The Colgate Scene
May 1999
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A place to make art

by John Knecht
Lynette Stephenson, Colgate's new painting professor, in her studio

"With the addition of my personal studio this semester, my art experience at Colgate has finally surpassed any of my initial expectations coming in. I know that my resources are as good as I could have imagined, and now it is up to me to actualize the fantastic potential laid out by the university. I finally have no excuses, no reason to not make the best paintings I can. The Schupf Studio Arts Center is really icing on the cake for me, because my art experience has been fantastic up 'til this semester anyway. I guess now it just seems so much more real to me. When one feels like a real artist it is hard to lose motivation."

Michael Mills '00


"The Schupf building is a great place to work. When I go there I know that I am going specifically to make art and I am productive because of the environment. Also, working there I generally have contact with the same small group of people, who are also down there to work; and in some way I think that this feeds into how well the space is used."

Ed Lipkins '99

A studio is a sacred space.

     A studio is also a tool just as a paint brush, a camera, a printing press or a welder are tools. A studio is a place that can be considered as an extraordinary dialectic. On one hand, it is a void that has all of the outside world filtered out. It is the quintessential tabula rasa. On the other hand, it is a place of cluttered and elaborate ritual; sometimes celestial in spirit and sometimes dark with the gravity of exorcism. Sometimes making art can be dancing with the muse; and sometimes it can be wrestling with the beast. A studio is both the dance hall and the ring. A studio is the jester's stage and the alchemist's laboratory. Beyond all the metaphors, the studio is a place where the intellectual pursuit of ideas takes place; where, at Colgate, a form of academic research manifests itself as works of visual art.

     A private relationship between an artist and the studio is an essential ingredient in the formula necessary for the production of art.

     In the spring of 1998 Paul J. Schupf '58, trustee emeritus, financial manager and an important collector of art, provided the funds for Colgate to buy an empty building, the former village base of the telephone company, located at the corner of Eaton and Montgomery streets. Schupf wanted the building to be used as studios for advanced students and faculty in the department of art and art history.

     Several months of nuts-and-bolts planning sessions took place between the architectural firm of McSweeny and Associates, Ernie Cross, the vice president of administrative services, Joe Bello from buildings and grounds, and the art and art history faculty members. From the first moment we all saw the raw space to the moment the project was completed, we all agreed, that if we were to build a facility to house working individual studios from scratch, it would look like this. The building was the perfect physical space for the purpose of creating art. The old telephone switching building had a wonderful mix of expansive spaces and smaller nooks and crannies perfect for experimenting and manifesting visual gold out of imagined lead.

     During the summer, construction crews were brought in to renovate the 8,000-square-foot cement block facility and transform it into the Paul J. Schupf Studio Arts Center. In September the building was opened for use by senior art students enrolled in ARTS 406, senior projects in the studio, and by five members of the art and art history faculty.

     This academic year, the Schupf Center has been the site of a wide range of art-making adventures. Shaleen Moodie '99 covered the walls of the "white space," a windowless room void of anything but an overhead rack of controllable spotlights, with painted images of an African-American woman dancing and stretching her form; bringing to light visions of Josephine Baker in the Paris of 1920. David Hansel '99 burned the midnight oil transforming magnified images from mass media advertisements into a wall-size grid of paintings on canvas. Ed Lipkins '99 covered the walls with high resolution computer prints which both mocked and held reverent the electronic pulse of the information age.

     Linn Underhill, Colgate's photography professor, made large black and white photographic portraits of herself and others in which gender roles are reversed -- raising questions about society's construction of identity. On the other end of the complex, Lynette Stephenson, Colgate's new painting professor, is making large, abstract, oil paintings based on ideas about the spiritual nature of religious practice.

     Paul Schupf, a private investment broker who for many years has divided his time between his home and office on Payne Street in Hamilton and the canyons of the New York City world of finance, is no stranger to the practice of making art. Paul is the largest single collector of well-known figurative artist Alex Katz' work. He has amassed a collection of paintings by this major American artist that is both astounding to behold and revered by critics, museums and fellow collectors.

     The arts are taken very seriously at Colgate, both in the curriculum as well as in the day-to-day ambiance of the campus. The presence of the arts in this liberal arts institution is intensifying even more as I sit here writing on an early spring day in Central New York. Ground has been broken and construction is underway on the 39,000-square-foot Art and Art History building that promises to transform the entire lower campus of this old and cared-for institution. The new building will provide much-needed classroom, office and gallery space and will truly be a gemstone monument at the entrance to the campus. But the new building on campus should not be confused with the function and significance of the Paul J. Schupf Studio Arts Center. The Schupf Center is not a classroom -- it is a working space. It is a studio. Oh yes, there is thinking, intellectual stretching, and certainly teaching and learning that takes place there; but it is on a level of mentoring and production. In the Schupf Center, artist professors and artist students approach the practice of art-making head-to-head, one-on-one and as academic research in the tradition of the liberal arts. This level of commitment from the administration, faculty, students and alumni is what the arts at Colgate are all about.

John Knecht is professor and chair in the department of art and art history
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