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Student art in the heart of campus

Nalgene Abstracts by Gina Gregory 04 is one of the many art pieces created by Katies now hanging in Couer de Catherine.
Nalgene Abstracts by Gina Gregory 04 is one of the many art pieces created by Katies now hanging in Couer de Catherine.
Photo by Catherine Tsen '11

Coeur is French for heart. And as its name implies, Coeur de Catherine at St. Catherine University in St. Paul is the “heart“ of the campus. This heart beats a little stronger each year as more pieces are added to the student/alumna art collection.

This year, Deb Miner, director of the student center activities, and her staff, are adding pieces by new St. Kate's grads from the recent senior art exhibition, "destination unknown," at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery. The addition brings the six-year-old collection to more than 40 pieces.

Their mission was to find a way to fill the building with art — on a limited budget. Necessity played its proverbial creative role and Miner, along with Pat Olson, associate professor of art and art history who sat on the art selection committee, and Catherine G. Murphy Gallery director Kathy Daniels, came up with the idea of highlighting St. Kate students.

It fit on so many levels. Both Miner and Daniels wanted to have a collection centered on women artists. “At the core this is still a woman’s college,” says Daniels, “so we should have a strong visual presence of women in leadership.” Also since “we knew we had students who were going to ‘go places,’” adds Miner, "it was only natural to be able to get in on the ground floor. And students who walk by and notice the work could see that one of their own did it.”

Indeed, Daniels shuns the term “student artists” preferring “emerging artists,” because of the high quality of the work. “That’s how I treat them,” she says. “They are emerging artists.”

Miner also likes the term emerging artists because she often has a personal connection with the artists whose work she has purchased. (Funds come from the Student Center and Activities Office budget).

The first piece she bought in 2004 was by graduating senior Gina Gregory, whom Miner knew because she had worked in the same office. Gregory’s piece comprises a series of 4 x 6 photographs in eye-catching shades of magenta and red — a study in light, color and form. It hangs outside the library in CDC, by the atrium elevators. (See photo above.)

Other early acquisitions include digital prints by Ida Kumoji ’01. Her work, located on the second floor of the student center, features a pattern made up of specific letters of the alphabet, which function almost as individual “stitches” in the larger tapestry of the overall design.

Cherry-picking the best

Two-dimensional pieces and works in graphic or digital media tend to predominate, largely for practical reasons — although this year, the committee bought a number of senior Aga Su’s amber and silver jewelry.

Miner generally looks for something that’s “engaging and vibrant,” both for visual impact and because that kind energy “is what the space is all about,” she says. But as both Gregory and Kumoji’s pieces demonstrate, bolder is by no means less complex.

And the collection remains eclectic, wide-ranging — with quality as a hallmark. That’s one reason Miner looks to the senior show as a source, since the pieces have gone through a rigorous jury process. (In fact, the students have already been through several selection processes, says Daniels, including their original portfolio review, to be admitted to St. Kate’s art program.)

Miner also works closely with Daniels, as well as other members of the art faculty, who recommend pieces for possible purchase.

Daniels sees her role as largely one of reinforcement for Miner’s decisions. “What I love about the Gina Gregory piece, and so much of work Deb has selected, is that is has staying power, and doesn’t look dated,” says Daniels.

In the last several years, Miner has worked with Daniels pre-purchase work before the senior show opens. That allows her to have first pick, and it also gives students a moment of glory during the opening to be able to have a purchased piece as the show opens.

Mary Delaware ’10 has seen the artwork up on the walls of the student center where the St. Kate’s senior has worked for the past four years. This time around, some of her pieces were picked for Coeur de Catherine.

“I’m proud and honored that I’ll be part of the collection, that I’m good enough to be added to other students’ work,” she says. “I hope future students will be able to look at it and have a conversation about it.”

That is, in fact, part of Miner’s vision.

“The art will last the lifetime of the building — and beyond,” she says.

March 22, 2010 by Pauline Oo

See also: Arts, Students