It’s that time of year – the time when you drop your kid off on his first day of pre-K and have a short yet cathartic cry in the parking lot. (Just me?)
The time of year where watching newly minted college kids attempt to parallel park, with just a dab of schadenfreude, is sport; where wide-eyed worried mothers comb my neighborhood, wondering how they’ll let their own babies go.
Summer seems too quiet around here. It’s the hustle and bustle of back-to-school season that livens up the city. It brings a heightened energy, a lot of single-speed bicycles, and a chance to start anew.
This is also true for educators in the field, art professors included. They spend their summers focusing on professional development and honing their own artistic talents in order to bring that knowledge back to the classroom. And as one teacher told me, the students simply demand it.
The fashion of art
Stephanie Foy came to Savannah from Galway, Ireland, by way of London, getting her degree at the London College of Fashion (LCF). There she focused on women’s wear fashion design and architecture, and creative pattern making. After graduation, she became a visiting lecturer in the UK and worked for top design houses, including the coveted Topshop, learning the aspects of technology on the job.
She brings that expertise into her classes as a professor of fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, were she has taught for the past five years — three of those years spent as my neighbor.
There’s a skip in her step as we pass on the sidewalk, both walking our rescue pups, and Foy always dressed way better than I. But as the school year approaches, that skip turns into a lively prance.
“I’m always excited this time of year,” she said. “It gives me life. Summer allows me to come back fresh. I have enough time to work on my syllabus, conduct my own personal research and training. It offers an opportunity for travel and exhibition — all for the sake of a new year.”
Foy uses her summer break to visit other universities here and far, this summer traveling back to London for graduate fashion week, a student presentation at LCF. She also traveled to Antwerp and Brussels, going to exhibitions, meeting other creatives and touching base with peers.
“I’m always looking for the next best thing all the time because of the technology focus. And I can bring that back to my students,” said Foy. “My exposure is beneficial to their exposure at the end of the day.”
Foy is a deep researcher. She likes to be ahead of the latest technology and has overseen the rise of Gerber technology, an integrated software and hardware solutions program, used in the fashion department at SCAD. She teaches everything from Intro to Fashion to Apparel, using Gerber technology for digital pattern making, amongst other things. The digital process, she said, cuts down on both time and waste. Plus, it’s far more accurate than piece-by-piece measurement. That is not the limit of the technology, by far – and as it continues to advance, Foy will be on the front end paving the way for her students.
Drawing the line
While Foy is looking to the future, Professor Raymond Gaddy is nodding to the past.
“Painting and drawing hasn’t changed much in 500 years,” he joked.
Gaddy has already dived into the first few weeks of school as the assistant professor of painting and drawing, and as the gallery director for Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Campus.
They had big changes this semester, adding a 3D digital lab with printers and laser cutters, which allows for 3D design integration into the foundations level.
And while the advancements are key to fostering a modern learning environment, Gaddy prefers to get into the details of technique in his entry-level courses.
“Intro to drawing is one of my favorite classes just because the students are fresh,” he said. “Most are coming in as a continuation of what they thought was fun in high school, or something they always wanted to do. They are eager and there’s a refreshing energy to all intro classes.”
The recent merger of Armstrong University and Georgia Southern has helped the processes, too, said Gaddy. When it comes to studio classes, the university tripled faculty, and with students able to go between Savannah and Statesboro campuses, it allows for different teaching techniques, different critiques and more opportunities for both staff and student to grow and learn.
Every new school year brings new students with new ideas and a new drive. With that, says Gaddy, come the pressure (a good pressure he admitted) for him to continue to create his own works of art.
“I need to work right alongside of them,” said Gaddy. “They absolutely expect me to be doing this as well.”
Take it to print
The same can be said of Nicholas Silberg. As a professor and chair of the fine arts humanities and wellness department at Savannah State University, he understands the importance of honing his craft.
“As a professor we are content experts in the field of which we teach,” said Silberg. “If you’re not participating in your discipline you’re being hypocritical. We tell our students to apply to call for entries, to participate in the arts through exhibition opportunities and we need to help them navigate the spectrum.”
For Silberg, though, it’s easy. He’s an artist, so he creates. Last year he participated in Sulfur Studios’ ON::View Artist-in-Residency program, schlepping a huge printing press down Bull Street to make custom prints for passersby.
He made one for my son—who happens to be best friends with his daughter. The two went to daycare together and are now in the same pre-K class. (Silberg swears he did not cry that first day dropping her off. I’m not convinced). Yet it shows our community is so well connected and the arts have a way of bringing it all together. And, as Silberg boasted, Savannah State has been at the forefront of this moment as the oldest fine arts programs in the city.
It started in the ‘60s and has grown, and languished and grown again, over the following decades. The program has since seen an overhaul that includes the now-accredited music degree program.
In visual arts, Silberg is focusing on technology in his class this year. He’s currently teaching New Media Design, which incorporates 3D printing. His first attempt using the new printer yielded a handy pinhole camera. Simultaneously, he’s focused on press restoration for the studio classes, bridging the gap between the future and past.
He and his colleagues are also paving the way for future student exhibits by showing their own works in the “Faculty and Friends” show set up in the Kennedy Fine Arts Center Gallery.
By the end of the school year, the gallery could have a new name if a donor came along, (hint, hint). As Silberg said, “We have to give them the skills, the knowledge and the opportunities. And we have to show them how it’s done.”
Molly Hayden is a local writer, photographer and problem-solver. This is her column about art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.