Greetings from Blacksburg and the campus of Virginia Tech. For many of us, our classrooms, studios, offices and work spaces look quite different from any other time in our history. It was a little over a year ago that we all got the email that changed everything: all Virginia Tech classes and activities would be transitioning to online for the rest of the semester. We were going 100% virtual. As COVID-19 hit the world, our teaching and learning environments changed dramatically, and as for so many others, that has defined the past year for us in the School of Visual Arts.
After the initial shock and a fair bit of scrambling, we witnessed in our faculty and students creativity and commitment expressed in new ways. “Pivot” became the word of the day, as practice-based classes in art and design navigated online lessons and critiques. Most of us quickly learned the rules and etiquette for Zoom gatherings. In the Fall, we took advantage of outdoor spaces and it became a familiar sight to see SOVA students in the Hahn Horticultural Gardens and the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market with their drawing boards and paintbrushes. (En plein air, as the Impressionists called it.) Indoors, face-to-face class meetings have consisted of smaller groups and careful social-distancing.
Despite the challenges they faced, students and faculty who have thrived during this strange period. From Thomas Tucker’s use of technology to reconstruct a digital history, to Eric Standley’s ethereal multi-layered paper cuts, faculty have continued to produce intriguing, thoughtful and collaborative research. Our students also shine, and their work shows the promise, versatility and adaptability of our undergraduates.
Along the way I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits of a virtual world. The relative ease with which collaborators and guest speakers from across the country could enter the Zoom classroom presented unexpected opportunities. SOVA alum Morgan Sayers in Chicago has teamed up with Amory Gallery Director Deb Sim to collaborate on a virtual exhibition in the Armory Gallery.
While we all look forward to the time when things in SOVA can return to “normal,” the past year has taught us a lot about challenges, resiliency and how the inventive minds of our faculty and students can create unforgettable learning environments and opportunities.
With best wishes,
Interim Director, School of Visual Arts
The Armory is home to the school’s main office, gallery, and classrooms for Foundations and Drawing. One of Blacksburg’s historic buildings and a former community gymnasium it is situated on Draper Road, a lively intersection of the town and campus. The Armory’s spacious structure, high ceilings, and abundant natural light furnish a striking example of innovative architectural conversion. The Armory Art Gallery is operated as an educational and outreach service of the University. Its exhibition calendar includes work by students, faculty, and artists of regional and national importance. The XYZ gallery, located at 221 N. Main St., is home to the Student Art Association, which operates an independent program of exhibitions by students and local artists. A prominent feature of the Armory is its 1700 sq. foot Mezzanine.
The Armory Gallery is open for visitors from 12 – 4pm., Monday – Friday, now until April 21. The current show will be re-installed June 1 and remain open through the summer, at which time it will travel to be installed in Chicago.
Interview with Morgan Sayers for her collaboration with Deb Sim for the upcoming show Let’s Stand for Something or We Will Fall for Anything, debuting in the Armory Gallery at Virginia Tech in Spring 2021.
Sayers finished her college journey as a Studio Art major at Virginia Tech’s School of Visual Arts (SOVA) in 2009. During her time at SOVA, Sayers found a friend and mentor in Professor Deb Sim. Sayers credits much of her career’s influence to this time period. Moving to Chicago to attend Columbia College in 2012, Sayers completed her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media in 2016. Following this, Sayers found herself at the SAE Institute in Chicago teaching Modern and Contemporary Art to Audio Engineering and Entertainment Business students.
On Monday, June 1st, 2020, following closely on the heels of the murder of George Floyd, Sayers knew that she could not brush over the events surrounding her country, city, and students. Inspired by this concern for her students, Sayers wanted to create something to be used as a collective response: “I felt as though it was important to let the class flow organically, allow the students to have an open discussion, and to let them know I stand with them. I reminded them that our classroom, our time together, was a safe space.”
Sayers said that she was inspired by an interview on NPR about a Chicago poet who created a collaborative poem about gun violence called American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicagoans. Using Google Docs with her students on a Zoom call, each student contributed: “When one student finished their stanza, the next would start writing in response to the previous student’s words and so on and so forth. I encouraged them to be free with their writing, as there was no specific structure they had to follow. As the students were writing, we talked, sometimes watching as the letters and words were being typed before our eyes, but nothing was awkward or forced. Once the last student had finished their words and the poem was complete, one student read it out loud. We were speechless, and teary-eyed.”
Says Sayers: “The class was deeply moved by the power of their words and the idea of coming together to create something meaningful and important during such a difficult time was galvanizing. They asked me if we could do more collaborative work and perhaps make something more of the poem. Their homework for the next class was to send me some ideas of how we could do just that. I took bits and pieces of my students’ feedback, and put together a project that I assigned in the next class after I gave them a presentation that began with the 1960s’ Black Power Movement and traveled through time to contemporary activist artwork being made today. We talked a lot about collages, quilting and how people and communities came together in order to create during times of horror, tragedy, and struggle. I reminded them that this is the time for creatives to thrive, that they CAN make a difference.”
After the poems were written, the students were tasked with creating collages out of materials and objects that they felt tied in to their words. Since many of Sayers’ students are audio engineering and entertainment business students, they were asked to read, sing, rap, or record themselves in a way that felt comfortable.
They were recorded into an audio collage with great help from former student Pierre Allison. Included in the project are portraits of three of the participants by photographer, DJ, painter and street artist Daniel Wilson. As you visit the Armory, their recorded art will be played in tandem with the visual aspects.
When putting together all of the moving parts, Virginia Tech students also have a claim to this project by the way of setting up the Gallery and ensuring that their own voices are heard.
Sayers was excited and impressed by the way her students took to the project with pride and energy. Humbly, Sayers acknowledges that this is more than just her idea: this is a collective cry of anger, beauty and sadness… it’s raw. She witnessed the energy and excitement that participating in art can bring, even though many of her students wouldn’t initially classify themselves as artists (although many are experienced in the world of music).
She and Deb Sim provided themselves as conduits for their students to create. Sayers’ hope for her students is that they continue to move throughout the world and create spaces for themselves to grow. Sayers wants to “reinvent the gallery space as a think tank of sorts… providing a space to ask questions and think about answers and solutions. How can art provide space for dialogue-complicated dialogue with many points of entry? How can the Armory Gallery be the space for this conversation? Still unsure as to where the project will proceed next, Sayers has learned patience in trusting that everything will happen in its own time, although she does hope that the growing project will return.
Professor Eric Standley recently installed an exhibition of his work in Dinner Gallery (formerly VICTORI + MO) in Chelsea, New York City. The show opened February 2, 2021 and is titled “Songs for the Living.” The show is scheduled to run through March 20th, 2021.
Professor Standley is known for his fantastic, highly-detailed multimedia artifacts which he creates from strategically placed and cut layers of paper. Each piece displays a wide range of colors, shapes and forms. Standley was interviewed by Vale Magazine to talk about his latest exhibition:
“In a statement about the upcoming exhibition, Dinner Gallery compared Standley’s work to a “collection of good songs” and explained that the artifacts invoke feelings of familiarity while also offering glimpses at what the future may hold, particularly if we as a people are willing to commit to values like tolerance and “reverence for complexity.” – (February 8, 2021). Songs for the Living – an Interview With Eric Standley. Vale Magazine, online article.
Besides being featured in Vale, Eric’s exhibition has also been spotlighted by USA Art News and ArtNet as an exhibition editors pick.
Thomas Tucker, Associate Professor of Visual Arts, has been working as part of the VT 150 (Visualizing Virginia Tech History) team to address today’s most pressing challenges regarding diverse perspectives responding to real human needs. With the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022, faculty on the team are using creative technologies to bring Virginia Tech’s past to life using projection mapping, digital exhibits, 360-degree video, and augmented reality to create new ways to explore 150 years of Virginia Tech history. Much of the research focuses on the contributions of women and minorities at Virginia Tech.
Read the full article online in the VT News Daily.
Charlotte Canon came to SOVA in 2016. After successfully passing portfolio review, Charlotte selected graphic design as her area of study. She demonstrated such excellence and creativity that she was awarded two of SOVA’s in-house scholarships; the Carol Davis scholarship and the George Preston Frazer scholarship. Since graduating in December 2021, Charlotte has been enjoying time with family and exploring new hobbies. In 2021, she was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa (only 80 students across the university were invited in 2021). In 2021, Charlotte was one of two students from SOVA’s graphic design program featured in Graphic Design USA’s annual “Students to Watch” list.
Her latest adventures have involved baking macarons and learning how to crochet. Charlotte was also recently hired at WillowTree Apps where she will be designing interactive experiences for digital platforms. She’s excited to continue learning and growing with her new team as she begins work in Charlottesville, VA!
Megan Monroe is a senior studying Graphic Design and Art History. While Megan has expressed a love for art for as long as she can remember, her passion for graphic design didn’t flourish until her senior year of high school. Ever since then, she’s grown increasingly involved in all forms of design, from print to motion to product design. An avid learner, Megan aims to create design that inspires and helps others. She finds that she is happiest when she is inspired, and hopes to constantly seek out inspiration no matter where she ends up after graduating in May (hopefully graduate school to continue studying design). In 2020 Megan was selected for the George Preston Frazer Scholarship as a rising senior who has demonstrated excellence within her chosen major.
Megan has designed a number of product labels for different companies, including Cinder Candle Branding and ICARUS Hot Sauce. Megan was one of two students from SOVA’s graphic design program selected by Graphic Design USA for the distinction of “Students to Watch” in 2021. Megan and several other graphic design students were selected for a 2021 silver award at the American Advertising Federation for her VT PRISM 2020 Recruitment Campaign.
When Megan isn’t designing, you can find her swimming in the ocean, painting, or scouting out funky hats to add to her growing collection.
Natalie Jackson graduated from SOVA’s Graphic Design program at Virginia Tech May of 2020. She is currently working as a Visual Designer for Silverback Strategies; a digital marketing firm in Alexandria, VA.
At Silverback Strategies Natalie works closely with her creative team as well as developers, the content team, SEO and paid media departments. With collaboration, they deliver impactful paid social campaigns that creatively connect with their clients’ target audiences. They also create other advertising collateral like mobile Instant Experiences, Landing pages, websites, and display advertisements.
In addition to working as a full-time designer, Natalie also works as a photographer. When she’s not designing during the week, you can find her having mini photoshoots with friends, family and couples on the weekends.