Student Features

Art Students Collaborate with Susan B. Anthony Museum

As a new member of MCLA’s art faculty last fall, Josh Ostraff set about exploring the museums in the area. At the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in nearby Adams, Mass., he was struck by the dynamic person that Anthony was, and the vibrant time period in which she lived. As a result, Ostraff developed a collaborative project between the museum and his students.

“It was not lost on me what an important role Susan B. Anthony and many other women played in helping to shape our country and rights that so many of us benefit from now,” Ostraff said. “Her particular story is full of amazing details with ups and downs, and in all of it I saw the potential for my art class to respond to such a dynamic person and point in time.”

Working with the museum’s executive director, Colleen Janz, Ostraff’s art students created individual projects that respond to an aspect of the museum’s collection, or the time period in which Anthony lived. Each project is different, unique, and reflective of how this history impacted the student, Ostraff said.

After taking a tour of the museum, Tessa Pilon ’19 (top right) of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. – who is a double major in art and fine and performing arts, with a concentration in theatre – was inspired to replicate portraits of Susan B. Anthony and other powerful women of the time period.

“I used body paints to turn myself into each woman, and then I photographed myself and put black and white filters on the photos,” Pilon explained. “I have been body painting for about three years, so I enjoyed pushing my boundaries because I’ve never tried making myself into other people.”

Using paper, pencil and ink, Angela DiGennaro ’16, a fine and performing arts major with a visual arts concentration from Adams, Mass., created a paper dolls printable cut-out (bottom right).

“I wanted to make something that could be both fun and useful for the museum, that could also be educational,” DiGennaro said. “I certainly learned a lot about the Suffragist Movement that I never really knew before.”

Using an image editing program called GIMP, DiGennaro arranged each of the paper doll pieces on the paper, and added a small section for instructions.

“Creating something that would ultimately contribute not just to my own personal growth, but to society itself, was very fulfilling,” DiGennaro said.

In addition to learning about Susan B. Anthony from the project, Pilon said the project served to expand her portfolio. “It also forced me to learn new techniques,” she added. “My goal is to work in special effects makeup, so this has given me more skills to improve upon and can get me one step closer to achieving my goal.” 

While some of the students’ projects will be used at the museum to educate and inform visitors, other pieces will be included with works that are being collected to visit hundreds of institutions that will celebrate the upcoming 100th year of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote.

According to Ostraff, a second, larger collaborative endeavor is in the works for this fall, when MCLA will work with another university on a project that will center once again on the time period, as well as the activities of both men and women who were involved with the Suffragist Movement.

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