Entry begun Thursday, March 5, at 12:30 PM
It was difficult to choose student artists for the Panel Discussion because so many would have been so good to hear. We would have liked to include the artists whose work we chose for the front and back covers of the catalog, but Camilla Asplen and Brian Morris had only been able attend on Friday, not Saturday, night. We were more fortunate with Melissa Gers and Nicci Mechler, who had each co-authored essays with me about our classroom work published by the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin in 2003 and 2012, respectively. With Melissa and Nicci as the anchors, we also invited Minadora Macheret and Keianna Troxell from my Spring 2012 class, and Megan Beckerich and John Campbell from Spring 2014.
The furniture for our Panel Discussion consisted to two adjacent tables at which the panelists faced several rows of chairs for the audience, plus a podium with a microphone for each successive speaker. Our plan was for each panelist to speak for 8 – 10 minutes, after which we would have 30 minutes for questions and discussion. After introducing each speaker, I sat down to the right of the podium, Emma Rose sitting to the left of the panelists on the other side. The Northerner, our student newspaper, showed the full width of the room in the photo published in its online story about the Arts Fest.
My perch at the far right was perfect for listening, although it was almost too “up close and personal” for taking getting a good camera angle. It was such a pleasure to hear each of these student artists speak about her or his learning process in Dickinson and the Arts. We went chronologically from the earliest Dickinson class to the most recent, so Melissa Gers, from the Fall Semester 2001, went first.
Melissa got a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from the University of Cincinnati after completing her English major here. She has since had an excellent job in marketing at Proctor and Gamble. In addition to creating her sculpture This is a Blossom of the Brain in the Fall 2001 class, and creating a sophisticated website showcasing the work of all of her classmates, Melissa had leapt at the opportunity to co-author the essay we called “Dickinson’s Power in Student Hands” for the EDIS Bulletin. In all of these endeavors Melissa had been extremely articulate about the liberating power of creative freedom at the heart of the learning process. To hear her revisit that theme today from her position as a young professional, surrounded by the artworks that her classmates Camilla Asplen and Ellen Bayer and three dozen subsequent Dickinson students had produced, was deeply satisfying.
Nicci Mechler is the kind of student for whom interdisciplinary is not enough. I first met her as an undergraduate Art major who won a prize in a contest we had for students responding to themes of the Underground Railroad. After pursuing graduate study at the Savannah School of the Arts in Georgia, she returned to NKU to earn a Master’s in English, in the course of which she took my class in Dickinson and James. The intensity of her interest in Dickinson over the course of the semester extended from the poetry itself, to Dickinson’s emotional life (especially with Sue), and to her culinary talent (which Nicci researched by baking Emily’s coconut cake for the entire class). We called our joint essay for the EDIS Bulletin “’Getting Creative in the Kitchen’: Dickinson Inspires Student Art.”
Nicci did not want to sell the exceptional painting Susie’s Girl she presented as her final project in the course, so I had been keeping it on extended loan in my office until it went up in the current exhibition. I will get to keep Open Me Carefully, one several small, exquisite works that Nicci created and exhibited after the class was over. Among Nicci’s Fall 2011 classmates who have work in our exhibition or who read in the Marathon are Carola Bell, Heather Braley, Tom Clark, Lauren Magee, Sarah Moore (Wagner), and Amy Fugazzi.
Minadora Macheret, like Nicci Mechler, shows the strength of our Master’s program in English, which is still quite new. Minadora was an undergraduate in my 2012 Spring Semester class in Dickinson and the Arts; now in 2015 she is presenting a very ambitious portfolio of poems for the M. A. degree and is applying to doctoral programs. She is the kind of student whose restless mind is always looking for new imaginative experience and finding fresh ways to express it. The idea behind her double-sided Dickinson letter box was exceptional Since we do not know now to whom Emily Dickinson wrote the famous “Master letters” expressing unrequited love, why not try to imagine who those people were and what they might have written back to Emily after receiving what she wrote?
As part of her panel presentation, Minadora chose to read the second of the return letters she wrote in the imagined voice of an imagined recipient. This is the one Minadora wrote in a female voice, reflecting the strong interest many of my students have shown in Dickinson’s strong emotional ties to women. To compose and write out the three imagined letters in an antique style would itself have made an impressive end-of-the-semester undergraduate project, but then to write out the three corresponding letters from Dickinson too, staining and baking all six of the letters so they looked antique, and then arranging the imagined correspondence in a box as if found in an attic—well, this whole project epitomizes why I love to give students the creative option, because they think of wonderful things to make that I could never have thought to make myself.
Keianna Troxell was a classmate of Minadora in my Spring 2012 class. She also burrowed back into Dickinson’s actual life in an evocative and revealing way. As she emphasized in her presentation, she had no idea what she wanted to do for her final project. She liked the idea of creating something artistic, since she had already written so many research papers as an English major. But she had no experience as an artist, and was floundering for a subject as the deadline for submitting a proposal approached. Then she saw what she needed: Jerome Liebling’s recent photo of the back of the door that led into the former bedroom of Emily’s beloved nephew Gib, who had died at the age of eight. Seeing Leibling’s photograph of the images Gib himself had pasted on the back of his bedroom door more than a century ago immediately gave Keianna the idea for the project in which she would clothe an image of Gib with the images he had loved, in the process unlocking her own feeling for a nephew who had died much too young, memorializing each of them by writing the words of Emily’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” (J 341) across the black surface of her Gib’s Room (seen next to Minadora’s double letter box in the exhibition photo above).
During Keianna’s talk I finally got up from my perch against the wall to get a photo of our panelists. Melissa, Nicci, and Minadora are intent on Keianna herself, while Megan and John are looking at the reproduction of Gib’s Room in our exhibition catalog.
Throughout the presentations attention was intense from the audience as well, as you can see from the photo immediately below. My only regret about the panel presentations is that I did not think to film or record them.
Megan Beckerich is the youngest in age of our six panelists, currently a junior International Studies major after entering NKU as a home-schooled freshman. I had the pleasure of teaching her and her twin brother Matthew in my 2012 Fall Semester class in Honors Freshman Composition. Megan had been extremely shy–while doing outstanding work in that class. She was still somewhat shy—while also making extremely perceptive comments throughout the semester—as a sophomore in my upper-division course in Dickinson and the Arts. The artist book she did for the Dickinson course, now up on the third floor of our exhibition, is a tour de force of artistic versatility and poetic apprehension. I had a feeling that Megan might enjoy speaking about the making of this book in our panel. When I finally got a chance to put the question to her (at one of our Loch Norse events at Bow Tie on Mount Adams), I was delighted when she quite fiercely said, “Yes.”
John Campbell was the oldest of our six speakers, as he had been among Megan’s Spring 2014 classmates, each of them adding so much to the class in entirely contrasting ways. When I had asked John if he would consider being a part of a future Dickinson class after meeting him during Claire Illouz’s first visit in February 2011, I had no idea that so much would come from it, either during the Spring 2014 semester or in all the ways that John has contributed to the success of this Arts Fest that was now nearing its end as he stepped forward as our last speaker. The artist book in the classroom and in our current exhibition, the enlargements from that book in the Cold Spring library and now in the exhibition itself, the Claire Illouz broadside, and the Emily Dickinson screen—this man is an absolute dymano of thought, feeling, and action.
I had not been sure whether John could make this Saturday afternoon speaking assignment. He was coordinating a Claire Illouz printmaking workshop here at NKU during this same day. He was also transporting the Emily Dickinson screen from Greaves Concert Hall and installing it in our Reading Room. And he had pledged to contribute some signature dishes to the Tea Party that would immediately follow the Panel Discussion. But here he was, taking his spot with some students young enough to be his grandchildren, in sharing his own story of the creative urge from Dickinson’s poetry that had led him into multifarious artistic adventures of which he’d had no glimmer when had entered this class with those youngsters one calendar year ago. It is just another of those many crazy coincidences that he and Megan were sharing their experiences from the same class one after another while their two artist books from that same class were sharing the same display case one floor up from where we were now sitting.
After the six presentations, we had a very spirited discussion session with questions from the audience. Emma Rose posed the question that provoked the most varied responses, asking how writing the artist statement for their work in this class differed from other kinds of writing each had previously done.
The questions and answers were very good, but as it got closer to 6 pm, more and more of us were sneaking glances to the other end of the room, where Mary Vieth and her assistant Lexie Dressman-Dowling were dressing the two tables for the Tea Party and setting out some of the signature dishes, Rebecca in the meantime having been to Starbuck’s and back with fresh coffee and hot water for tea.