ON THE LINE: There’s a small round window high on the wall of the Atrium Gallery in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar. For Harry Roseman, chair of the Art Department and professor of sculpture and drawing at Vassar since 1981, that window was a starting point.
Elise Silver ’10 and Jensen Smith ’11 were two members of a team of five students, a professional assistant, and of course Roseman himself, who created the site-specific installation Hole in the Wall, a riveting “play on space, color, line, and movement,” explains Silver.
A vibrant pattern of circles and lines emanate from the window along the entire surface area of the gallery’s 30-foot wall. “We did a lot of practicing, figuring out how to make the lines, what tools to use, experimenting with different colors,” said Jensen. Like most projects at Vassar, the final product was reached through a rigorous process of questioning, exploring, and reevaluating. “Harry really listened to what we said, even though we were students. I mean, he took us seriously. Even though the idea was his, the work was his, it felt very collaborative because of that,” Jensen said.
A studio art and computer science double major, Jensen chose to stay on campus during winter break to help with the piece. “There was a lot of hanging out and goofing around,” she admits. “Harry’s style as an instructor is very laid back, but he expects a lot from you. He creates a casual atmosphere, but he is also very focused.”
Although she volunteered for the project mostly because she “didn’t have any plans for winter break and thought it would be fun to stay on campus, plus it was a good way to make some money,” Jensen found her own work affected by the experience: “His way of working is so different than mine. He taught me to allow for chance and to allow for change. I tend to think of things in a very straightforward way, and now I see what can happen when a vision is allowed to change through the process of making art.”
This was considered an extracurricular activity, but its approach mirrored Vassar’s long tradition of experiential learning. “It was a joy to watch Harry go through the process as an artist and as an educator. He was honest with us, and we were honest with him,” said Silver. It’s not unusual for students and faculty to collaborate, even at this high level, at Vassar. In fact, many programs encourage it. “There’s a nice student/professor dynamic here; both become very involved. The professors aren’t terrifying. It’s clear they’re here to help,” she added.
Silver will take these lessons with her as she continues her studies in art history. “It was a great, hands-on experience,” she said. “It was a big commitment. I didn’t know any of the other students going into it, but as we worked together, usually for around five hours a day, we developed this fluidity as a group. It’s not why I volunteered for the project, but one of the biggest benefits was getting to know some students who shared my interest in creative processes like this one.”
The window in the wall of the Atrium Gallery will remain long after the Hole in the Wall installation is taken down. For the students who helped create this complex work of art, it will always be remembered as a starting point.