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A Bigger Better Canvas: Colby artists stretch out in Crawford Art Studios

Student artists at work in the new Crawford Art Studios.
Student artists at work in the new Crawford Art Studios.

By Gerry Boyle '78

Joanne Moy '03 had it figured out. An art major, she made sure that when the doors to the Crawford Art Studios opened last September, she'd be at the head of the line. "I planned so I could take Sculpture I in the first class in here," she said, shaping a rectangular chunk of plaster with mallet and chisel at a workbench in the cavernous first-floor sculpture studio. "It's fantastic. I'm in love with this place."

In past years, student artists at Colby have felt that they worked in the shadow-sometimes literally-of the sciences and the expanding science facilities. But the new studio building and the resulting expansion of space for print making, photography and drawing have put the spotlight on studio art-even in the new darkrooms.

The construction of the Crawford Art Studios caused a domino effect throughout the Bixler Art and Music Center. As explained by Lisa McDonald '02, during an informal tour, the former painting studio is now the foundation studio. The former foundation studio is now part of an expanded print-making studio. The drawing studio has better storage. The darkrooms are entirely new and spacious. "Look at these drying racks," McDonald said. "This is gorgeous."

Only a photographer would describe a drying rack as gorgeous, but art majors like McDonald aren't lost in the details. Living in a society that often views artists as working on the fringe, they see Colby's investment in the Crawford Art Studios as a sign that their work is valued by society-or at least the College. "I don't know that this means society values art more, but Colby does," McDonald said. "It's encouraging, in a way. I feel Colby is behind its art majors."

Word can't help but spread, said Professor Harriett Matthews (art), who has taught sculpture at the College since 1966 and no longer has to turn students away from her introductory sculpture course. "It makes us more visible. The more visible you are, the more [other] students see something they might want to do. The students are excited about it. They're talking about what they're doing."

And where they're doing it.

"The ambiance in the class has shifted," Matthews said. "They've got space and ceiling height and space to move around in and space to work."

Added Associate Professor Scott Reed, who no longer has to share print making studio space with three sections of classes of Foundations of Art, "It's just a great relief and joy, and I'm not even used to it yet."

Neither are the student artists who, when asked their opinion of their new studios, tend to gush. "Fantastic," said Kate Russo '04.

"The painting studio is great," said Loryn Traversi '02. "It's open and light and there are so many windows and natural light."

In the past, painters like Traversi literally have had to chase the light across a studio as fall days shorten and the sun sets earlier. Now the light is even and student painters no longer crowd the windows in the afternoon, said Assistant Professor Bevin Engman. Teaching is easier, too, Engman said, when her lessons do not include the caveat, "if the light were better."

"It's emotionally an uplifting space to be in," she said. "I love my job, but coming to work now is just, 'holy mackerel.'"

And the student artists' lives have improved in ways that are less technical or ethereal. Traversi pointed out another much loved feature in the new painting studio. "We have a bathroom up there," she said. "You have to change into your painting clothes. We used to have to come all the way down."

 


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