An interdisciplinary student at FLC and an intern at the Center of Southwest Studies, Elise Boulanger found inspiration for an exhibit to celebrate her peers' diverse voices that harmonized with the Center's collection.
Elise hoped 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, Elise collaborated with students through conversations about their backgrounds. She learned invaluable lessons about the power of assumptions and the importance of respect for other cultures.
Throughline's theme centers around the idea that objects are living, made from living beings, passed on to living beings and existing for many generations to come. Each piece in the Center's collection represents a voice that should be heard.
Students met one-on-one with Elise, the student curator, several times a semester at the Center of Southwest Studies. They looked at collections, chose one or more pieces to connect with, researched items, and discussed 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 the team felt about the collection pieces as they dove into more profound research. Using the Center's database, online resources, or direct communication with professional artists for research broadened their insights into the pieces' larger cultural, historical, or artistic contexts. Zoom opened opportunities to meet face-to-face with people in different parts of the country, like Garrett Etsitty, artist mentor, and Jack Townes, museum preparator.
Throughout this exhibit's creation, the team discussed the value of art as therapy and personal expression, which has been crucial to well-being this past year. This project would have looked very different if not for the amazing steps the college took to keep the community safe.
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. They met on Zoom to brainstorm ideas.
The Artist Mentors helped students thoughtfully and creatively draw connections between the Center's collections and their personal identities. The Artist Mentors’ substantial experience in the art world and communities of the Southwest gave insights that the students could not have gained otherwise. They touched on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to the artistic process. This exposure 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 how 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 to the Center's team for giving us this opportunity." - Elise Boulanger
"I carefully chose collections items to express and represent different aspects of my heritage. Within the pieces, I saw the story of my family and ancestors. I 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, inspiring 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 in-person and virtually. It's been an incredible experience looking at the archives and 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, 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 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.
Tirzah Camacho (Laguna Pueblo) and Garrett Etsitty (Diné)
Elise Boulanger is an Osage descendant attending Fort Lewis College. Her educational passions are Studio Art, Art History, Anthropology, and Indigenous Studies. Elise acts as the Curatorial Intern at the Center of Southwest Studies and is an intern at the Colorado Clay Studio. Her past work was as an Art History Teacher's Assistant and Tutor and a Gallery Preparator Intern. She has curated three shows as a student at Fort Lewis College, giving her experience in working with artists and earning her three grants. As a member of the 2019 UCLA/Getty Diversity in Conservation cohort, Elise is currently on track to pursue an internship in Art Conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian during the summer of 2022. Elise hopes to find connections that span the art world. She enjoys being a social advocate for any museum, gallery, or community art scene, interrupting ways of thinking that hold us back from the holistic view of the past, present, and future. Elise plans to stay in Durango this summer to work at the Center and the Colorado Clay Studio.
This exhibit was funded partly by a grant from the Ballantine Family Fund and Fort Lewis College's Mellon Foundation L.I.T. Grant, and through the Center's Preservation Series collaboration with Pendleton Woolen Mills.