By Kevin Brown
As students of the Gwen Frostic School of Art use steel and tin to create a human-size head and face with a village rising from the top, they gain experience through an opportunity they most likely will never forget.
WMU art students express their creativity during a week-long art exhibition displayed in the James W. & Lois I. Richmond Center for Visual Arts and South Korhman Hall. Every bachelor’s of fine arts student is required is put on an exhibition before graduation. The Richmond Center consists of the following four gallery spaces: the Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery, the Rose Netzorg and James Wilfrid Kerr Gallery, the Atrium Gallery and the Eleanor R. and Robert A. DeVries Student Art Gallery. Each week of the exhibition, two art students split the DeVries Student Gallery and set up their own art exhibitions for everyone to see.
Julie McElroy is an art student at WMU who displayed her exhibition in February 2012. Having completed her own exhibition, McElroy said she that she now feels ready for another one after having gained this experience at WMU.
“It definitely forced me to have thicker skin. It was hard to accept all the criticism. For the next exhibition, I know what I’ll be walking into,” McElroy said.
McElroy said she started planning her exhibition four months in advance. She said and it took a lot of hard work.
“It’s hard to do so much planning when sometimes you don’t even know what the work is going to look like,” McElroy said.
McElroy said she enjoys seeing other students work when it is on display.
“Seeing other students work pushes you to make you want to be better. The whole art program is a lot of competition,” McElroy said. “After graduation with an art degree, it’s all up to the artist to continue to be self motivated and be successful doing what they love.”
McElroy said she discovered her abilities as an artist during her sophomore year. She said it was then that she decided that she wanted to be an art student. McElroy said she has loved drawing and painting ever since.
Mindi K. Bagnall, student art gallery director, said the student art gallery gives students real professional development. Bagnall is a WMU alumna with a MFA in painting. She has been the student director for three years and also owns her own art studio at the Park Trades Center in Kalamazoo called MKB Art Studio.
When Bagnall was a student at WMU, she was given the the same opportunity to put on her own exhibition as students do today.
“It was a big deal,” she said, “getting to put on my own exhibition.”
She said that it is uncommon for a university to have such a big and amazing building for the students to display their art.
“It gives them a sense of pride,” Bagnall said.
Art school faculty also have an opportunity each year to put on their own exhibitions and showcase the pieces that they have been working on, giving students a chance to see their instructors’ art and what they do on their own time.
“The shows I was putting together seemed to be doing a better job relating to others than my art was. So I kind of shifted. Instead of going into the studio, I started putting exhibitions together and writing about art,” said Don Desmett, founding director of exhibitions for the Richmond Center for Visual Arts.
Don Desmett has been the director of exhibitions since 2006. He has a MFA in sculpture which he received in 1984 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has organized many major exhibitions, including and exhibition for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In 2005, he was a design consultant for SmithGroup in Detroit, to help work on functional design elements for WMU’s Richmond Center.
Desmett brings in artists from all over the world to come and put on exhibitions at the Richmond Center. A few times a year, Desmett will travel to attend different artist’s exhibitions and conduct research on that particular artist. He then brings back his research and presents it to a faculty exhibitions committee.
“First and foremost, it’s here for the students and the classes they are taking. Exhibitions have to relate directly to the curriculum,” Desmett said about the decision making process for selecting artists. He said the committee chooses an artist they feel is best suited to be asked to come put on an exhibition at WMU.
Artists will visit classrooms, lead workshops, work with students, and give lectures. It gives students an opportunity to work with real-life artists, people who are making art for a living.
The Richmond Center was opened in 2007 at Western Michigan University. Gwen Frostic, a WMU alumna, was a famous artist known for her images of nature and for her illustrated books. Frostic was born April 26, 1906 in Sandusky, Mich. and died April 25, 2001. Frostic became the single biggest donor in WMU’s history with a gift of $13 million. WMU named their school of art after her in 2007. In 1986, she was inducted into The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.