Our newest exhibit, curated by Elise Boulanger (Studio Art & Design, '21), features works by her fellow Fort Lewis College peers, showcased alongside pieces from the Center's collections.
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As an interdisciplinary student at Fort Lewis College and an intern at the Center of Southwest Studies, Elise Boulanger was inspired to create an exhibit to celebrate her peers’ diverse voices in harmonization with the Center’s collection. With hopes to hold space for her peers and herself to explore personal narratives, she sought to find new, meaningful connections with their place at Fort Lewis College. Over the semester, she collaborated with students through conversations about their backgrounds and learned invaluable lessons about the power of assumptions and the importance of respect for other cultures. The idea that objects are living, made from living beings, passed to living beings, and existing for many generations to come is the theme of Throughline. Each piece in the Center's collection has a voice that should be heard.
Throughout the semester, each student met with Elise as the student curator several times on a one-on-one basis at the Center of Southwest Studies to look at collections, choose one or more pieces to connect with, research items, and talk about inspiration to create artistic works. They traced stories through the Center’s curatorial team about where objects came from, who made them, what they mean, and how they came to the collections at Fort Lewis College.
The creation of original art emerged from connecting the emotions they felt about the collection pieces with the deeper research they delved into. This research, using the Center’s database, online resources, or direct communication with professional artists, broadened their insights into the pieces’ larger cultural, historical, or artistic contexts.
Zoom opened opportunities to meet with people face-to-face that are in different parts of the country, like Garrett Ettisity, artist mentor, and Jack Townes, museum preparator. Throughout the creation of this exhibit, they talked about the value of art as therapy and personal expression that has been crucial to wellbeing this past year. This project would have looked a lot different if it were not for the amazing steps the college took to keep the community safe.
Student Participants: Elise Boulanger, Studio Art (Osage); Danni Crombie, Studio Art (Gwich’in); Chloe’ Umdenstock, Art Education (Cherokee); Laurel Grimes, Communication Design (Chikasha, Vietnamese, Cherokee, Irish); Destiny Morgan, Studio Art (Diné , Nahiłii); Qootsvenma Denipah-Cook, Biology (Ohkay Owingeh, Hopi, Diné); AJ Lopez, Anthropology + Native American Indigenous Studies; Shalee Rowley, Creative Writing; Cheyenne Williams, Journalism (Muscogee [Creek]); Hannah Jacks, Communication Design (Cherokee); Stella Atkinson - preferred name is Soggy John, Studio Art; Kobi Gyetvan, Studio Art + Marketing (Latinx); V. Barney, Communication Design + Sports Administration (Diné, Laguna Pueblo); Ben Rogers, Art Education; Maddie Lamb - preferred name is Maddie Sanders, Communication Design (Mvskoke & Mojave); Emily McWilliams, Biology + Anthropology (Diné); Emily’s sister and grandmother also created pieces for the show - Claire McWilliams and Lillie Coleman.
Participation of the artist mentors:
Tirzah Camacho (Laguna Pueblo) and Garrett Etsitty (Diné), professional artists and Fort Lewis College alumni, joined the students as mentors on this project and were funded for their time through the Preservation Series collaboration with Pendleton Woolen Mills. Through Zoom, they met to brainstorm ideas and helped thoughtfully and creatively draw connections between the Center’s collections and personal identities. Their substantial experience in the art world and communities of the Southwest gave insights to the students they could not have gained otherwise. They touched on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to artistic process. This helped students create original works imbued with their own spiritual and emotional angles. In March, Tirzah Camacho led a collaborative painting project with the students using found canvases, driftwood, and black and white paint.
"My peers are extraordinary in the ways they carved out time this semester to create art and share their intimate narratives with the community. We are spreading an endless line of knowledge about who we are, why we are here, and how we will remain here. The connections we made are incredibly valuable, and some of us have plans for more projects together. I am grateful for the Center’s team for giving us this opportunity." - Elise Boulanger
“I carefully chose collections items to express and represent different aspects of my personal heritage. Within the pieces, I saw the story of my family and ancestors and sought to explore the connections between those who came before me and those alive today. The Diné are a matriarchal society; we are the lifeblood of our cultural survival. In this piece, I am showcasing and honoring the matriarchs of my family: my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, and our connection to the past, present, and future.” - Emily McWilliams
“When going through the photography collections I was struck most by the power historical photos have to tell stories and provide important representation. Photographers like Eddie Ellison captured sheer moments of light in otherwise changing landscapes, and this inspired me to use bleach. Bleach is immediate and unforgiving on fabric, much like film when exposed to light. I wanted my work to acknowledge the power of representation in my chosen photo, in the same way photography has the power to preserve and honor the past.” - AJ Lopez
“This project has helped me a lot during COVID. It’s gotten me in touch with so many new like-minded people both in-person and virtually. It’s been an incredible experience getting to look at the archives and do research while still having my creative freedom. The collaborative project was the best thing I could’ve done for my mental health. Getting to paint freely and bounce off others’ ideas was amazing and was the first collaborative thing I’ve done since the pandemic started!” - Danni Crombie
Elise Boulanger, student curator:
Elise Boulanger is an Osage descendant attending Fort Lewis College. Studio Art, Art History, Anthropology, and Indigenous Studies are her educational passions. She is a Curatorial Intern at the Center of Southwest Studies and an intern at the Colorado Clay Studio. She is a former Art History Teacher’s Assistant and Tutor, as well as a Gallery Preparator Intern. She has curated three shows as a student at Fort Lewis College which all gave her experience in working with artists and earned her three grants. As a member of the 2019 UCLA/Getty Diversity in Conservation cohort, she is currently on track to pursue an internship in Art Conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian during the summer of 2022. With hopes to find connections that span the art world, she enjoys working in any part of a museum, gallery, or community art scene as a social advocate to interrupt ways of thinking that hold us back from seeing the whole picture of the past, present and future. This summer, she plans to stay in Durango to work at the Center and the Colorado Clay Studio.