In-person shows return to the Rosza Gallery
Art's Corner by Miriam Pickens
As the school year comes to a close for the local universities, our thoughts go to new adventures and plans for the upcoming school year. This month, I interviewed Terri Jo Frew, a well-known local artist who has recently been named director of the Rosza Gallery at Michigan Tech.
Frew grew up in Sarnia on the Canadian side of the border between Ontario and Downstate Michigan. Her Master in Fine Art is from Concordia University in Montreal, and she came to the Copper Country in 2016 with her family. Though primarily an instructor in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Michigan Tech, she has also taught classes at Finlandia University and Gogebic Community College.
Frew and I talked about how art fits into the curricula at the three different colleges. She explained that Gogebic Community College is very career-focused. They don’t really have a space for teaching classes like painting and ceramics; rather their focus is on classes like Art Appreciation and Art History, general education classes that support the diploma and certificate curricula that they offer.
At Finlandia, there are art and design majors, and art has been a primary focus of that university.
“They also have outstanding studio facilities. I can’t speak highly enough of their facility and the infrastructure there,” Frew said.
“At Michigan Tech, we don’t yet have a visual arts major,” She continued. “It’s a minor there, and it pairs really well with a lot of the majors that Michigan Tech has.”
This reminded me of some of the Michigan Tech art classwork that I’ve seen which often emphasizes creative problem solving and connection to the natural world.
The new and exciting thing that’s happening for the arts at Michigan Tech, is that the Rosza Gallery will be opening in the fall for in-person shows with the more traditional openings like they had before the pandemic. In the spring of 2023, they are planning to have a show featuring MTU faculty and even a visiting artist. The gallery was basically shut down for the last two years. During the 2022 spring semester, the concourse, which normally hosts a yearlong exhibition just outside of the A-Space, and Gallery B in the lower level of the Rozsa, was converted into a COVID-testing site. That was optimal, because of the access to restrooms as well as the flow-through traffic pattern.
Coming up this fall, Frew and her Michigan Tech colleague Lisa Gordillo, will be sharing the concourse to exhibit recent works. Gordillo is spending May at an artist retreat in Sweden, so it will be interesting to see what she brings back. Frew’s graduate work was primarily in fiber art, but she’s mostly an interdisciplinary artist. Drawing, being a “foundational art” for Frew, is where she always starts.
“Momento Mori”, the concept that life is fleeting and an appreciation of dark humor prevails in Frew’s drawings which often focus on illustrations of skulls. Animals are often featured in her paintings, being “a nice metaphor for the human experience…. I like to use animals as shorthand for the human condition”.
These portraits usually have a gilded background; Frew told me that in medieval art gilding was frequently done to demarcate a holy or sacred space. Moving into fiber, Frew often does embroidery as well as soft sculpture. Recently she exhibited a soft sculpture in the Kalevala show at the Art Center in Hancock, called the “Bear Tulpa”. This figure has a wreath around its neck, a sculptural way to emphasize the sacred. In Frew’s classes, particularly the upper-level ones, she encourages the students to find their own voice to express in their work.
One of the biggest changes in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Michigan Tech this year is the retirement of Susanne Kilpela. Famous for her intricate porcelain sculptures inspired by the fossils washed ashore by Lake Superior, she has been inspiring students since 2002. In addition to ceramics, Kilpela also taught drawing courses, art history, and more. We wish her well!
Here are a few things to watch for.
Luba Petrusha will be teaching two pysanka classes in the Keweenaw this May, in Houghton (May 14) and Calumet (May 17). Pysanka is the Ukrainian method of dyeing eggs using dyes and wax resists. Any funds raised will go to Ukrainian charities. The Houghton class will be at Grace Methodist church in the afternoon around 4 p.m.; the time hasn't been set yet. The Calumet class will be at the Calumet Art Center at 6 p.m.; contact them for further information. Petrusha is a board-certified OB/GYN downstate, who also trained as a chemist. She is the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who came to America just after WWII, and she has taught this art around the world. We are so lucky to have her return to the Keweenaw.
I spoke to Melissa Hronkin about an exciting project happening at Houghton Elementary.
“Fourth-grade students helped to design and create a mural to be part of the Courtyard Garden Project at their school. This was part of a grant through the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative that has been an ongoing project for several years. The mural is eight feet by eight feet and will be installed and unveiled for the May 12th Fine Arts Night themed ‘Cultivating Creativity’. Production has been going on for about a month, from preparing and drawing on the wood. Next, each 4th-grade class painted the base colors. After that each of the 630 students in the school put a few painted fingerprints on part of the design, creating an impressionistic-looking finish.
“The mural consists of sixteen 2x2 foot pieces of plywood, which made it easier for work on in the classroom with over 100 4th-grade students total. It took a lot of planning, head-scratching, and discussing the plan with the students. They enjoyed the sense of teamwork and seeing it come to fruition. I look forward to doing more of these projects”