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Spotlight on Art Students

Spotlight on Art Students

December 15, 2016

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Rowan Laitila:

Shining Light on the Work of Women Abstract Expressionists

If you are familiar with Abstract Expressionism, you likely know of Robert Motherwell, one of the most famous of the Abstract Expressionist painters. But have you ever heard of Helen Frankenthaler? No? Rowan Laitila ’17 will tell you that she was Motherwell’s wife and an equally accomplished painter. Laitila goes on to explain that Frankenthaler’s method was to stain unprimed canvas, by thinning oil paint and then pouring it onto the canvas. “It can be hard to see where the paint ends and the canvas begins,” says Laitila, who claims Frankenthaler her favorite female artist of this period. “Her work is beautiful.” But that work has gained little recognition within the genre of Abstract Expressionism.                                                                                                          (Below, Mountains and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler)


Laitila, an art history major, has been uncovering the long-hidden contribution of women artists to the Abstract Expressionist movement for her senior honor’s thesis. “I took two survey classes early in my study of art history, and in neither did we come across women artists within this genre.”  So Laitila started digging and discovered that the wives of several acclaimed male Abstract Expressionists were equally accomplished and integral to the movement but were not credited as such. They included Lee Krasner, wife of Jackson Pollock; Elaine de Kooning, wife of Willem de Kooning; and Frankenthaler.

“The Abstract Expressionist period covers the late 40s into the 70s, but most of the work was done in the 50s,” Laitila explains. “During those years, a woman’s place was in the home. No woman was expected to pursue a career let alone succeed or surpass any man, especially her husband.”

Finally, today, the contribution of women Abstract Expressionists comes to light. At the same time that Laitila has been researching these artists, the Denver Art Museum and curator Gwen Chanzit, professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Denver, organized the first major exhibition of their works titled “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” which currently resides at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, through January 22, 2017. In light of Laitila’s honor’s thesis, the Moravian College Art Department is sending her to the exhibit in January.

Abstract Expressionism shattered accepted conventions in technique and subject. Artists valued spontaneity, improvisation, energetic gesture, and a directness and immediacy of expression. It is considered the first truly American movement in art. “It is one of my favorite periods in art history because it is unique,” says Laitila. “The work is so original and varied.”

Laitila expects to complete her thesis by the end of February. Look for her to present her research in the spring. 


The Many Textures of Walko's Work

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As an art education major, Melissa Walko ’17 has worked in all mediums, but she prefers ceramics and painting. The piece shown here, “Solace,” was her final project, for Visiting Studio Artist Natessa Amin’s spring 2016 Painting II course. Walko wrestled with this work from conception through execution.

“This particular painting was a reaction to and a reflection of some of the challenges that I faced in my personal life at the time,” says Walko. “My inspiration was derived from, in short, the idea that no matter what or how difficult the circumstances in life, there is still reason to keep moving forward.”

Moving forward and grappling with the challenge of representing multiple textures—metal, fabric, wax, fire, and a mirror—on canvas, proved to be a valuable artistic experience for Walko. “This painting opened me up to a whole new understanding of how many layers of oil paint I had to apply to create textures that would replicate the variety of surfaces in my subject matter and create a cohesive painting regarding the overall mood and subject,” she explains. “Adjusting my paint application for each of these surfaces posed some issues.” Undaunted, Walko succeeded beautifully.

That willingness and tenacity to face a new situation and tackle its challenges are strengths Walko gained throughout her education here at Moravian College. “Moravian has pushed me much further than I ever expected to go,” she says. “I’ve taken on leadership roles, excelled in my major, and become involved in the community. And I’ve been able to correlate art-making with my coursework in education to form my own teaching philosophy.”

Walko’s post-college dream is to be hired for a full-time position teaching art preferably in a high school. “I want to have meaningful conversations and push students to a higher level of thinking in regard to their art work and lives,” she says.

Clearly Walko is well-prepared to do just that.


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Angela Kilburg Wins Prestigious Design Award

Angela Kilburg ‘18 couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Standing outside of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City last spring, on a visit with fellow graphic design students, she took a call from Ian at the Society of Publication Designers (SPD), who told her she had just won first place in the Student Design Competition. Kilburg replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. What did you say?”

Indeed, Kilburg had won one of the most prestigious honors awarded to an undergraduate design student, made more remarkable by the fact that she is only a sophomore. She created her layout for the conceived story “How to Build a Terrarium Like a Pro” in the publication design course taught by Camille Murphy, assistant professor of graphic and interactive design here at Moravian College, in which Kilburg and fellow students had to conceive of a magazine of their choice and design two spreads for a feature story that would be entered into the SPD competition.

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“My idea was to create a trendy interior design magazine for young women,” says Kilburg, who chose to compose a feature for a spring issue of her magazine Dwelling about building a terrarium. Her editorial goal: to offer readers a way to bring life and color into a tiny apartment. You can read more about Kilburg’s story HERE.


Graphic and Interactive Design Student Portfolio Websites

These senior portfolio websites were created in assistant professor of art Camille Murphy's Portfolio Seminar Class, taught within the Graphic and Interactive Design track in the Art Department, where students also created a social media platform, digital newsletter and printed portfolio book to show their work. Enjoy!

Jessica Donovan:
Shayna O'Boyle:
Brandon Ewer:
Sarah Krasinski:
Tracy Laurie-Lakhram:
Marissa Pacitti:
Elias Saba:
Sabrina Signorelli:
Hannah Smolko:
Mike Valentine: 
Dominick Bertrand: