to give me his old electric from his touring days once I learned to play. And it fit well with the dream I already had by that point of wanting to be a famous musician, so I had my mom sign me up for guitar lessons. It came pretty slow to me, but I loved it then and continue to now.

 

“I actually do remember the first song I wrote; it was this really innocent two-minute-long song called ‘Place For You in Me’ that I told everyone I’d written for my grandmother, but was actually about a girl I had a crush on when I was six or seven years old. The lyrics essentially talked about how much she meant to me, how she had embraced me unconditionally, and how I would be willing to do the same for her.”

 

“I remember a few years ago, I went back and tried to add some more to it, but I couldn’t bring myself to make any changes. It was so cheesy and obviously written by a little kid. But it felt perfect just the way it was. Which is a little ironic when you think about it, given all of the songs I write now are about boys,” Witkowski reflected.

 

Witkowski’s musicality was also an essential part to understanding his own sexual orientation and its impact on his relationship with his father. In many ways this came from one of his favorite singers, Troye Sivan.

 

“I publicly came out as gay for the first time on my sophomore retreat when I was fifteen; when I returned as a junior to lead the same retreat the next year, I spoke to the retreatants on my troubled relationship with my father and the process of coming to terms with my sexuality, and used Sivan’s ‘HEAVEN’ as a preface to my talk. I remember watching his coming out video on YouTube when I was fourteen, one of many I found online while grappling with the realization that I liked boys, and as a result was the exact opposite of the son my father wanted,” Witkowski said.

These stories of Witkowski’s youth were deeply personal and provided a lot of insight into his music. Witkowski also explained that Sivan was important to him in a plethora of ways and is a source of inspiration.

 

“So I dealt in terms of repression, all the while wishing I could be as free and unashamed as Sivan was, whether it was as momentous as coming out to my family or even something as seemingly inconsequential as saying ‘he’ or ‘him,’ instead of ‘she’ or ‘her,’ in a song.” Witkowski said. “He was the representation I desperately needed, and so when the time came for me to stand in his shoes, it felt only fair to me to pay him homage. I see so much of myself in him, and I continue to be inspired by the good he does, not just in his music, but in his activism. And a smile comes to my face every time someone tells me that my voice or my lyrics remind them of him.”

 

Witkowski’s openness about his music and where it comes from for him can serve as an inspiration for all those who are struggling to find a way to cope with whatever they may be going through.

 

“Don’t evaluate your successes by the successes of other people, don’t be afraid of making something you don’t like, and wherever possible don’t put any limits on your artistic ability. I’m constantly guilty of comparing myself to others, but you should never think of making music or painting or whatever medium it may be as a competition between you and somebody else; your job is to create something you’re proud of, not something that you think someone else will be proud of,” Witkowski explained.

 

Witkowski shared some powerful advice to conclude.

“Some things may be perfect the first time around, but sometimes they’ll be shitty, and that’s okay. It might take some time and several attempts, but your hard work will undoubtedly pay off in the end. And be as flexible as you can at all times. Don’t try to put your art into boxes or police the content you create, even if it’s different from anything you’ve done before. Don’t give yourself deadlines to meet. And don’t stop yourself from doing anything just because you tell yourself, or someone else tells you, it won’t be good enough.”

 

Profiles in Art: Olivia Smith

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One of the first things that is easily noticed upon arrival at Swarthmore is the incredible amount of art that students create every day, which often goes unnoticed. From my own experience, for people from smaller, more rural areas, the exposure to different forms of artwork can be limited. This is not the case at Swarthmore. Those inside and outside of the art department tell stories about the world around them in unique and creative ways. These stories are what drive this series to create pieces that highlight the thoughts and works of different Swarthmore artists.

Olivia Smith ̕̕̕̕̕̕ 21, a prospective economics major with French and math minors, is one of many incredible artists sharing their work at Swarthmore. She is a photographer who has been heavily involved in the Kitao Gallery since last semester and has recently become president of the Swarthmore Photography Club, which she is working to expand during her time in the role. Smith’s involvement with these organizations gives her a unique perspective on art at Swat, making her the perfect person to start this series. While she studies at Swarthmore she hopes to take foundational drawing as a means to balance her photography work with other mediums.

“Because I consider myself a photographer, I consider myself an artist, but I don’t know if I have a very good definition of what art is, so things can get a little confusing. I think everyone’s an artist in some way or another,” Smith explains.

“I guess I like making beautiful things not in the beautiful ‘pretty’ sort of way, but the beautiful ‘enrapturing’ way. I definitely think art is a cultural, and hopefully cross-cultural, unifier, so I’d like to say I contribute to that somehow … but who really knows?” Smith went on.

Art has been part of Smith’s life for a long time. “I remember two photos that I would call my first artworks. One was of three stuffed animals, one of which was holding a sign that read ‘forgotten’ with misspellings and poor handwriting. The other was of song lyrics from ‘Little Talks that I had collaged and hung from a hanger. I was pretty angsty in middle school,” she reflected. Along with those pieces, she also loved taking photos of words and graphics.

“While I started as more of a architecture/street photographer, I moved more to portraits and shoots with models because I have a friend back in St. Louis who would go on small expeditions with me. I have to give her a lot of credit for my work over the years; she is such a motivator,” Smith detailed.

“Within the realm of those model shoots, I often find myself fighting with my feminist anti-objectificational views that clash with taking pictures of women, but really anyone. This internal struggle always results in the conclusion that my portraits should not just be a picture of a human being, but a picture of an identity, and one that should have the primary goal of empowerment for the model,” Smith explains as she connects how the struggles of photography enable her to tell stories. This goal of empowerment is evident in the photos she takes and how the models are portrayed.

“I’d say that to be a photographer you have to have a sense of adventure,  and to some extent, rebellion. It ultimately makes the actual act of the photoshoot a work of art as well,” she concluded, “Once I had to convince an enraged campus security guard from calling the real cops on us for setting off smoke bombs near a school. Oops.”

 

Senior Profile: Paper Nostalgia with Gracie Farley ’17

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Trudging into Science Center Tuesday night I could feel a lot of weight on my back. Exams, essays, the fact I wore flip-flops when there was three inches of rain on the ground, all seemed to drag me into a state of mind identical to the quagmire outside. Sitting down to talk with Grace Farley ’17, however, I found myself forgetting all of that. For a little while, I was lucky enough to just listen to an extremely talented person talk about their unique experience with art and the art department.

For many students here at Swarthmore the task of finding a real place within any department can be tricky. The sense of belonging students can sometimes find by devoting time and effort to a study they truly care about can be hard enough to get from one major, but Gracie has had the extra challenge of finding a home in two seemingly different fields, art and biology.

“For my past three years here I haven’t really felt like an art major. Since I’m doing biology as well, that’s received a lot of my time and focus. Up until recently, I’ve really struggled finding my own style and motivation to create art until last summer during senior studio,” Farley said.

Starting her senior fall, however, she experienced her “switch.” Reflecting on the past year, a small smile crept onto her face as she reflected on how she finally developed her identity as an artist.

“I really started feeling comfortable as someone who could create art. I’m really kind of sad to be leaving right as I discovered this aspect of myself,” said Farley.

With her time at Swarthmore coming to a close, Farley’s senior thesis exhibition felt like a special treat. A series she titled “Paper Spaces,” her exhibition comprised of paper collages depicting scenes from her family life as well as more fantastical designs. Through trimmed and colored paper, she shaped storybook scenes of fish darting through a field of stars and little girls on tiny moon who throw flowers into the cosmos. While her galactic fairy tale definitely holds a real sense of joy, her other works that depict the quiet moments taken from the life her parents and grandparents have their own quiet charm.

“I was basing all these works off of old family photos, so I think there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes through in these collages,” she said.

Despite working from photographs, many of her family scenes feel like they were done in the style of memory. She cut out only the suggestion of facial features for many of her relatives. A slightly darker tan where a nose would cast a shadow or the white fringe of eyebrows could be all there is on a face as if it existed in a childhood memory that could only be half remembered. However, the atmosphere of all these scenes are easy to pinpoint. The tranquil moments that seem to hold their own special sort of emotion are reconstructed with trimmed paper. A summer day walking along the beach, a worn couch filled with children posing for a camera, late winter afternoon spent sledding, and many of the other little moments she created felt so easy sweet and familiar.

“It’s actually a little funny though. There’s one piece of a family with a sled that’s actually taken from a picture where one of the children in the photo is my mom. I just never imagined my mom’s family going on a trip to go sledding or ice skating at all,” she said.

“I think for me, my family is really important to my identity. As someone who is multiracial, they have played a big part of sculpting my identity in terms of where I come from, who I am, and what spaces I feel comfortable speaking up in. I think for me, reflecting on my family, I’ve come to a point where I don’t really see it as something with two distinct parts, like an Asian side of my family and a white side of my family. My family is multiracial just like I’m multiracial just kind of in more discreet units. I just found that realization as I was working on these family photos really cathartic.”

Looking towards her life after Swarthmore, Gracie sees her future in the laboratory slightly more than the studio.

“I got asked what I wanted my future with art to be in my senior critique the other day, but I think because I only started to feel like an artist recently I never really considered art as a career. Right now, I probably see myself as a lab technician somewhere. I really do want to continue producing art especially since I’ve built up so much momentum these last few months and I don’t want to lose that.”

Though the road ahead may seem to be dominated more by pipets than paintbrushes, Farley admitted that is getting a little extra push to keep creating art from a familiar source.

“At the moment I have a few family members who want some commissions,” she said with a smile.

Cooking with Dina

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Dina Ginzburg ’18, from Berlin, is an artist who involves herself with radically different disciplines. She is a computer science major as well as a member of the band Calypso Baby! with Blake Oetting ’18 and Noah Lifset ’18.

Although this band and her solo work are closer to studies of experimentalism, a compositional practice that explores sensibilities and movement, she first became interested in music through classical music. 

“I’ve had piano lessons since I was seven, so I’m pretty classically trained. I had a Russian piano teacher. I can pick stuff on a guitar and I sing, but I don’t really like my voice,” Ginzburg said.

This classical training in piano has not manifested itself in musical pretentiousness. Modern technology has influenced her art and music.

“We’ve been talking about that in my Integrated Media Design class a lot because a lot of that has to do with using different mediums like projection. But basically it’s more tools for making art and if they’re the right tools for the idea that you have and the message you’re trying to get across, of course, use whatever you need, ” Ginzburg said.

However, she does believe that technology should only be used purposefully.

“Technology for technology’s sake is obviously pretty stupid,” said Ginzburg.

She dislikes the new culture of creating music with high-tech equipment and catered towards those who are familiar with specific types of music theory or practices. She believes that this type of culture is one that is exclusionary and also doesn’t really guarantee good or interesting music. Ginzburg herself is not trained in this way.

“I don’t think I’m technically or formally trained, like I’ve never been taught music theory or had any training in how to play an instrument other than piano or been taught how to write songs or anything like that. And I recorded them on my laptop and I don’t care if I make mistakes or it sounds weird. So like depending on the constraints I have on what I’m doing, each album sounds really different,” said Ginzburg.

The aesthetic of each album’s artwork also plays an interesting role in setting the tone for the album. She described the reason behind  her album “cooking with dina.”

“This one is because I wrote all of these songs while I was here over the summer and I had just moved into my new apartment and it reminds me of home and being okay,” said Ginzburg.

She looked at another album called “RELG 008: PAtternsof Asian Religions,” and explained the album art:

“This one is just a photo from my Patterns of Asian Religion class. The professor would have photo slides and he would click and they would change.” She points, “this one is a reclining Buddha which has lots of meaning and I just thought it’s a really moving photo,” said Ginzburg.

She described the artwork for her first album, “for myself”, illustrating the influence from her time at the Harvard library.

“I was working at the Harvard library in the Judaica division. This one is from these postcards that we were cataloging and archiving, and also this album is vaguely about me getting over my high school boyfriend like two years later. I’m into more traditional gender roles when it comes to romantic relationships and like how that was shown here,”said Ginzburg.

Music can be a profoundly cathartic medium, one which Ginzburg appreciates both on a personal level and on the ways it can heal society.

“Music is very emotional and it’s a very visceral thing. You hear it and you immediately feel

it,” said Ginzburg.  

She believes that the empowering faculties of music are especially relevant in today’s time and that music can be a source of hope. Inspirational artists that spread messages relevant to modern times can play a crucial role in our future society.

“I feel like 2016 was such a good year for music and there are so many important albums like Solange’s album, and Tribe Called Quest’s. I just found this woman named Xenia Rubinos who is also amazing,” said Ginzburg.

One artist that Ginzburg loves is PJ Harvey, a female English musician, poet, and composer.

“I’m going to go see her in April in Philly alone. I’m going by myself and getting there early and will stand first in line. She’s really awesome. I really really connect with her, especially as a woman and the way she responds to femininity and the way she feels as a woman,” Ginzburg explained.

“Also, every album has a completely different style and different aesthetic, even the music videos and her live shows. She always feels very of-the-time. Her most recent album, which she’s going on tour with, is all about globalisation and capitalism and she’s moved farther away from the 90’s angsty girl music.”

Ginzburg is excited about the performance also because PJ Harvey deeply resonates with her at this point in her life.  

“She just came to me at a really perfect time. I just really think she’s so cool.”

Ginzburg’s funky taste in music and ideals of inclusivity show through in her own work. In the upcoming year, Dina and Calypso Baby! plan to record their albums in a professional studio, and to also direct music videos for their songs.

W.O.C. S.U.C.C.: Anderson on Owning Comedy

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

When Céline Anderson ‘19 walked onto Swarthmore’s campus last fall as a freshman, she came with a plan to find her place.

“In high school, I wasn’t funny, but I was around a lot of funny people,” Anderson says. “During orientation, I realized that I wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough to make friends off the bat with people, so I had to have something. So, I think my edge was just being like awkward and like weird as f**k, but [owning] it.”

Now, as a sophomore, Anderson is co-president of Swarthmore Stand-Up Comedy Club. The organization’s mission, according to Anderson, is to facilitate stand-up comedy as well as to get people who love it in a weird way to talk about it.

Although she has learned much about comedic style from others in the group, Anderson is very aware of the male-dominated culture of comedy.

“I think one of the things we constantly run into is that the group can become such a sausage fest. It’s always, like, white dudes who are told they’re funny, because people want them to think they’re funny, I don’t know,” Anderson says.

To challenge the dominant state of affairs, Anderson and others in SUCC are bringing American Express, a professional group for comedians of color, to campus.

“We’re working to get away from [the dominant culture] … just to encourage that it doesn’t have to be that white people monopolize comedy,” said Anderson.

In her own performances, Anderson often includes issues of race and gender — a development that occurs both purposely and organically.  

“I’m way more likely to say some weird thing that happens in my life that just happens to be funny than to make up a joke out of nothing … [but] I think being a woman of color in white spaces is just conducive to a lot of jokes. At the same time, I feel like there’s the responsibility of representation, and I want people to know who I am,” Anderson said.

In Anderson’s Google Drive, you’ll find a folder titled “index of jokes.” In it, she simply writes down stuff as it comes along.

“Sometimes, I look on my Twitter from high school … sometimes, I rely on certain things I’ve learned to shape just weird, borderline journal entries into comedy,” she says.

Indeed, Anderson’s personal life has contributed to her appreciation for comedy. Along with performing at Swat, she has also had the experience of performing in her hometown of Roanoke, Virginia.

“I was really nervous because I was at a house show with a bunch of people there who I didn’t know …  Me and my sister were the only people of color in the entire building, out of like 50 people, and I was one of two woman performers out of 13 performers,” Anderson said.

Before her performance, Anderson was worried that her jokes would not be appreciated by her unfamiliar audience.  

“I was really nervous …  like what’s going to appeal to this audience? All my jokes are about being awkward, like a middle schooler, or something,” Anderson says, “but I think it worked out okay because I think I actually filled a niche.”

Rather than drastically changing her set to fit the audience, Anderson stuck to what worked for her.

“That was braver than I thought at the time. I talked about being in middle school, and being made fun of … I told a race joke that went over pretty well. I think the joke is like because I’m racially ambiguous looking, whatever that means, and you know people, like, nod when they see their people, everyone’s like trying to nod at me, because they think I’m one of them, so I have to walk down the street like a bobblehead, and all these white people laughed,” said Anderson.

Although she is very secure in her own racial identity — Anderson is black and Egyptian — Celine believes other people are often confused by it and that leads to a thin line when it comes to jokes.

“I know who I am … I think it’s cool,” Anderson says, “[but] a lot of people are confused by it, and they see me on stage, and there’s a question of, because of how I look, what am I allowed to joke about. Like, to what degree am I allowed to joke about blackness, and to what degree am I allowed to joke about Arab-ness?”

As a genre, Anderson is conflicted about whether comedy should be called an art form.

“I go back and forth a lot about whether or not I want to call comedy art. I watched this episode of Louis, …  and one of the things he was on was that you shouldn’t call comedy art because that brings an elitism to it, when maybe one of the most beautiful things about it is you can get a crowd of, like, different people, all laughing at the same fart joke,” Anderson says.

Despite her reservations about art, she believes that comedy has the capability to enact social change.

“I think it’s also a really good way to engage in discourse, not just on stage but in personal interactions,” Anderson says. “People just feel more relaxed, and I think their ears can be a little more open.”

Hughes turns new leaf, in verse

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Margaret Hughes ’17, recipient of the English department’s $2,500 Morrell-Potter grant, abandoned her proposed plan almost immediately.

“I sort of set my goal to be writing poetry that reads like smut and smut that reads like poetry,” Hughes says. She laughs, leaning back, crossing her blue Converse All-Stars over her baggy pants, and adjusting the crown of flowers resting on her forehead. “I think I [wrote] that on one of my online dating profiles. That’s really pretentious.”

In eighth grade, she found her first book of poetry, a 1966 textbook by X. J. Kennedy, in her parents’ bathroom. After turning to “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, she was hooked. Hughes memorized her favorite poems — even now, she can recite the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” five pages and over a thousand words long. Now, the copy sits in her house, battered from use.

What emerged from her work over the summer, she elaborates, is an investigation into emotional honesty and opacity.

“I’m interested in an interplay between exposure, and vulnerability, and self protection through cleverness,” she says. “That’s something I was trying to explore moments of confession and moments of emotional expression that are trying to cover themselves up or disguise themselves.” The narrow, granular nature of poetry, she explains, enables that. “I get to show part of a picture, or to show it from an angle.”

Despite her personal style, Hughes’ poems are a testament to precision, each word loaded with as much significance as she can manage. In contrast, she finds the messiness of everyday speech, with its fragmented thoughts and run on sentences, profoundly unsatisfying.

“I could very easily spend all my time analyzing the thing I said at Sharples, [or] what I should have said differently, or what I should have not said. The nice thing about getting to write a poem is that I have control over that.”

Hughes’ impulse to revise means that much of her work centers on going over old poems rather than new works. With the grant, though, she tried to produce more new material. “Part of this summer was getting comfortable with writing things that rambled and that I wouldn’t really want anyone else to see.”

She worked four days a week with the Trevor Project, an organization for suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, and wrote on the weekends.

“That structure was really essential for me,” she says. Although she didn’t find much overlap between her writing at the Project and her poetry, letters to government agencies and legislators require their own neat phrasing, she says almost like poetry. “Obviously, it’s a completely different genre and topic, but it kept me in the practice of writing every day.”

She ended up finishing three complete poems as well as beginning and editing many more pieces.

After graduating high school, Hughes spent a gap year campaigning for gay marriage in Rhode Island before taking her freshman spring off to organize volunteers for an LGBTQ non-discrimination bill in Utah. Afterwards, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to college.

“I had a year without school to do stuff I really cared about and that I was pretty good at,” Hughes says. “It was the first time I developed a primary identity aside from ‘student.’” Without another offer, though, she resumed classes.

Hughes, a self-proclaimed copycat, consciously imitates the writing styles of favorite writers like former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, whom Hughes admires for her clever phrasing and confessional tone. She still feels like she’s in the process of trying on others’ styles.

“That doesn’t feel inauthentic to me … I can dress very differently on different days, and all those ways feel like accurate expressions of some part of me at a given time.”

Majoring in English was never a certainty even now, Hughes hasn’t officially declared. She moved between political science, linguistics, and several other fields before deciding in the middle of last year to focus on creative writing out of resignation, she says.

“I came into school knowing that I was ultimately going to be an English major … but that seemed so predictable.”

At one point, Hughes wanted to be an actress. In high school, her class traveled to New York City to meet an off-Broadway star for career advice.

“She told us, ‘Yeah, I worked for years, and then my big break was when I became the face of the Scotch Tape commercial.’” Hughes laughs.

Although she’d like to have her poetry published, she struggles to see a career in it.

“There’s probably a lot of becoming the face of the Scotch Tape commercial that has to happen before publishing a book and after you publish a book. I don’t know [if] that’s something I want to do.”

After graduation, Hughes plans to look for more LGBTQ activism campaigns to work on, whether organizing in the field or writing policy in DC. She worries she might struggle to maintain her habit of writing every day. “I just kind of wonder how adults who work nine to five or longer have time for having food, sustaining relationships doing laundry, all those fun things let alone [maintaining] artistic practices.”

Another dream job? Writing erotica. “I didn’t get a grant for that, though.”

Painter, animator, Leich leads artistic postgrad life

in Campus Journal by

For students at an institution that boasts the title “Liberal Arts College,” Swatties seem to most frequently pursue majors in the sciences, with biology, computer science, and political science topping the list of most popular majors. The art departments, including art history, studio art, music, and others, while perhaps less prominent than other departments, have graduated many successful artists, including animator and painter Meredith Leich ‘08.

 

Leich spent her time at Swarthmore focusing on different artistic mediums and art-related academic disciplines, including art history and music. Leich said she didn’t decide to pursue a career as an artist until after graduating from Swarthmore, which she attributes in part to her participation in different creative activities at the college. “Participating in the senior art studio class and playing in orchestra and chamber groups, as well as writing a comic for the Phoenix, were important experiences in guiding me toward a life centered on creativity and artistic craft,” Leich said.

 

Even though she did not major in studio art or film, Leich has been deeply interested in art since her childhood. She works mostly in painting and animation, both of which she say stem from her lifelong interest in drawing. She describes animation as a way to incorporate her other artistic interests, writing and music, into her paintings in order to convey more complex ideas. “[My art] is an attempt to describe aspects of the world around me that I find compelling or significant,” Leich said.

 

Through her studies in art history and music, Leich explored the ways that art changes over time and reacts to cultural contexts. “[These studies] demonstrated how art’s value and focus shifts from generation to generation, as it reflects the concerns and interests of our ever-evolving societies.” She said this phenomenon sparked a curiosity about different worldwide cultures and histories, which led to an overwhelming desire to travel and experience the rest of the world. “I doubt I would have had the courage to live in other countries and expose myself to so many other ways of living if Swarthmore hadn’t emphasized the necessity of understanding multiple perspectives,” Leich said.

 

In other ways, however, Leich said that Swarthmore somewhat hindered her ability to think creatively, because upon leaving the school, it took some time to change from an academic mindset — which she considers to be the dominant mode of thought at Swarthmore — to a more creative one. She describes her artistic process as being much more focused on intuition, emotion and sensation than on strictly intellectual thinking. “[The artistic process] requires an embrace of uncertainty and nonverbal methods of communication and expression that aren’t found as frequently, and are sometimes dismissed, in the academic environment,” Leich said.

 

Leich said that her art does not necessarily have a style, but rather takes inspiration from changing moods, images, and concepts. “I am continually interested in weather, cities, history, climate change and technology, and I find myself making work about or featuring those forces frequently,” Leich said.

 

While she does not stick to one consistent theme in her art, she said she feels that her work is informed by historical artistic movements and traditions, in particular representational painting and surrealism.

 

Leich said her work in video and painting differs slightly, since when working in video, she has to pay attention to time and fluidity, whereas in painting she only needs to focus on one instantaneous image. “When working in painting or video, I try to be sensitive to what the medium offers; am I trying to create a single visually impactful scene?  Or do I want a narrative to unfold? Do I want to include sound or music?” Leich asks herself.  She said some of her ideas work better as paintings, and others better as videos, so working with both allows for better execution of these concepts.

 

Since her graduation from Swarthmore, Leich has lived in cities across the United States and fulfilled her desire to travel the world. She has worked three different jobs in New York City at several different arts organization, lived in Jaffa, Israel on a Dorot Fellowship, attended the San Francisco Art Institute for a post-baccalaureate degree in painting and stayed in the city to teach art in various institutions and communities. She is currently studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a MFA in Film, Video, New Media and Animation.

 

Leich’s work is currently on display in Swarthmore’s own List Gallery, along with the work of two other artists, including Eberhard Froelich ‘86. The exhibition features some of Leich’s watercolor paintings and animations, which draw inspiration from her time spent in San Francisco, a city she describes as “very beautiful, zeitgesty, with dystopic undertones.”

 

“[The animation, entitled Bedtime Story No. 2] uses the format of the childhood bedtime story to meditate on one of the unfinished narratives of our age — the looming potential of climate change.” These pieces will be on view in the List Gallery until December 13.

 

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