Portrait Project Concludes

Author: Manny Hernandez '18

Published Date: 5/27/2018

Categories: Art F1RST Magazine F1RST Summer 2018 Faculty and Staff Students

Arts Program Creates Campus-Sized Portrait of Humanity

Face to Face

Saskia de Rooy, a renowned Dutch sculptor, has been sculpting the human face for more than 20 years. She has traveled to many parts of the globe, meeting hundreds of people; each having their own story to tell. Saskia brings their stories to life through these clay sculptures. 

Art has been a channel for people to build relationships for centuries. For de Rooy, every portrait she’s sculpted has blossomed into a new relationship. In the two hours that it takes her to create her masterpieces, de Rooy is able to examine what touches her subjects, what moves them, what makes them happy, what they dream of and what they pursue. The relationships she’s been able to build inspired her to begin teaching on a national and international level, hoping to demonstrate that art has the ability to bring people together. 

This past summer, de Rooy caught the attention of Carroll administrators, who invited her to visit campus to be the artist in residence for the 2017–18 school year. With support from the Mary Nohl Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, de Rooy launched her year-long interdisciplinary initiative, (in)sight: a portrait project, focused on demonstrating how art can help us build community at Carroll. On campus, the project was facilitated by the art department

The first phase of the project began in late September, when five members of the Carroll community served as models for de Rooy: President Cindy Gnadinger, professor Joe Piatt, students Jeffrey (JJ) Keels and SuYi Lynn, and our very own Gert Ullsperger. For five days, de Rooy spent several hours in the lobby of the Campus Center sculpting the face of each model; the next day, that same piece of clay was crushed and then used to create a new portrait. The reworking of the project was meant to emphasize our humanity despite our differences—and that we are all the same inside. 

Just like her past portrait projects, de Rooy was able to form five new relationships, driving home the goal of the project to the campus community. She wanted everyone to realize that “we’re only here (on earth) for a short period of time so it’s really worth it to take the take the time to listen to each other because it reveals a great deal more about a person than you anticipate at the first encounter.” 

a female student holding up her sculpture

De Rooy returned this past January to help launch the second phase of the project, which involved handing over the modeling tools to students and giving them a first-hand look at how art can facilitate a stronger sense of community. 

Whether you’re a current student, alumnus or a Carroll community member, you’re probably connected the most with the people who share similar interests as you—it’s just human nature. We tend to shy away from leaving our own comfort zones to meet new people because the idea of walking up to complete strangers and getting to know them is pretty frightening. But that’s more or less what the second phase of the project required.

This phase of the project brought together 100 students, 14 faculty, 14 staff and four community members to act as either an artist (sculptor or painter), a model or a writer. It’s worth noting that a vast majority of the participants are not art majors. Participants were instead nominated by their peers.

De Rooy hoped that since modeling is an intimate process, the fear of getting to know a stranger would be eliminated and the artist and model would naturally build a connection. That connection would then extend to the writer interviewing the model. By late April, when de Rooy was to return to campus for a week-long exhibition, the participants should have gotten to know at least two new people.

Bethany Kelly, an elementary education student, took full advantage of the opportunity to break out of her shell. “Being able to meet the artist and writer was a great experience. I definitely jumped out of my comfort zone while being a part of this project. Sitting with a complete stranger while they painted me and sharing difficult pieces of my life with a writer are experiences I hadn’t had before but I’m glad I was a part of it.” 

The exhibition ran for a week, but de Rooy hopes the connections, forged during interviews and modeling sessions live on long after the paint has dried and the clay gone to dust.

two female students working on sculptures

a male student working on his sculpture

a female student laughing while working on a sculpture

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Panoramic View of campus