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Alexis Siemons ’05 (Moorestown, N.J.) recently learned to appreciate contemporary art while researching video installations, or artwork projected on a wall.

Working with Robert Saltonstall Mattison, Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History and head of art, Siemons conducted research for his fifth book, tentatively titled Defining Moments. The book explores six mid-career, contemporary artists using different media: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Ann Hamilton, Jane Hammons, Andy Goldsworthy, Bill Viola, and a photographer yet to be chosen. One large-scale work from each artist will be profiled.

“The overall idea is that at mid-career, there is a human tendency to take on monumental and self-defining projects,” Mattison explains.

Mattison works closely with the artists to study the pieces and interviews them. Each project is followed from start to finish.

Siemons worked on gathering material about Bill Viola, a video installationist. She says that Viola’s pieces are realistic and nature-oriented.

“It challenges the viewer to think about rational ideas,” she says. “[Bill Viola] really pushes you to think about nature and reality.”

This project, which was part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, will continue throughout next school year. In EXCEL, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Mattison’s most recent book, Robert Rauschenberg: Breaking Boundaries, was published by Yale University Press. He says that Siemons may co-author a chapter of his new work.

“Although Alexis is only a third-year student, I believe she has both the intelligence and drive for this position,” he says. “She has been extremely careful in her research and writing.”

Siemons was never exposed to this type of art before starting the project. She notes that one of Viola’s video installations is of a dead tree with lanterns hanging on it.

She depended on Lafayette’s library staff to help her gather information about Viola. “The personal research assistants were very resourceful,” she says.

In an earlier project this year, Siemons found an image of a Renaissance painting that had been partially destroyed, conducted careful research to determine what the missing parts of the painting probably looked like, and created a seamless, digitally reconstructed image of the painting as part of her Visual Communication through Technology course.

Originally enrolled as an English major, Siemons wanted to focus on the more creative aspects of writing during her education at Lafayette. With help from Mattison and others, she created her own major, communications and culture.

“People talk about big colleges being so prestigious,” Siemons says. “But Lafayette is very cooperative with its students.”

Her major pulls coursework from English, art, and sociology, allowing her to study subjects that will prepare her for a career in advertising.

“I want to be the one creating those crazy slogans,” Siemons explains.

She says that although many universities and colleges boast about being large and having strong faculty, she believes Lafayette’s faculty is superior.

“The faculty [at Lafayette] are concerned about the learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom,” Siemons explains. “Lafayette has so many opportunities for students, but it’s the faculty that make your experience. I’ve been very lucky to come across the faculty members that I have.”

Mattison is no exception. Siemons says he is an enthusiastic professor and research mentor.

“The EXCEL project has been an extension of what I saw in the classroom,” she says. “He’s really interested in providing you with an intellectual experience. You can never leave his office without thinking about something new.”

Mattison is curator of more than 25 exhibitions, and has shared his research in many academic publications, including book chapters and articles published by journals such as Arts Magazine, Art International, The New Arts Journal, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Studies in Iconography, and Women’s Art Journal. He has also published entries in International Dictionary of Art and Artists, The MacMillan Dictionary of Art, and The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives.

“I have been most impressed by Alexis’ care, creativity, and desire to succeed,” he says.

Siemons is a Lafayette Leadership Education intern for next school year and a member of the committee that chooses which artists will be showcased at Lafayette’s Williams Center art gallery. She also sings in Cadence, an all-female a cappella group, and sang with the Lafayette jazz ensemble at its spring concert.

She was among six students in a Technology Clinic that created an automobile tour on CD to boost tourism and local awareness of historical assets in rural areas of Northampton County. Technology Clinic is a hands-on course that brings together students from different majors to solve the real-world problems of a business, non-profit organization, or government body.

She has interned at Tierney Communications, Philadelphia, as an account management assistant; and was an extern at both the Sloan Group in New York City and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

She is a graduate of the Moorestown Friends School.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News