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Two art majors gained experience this school year in the work that curators and artists perform to bring artwork to the public eye.

Kate Pelletier ’02 (Hingham, Mass.) and Amanda Lyons ’03 (Oreland, Pa.) played key roles in coordinating an exhibition of works by sculptor Jim Toia at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, N.J., as well as assisting him in cultivation of the mushrooms that comprise much of his artistic media. The students worked this spring through an independent study with Toia, director of the Grossman Gallery at Lafayette’s Williams Visual Arts Building. Pelletier also served an internship with Toia during the fall semester, which Lyons spent studying abroad in Italy.

Pelletier, who also majors in English, spent much of her time on preparations for the art show, playing a key role from the beginning of the semester in September through the exhibit’s March 3 opening. The exhibit featured a series of installations using hinged tree sculptures and bracket mushroom sculptures. The recipient of a recent grant from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, Toia also created a unique piece consisting of mushrooms and lichen pinned to the elevator interior and exterior walls overlaid with a live video projection of reflections of the Raritan River. A group of mushroom spore prints also was displayed.

The show received a favorable review in the Newark Star Ledger, which wrote of Toia’s spore drawings, “The results are subtle, all-over abstractions that are mysterious in their origins and lovely in their movements.” A positive review in The New York Times stated, “The spores make patterns that resemble luxurious flowers; the works are like examples of primitive photography.” Some of the works are now on display in Toia’s exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery in New York.

Toia has mounted more than a dozen solo exhibitions, and his work has appeared in more than 40 group shows in the United States and abroad. His work is included in several collections, including those of AT&T and the Dallas Museum of Art. He has received numerous grants and awards, including a 2001 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Sculpture Fellowship and a 1996 Geraldine Dodge Foundation Arts Grant.

“I spent last semester preparing a catalog that accompanied the exhibit,” says Pelletier. “Professor Toia let me help him choose whom we should interview about his series along with who should write an essay on it. He also gave me the responsibility of outlining a budget, meeting with printers and the graphic designer, and determining how many pages, the dimension, which images to use, and so on.”

Although the catalog was the main focus of her work in the fall, Pelletier completed a number of other tasks more directly related to the exhibit.

“I had to coordinate with the museum to figure out dates for the show, organize and catalog the paintings, make labels, research prices for materials and equipment used in the show, and basically make sure that all the small details were taken care of,” she explains.

“She was pretty integral in these things,” says Toia. “She has great organizational skills and great people skills. She’s also a very good writer and definitely helped me with my artist statements. She is very helpful.”

In addition to assisting with installation of the exhibit, Lyons researched mushroom cultivation methods used by Basciani Food Corp. in Kennett Square, Pa., known as “the mushroom capital of the world.” The company supplies roughly half of the edible mushrooms in the U.S., shipping out 500 tons each week.

Toia’s process begins with a bag of material used to grow mushrooms. As much air as possible is removed from the bag, which is sealed, but kept loose. The mushroom substrate — typically cottonseed hulls and sometimes hardwood sawdust — is pasteurized and inoculated with spores. Using masking tape or electrical tape, Toia shapes the bags into various forms. Mycelium weaves its way through the substrate, solidifying the mass (“like grass roots holding soil,” says Toia) and forming the sculpture.

Lyons did everything from helping shape the bags in the sculptural process to monitoring growth and checking on environmental conditions such as temperature.

“She’s incredibly enthusiastic and works really well with a wide variety of environments and materials,” says Toia. “While her background is painting, she’s getting exposed to more sculptural materials, which is something she wanted to move toward. She’s getting the opportunity to ‘speak’ in three-dimensional dialogue.

“She’s a great painter, and I’m sure she’ll continue on to seek a master’s in art, so this really provided her with experience in the art world beyond the studio and academic environment – dealing with a museum,” adds Toia.

Last year, Lyons and six other students worked with international sculptor and painter Emil Lukas to produce a 6.5-foot-tall concrete sculpture that also functions as a “printing press.” The sculpture consists of about 15 stacked sections of concrete, which the students poured and formed to fit together. The pieces served as an artistic printing press for papers that later were placed between them. The students incorporated items into the concrete forms that allowed moisture to penetrate and mark the papers. Other components, such as watercolors, chestnuts, bubblewrap, and balloons, were included to add their influences to the art.

Lyons is a member of Lafayette Activities Forum and HAPEN (HIV/AIDS Prevention and Education Now). She has been an editor of The Maquis, the student literary magazine, for two years and will be co-editor-in-chief next school year. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during the second semester of her sophomore year and played on the women’s lacrosse team for two years.

Although the Hunterdon project required a lot of work, Pelletier believes that every minute was time well spent. Not only did she walk away with a understanding of the complex technique Toia employs for his art and a realistic sense of how much time and effort is involved in organizing and carrying out a seemingly small exhibit, she learned a lesson that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

“By seeing it happen first hand, by walking into that show and looking at what we did, I learned that if you have a truly great vision, it’s possible to make it happen. You just have to be patient, be willing to work hard, and also accept the help of others.”

Pelletier attributes most of what she learned to Toia and the art department as a whole.

“I got a lot out of this experience because Professor Toia gave me the leeway to do things on my own,” she says. “He trusted me with important responsibilities and was never overbearing, even when we were getting down to the wire. He was always polite, extremely thankful, and fun.”

“I can’t say enough about the art department at Lafayette,” she adds. “The facilities and resources are amazing, and the professors are great academics and people. The whole department puts a lot of effort into bringing Lafayette closer to the community.”

Pelletier received first place in Lafayette’s MacKnight Black Poetry Competition this spring for “The Journey,” joining American Book Award recipient Tino Villanueva in a campus poetry reading. Open to Lafayette seniors, the competition is named for MacKnight Black, a 1916 graduate of Lafayette, who at the time of his death in 1931 was one of America’s most significant poets.

Pelletier’s activities at Lafayette included playing lacrosse, taking photographs for the school newspaper, volunteering with the Kids In the Community program administered by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center, and serving on the Arts Committee. She also was a member of French Club, worked as a teacher’s assistant for piano and art classes, and studied abroad in both Greece and Florence.

Categorized in: Academic News