Influence, process, and fragmentation

Krakow talks about her artistic process while working on her series "Arm Armatures." (Photo by Corey McFeeley.)

Assistant Professor of Art Ellie Krakow and Visiting Associate Professor of Education Pam Bretschneider, discussed their most influential projects and the processes performed and adapted throughout their work in Framingham State’s biannual Authors and Artists event on Oct. 16 in the Heineman Ecumenical Center.

Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs,  said the series “showcases the work of our faculty and the way they do” their jobs to open up the process of scholarly work and initiate a conversation about their methods.

Krakow, who has a bachelor’s in studio art from Prescott College and a master’s in combined media from Hunter College, studied sculptures at a variety of museums as a student.

While at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Krakow said she repeatedly found herself in the Greek, Roman, and Ancient Egyptian sections documenting ancient armatures, or the support structures that hold up ancient artifacts.

She said, “I would hardly ever call it research. I think of it much more as an obsession. And I think that maybe for people who are in a more traditional academic field, it might be more obvious to call it research because there are books involved, but for me, it’s what I find myself looking at. What I find myself looking at over and over and over again.”

Krakow examined the armatures’ relations to the sculptures, how the sculptures had been displaced from  their original context and repositioned, the form of the armatures, and the colors used, to somehow make the armatures completely disappear into the sculptures.

“I realized that there was a lot that I could learn from these armatures,” she said.

Krakow began experimenting with the idea of fragmented bodies in her own work after researching the way armatures give “new life” to fragmented sculptures.

Her body of work, “Arm Armatures,” influenced by these support systems, includes ceramic sculptures and photographs of her arms in awkward positions, mimicking each other to establish a sculpture/photo relationship and provoke a discussion about invisible structures, beauty, and fragmented stories.

Krakow said she was also influenced by Brady stands, a metal headrests used in mid-19th century portrait photography which clamped the head into position. She also looked at social media, contextualizing fragmented stories placed on different platforms and how others who perceive these stories try to piece them together.

Although there is no one-to-one relationship between the research she is doing and the product she is producing, Krakow said research and process have taught her a lot about her interests and why she has them.

For example, while setting up her exhibition for a show, Krakow said it took her three straight days to move around her sculptures and figure out where they would go in the room to create a call and response among different objects.

“When I move things around in my studio, it’s one of the most important parts of the practice for me. It’s the process of seeing and re-seeing and creating the art of it and creating stories,” she said.

During an exhibition, people began commenting on the L-shaped piece of metal that Krakow lined up with an elbow sculpture and how it looked like an IV in the arm.

“It grossed them out and they had this visceral response to it like they had just gone to the hospital,” she said. “I think one of the reasons why I’m interested in these broken sculptures is that I have a chronic health condition and so I have lived my whole adult life navigating – having a body that’s assessing parts or that’s treated in parts.”

Bretschneider presented her book, “The Esther M. Wilkins Story, as Told by her Friends: An Authorized Biography,” and discussed her writing process as one established in fragmented parts rather than chronological order.

Esther M. Wilkins, a woman born in 1916, known as the grandmother or the matriarch of dental hygiene, broke boundaries and reached beyond her limits to accomplish a lifetime of achievements in the field of dentistry and health sciences. Bretschneider said Wilkins was a “trailblazer.” Not only was she one of the top 25 women of dentistry in the country, but she was also the first woman to become a member of the invitation-only academy of dental science Class of ’79.

Bretschneider met Wilkins in 2001 while she was the director of institutional research at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science. She said she was asked to assist Wilkins while using the new database for Wilkins’s 10th edition of her bestselling book, “Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist.”

Their friendship blossomed from there as they attended dental conventions, visited the theatre, and went to Red Sox games together.

In 2008, Bretschneider approached Wilkins with the idea  of writing a biography while driving back from a convention. Bretschneider said, “She found a used envelope in the car, turned it over, and began writing a plan for what evolved into this incredible journey.”

The plan included a list of hundreds of Wilkins friends’ names whose stories she insisted Bretschneider include in the biography.

For the next 10 years, she interviewed all of Wilkins’ 150-plus friends asking about the influence Wilkins had on their life and about their adventures with her. Bretschneider said she spent about 12 hours a day for three months choosing quotes submitted by Wilkins’ friends.

Bretschneider said she also used a multitude of resources besides interviews, incorporating document reviews, artifacts, photographs, personal stories, dental mysteries, and autobiographies into the book.

She said, “The 10-year journey was one of self-reflection and enlightenment, presenting the life of the woman who was well known in her professional community, who had a lifetime of achievements. … I certainly didn’t sit down and write a biography. It was an evolution of facts, feelings, and reflections not presented in chronological order.

“The book came out of her mouth. You just didn’t know and you had to figure out where it fit. The process was more a jigsaw puzzle, with words of wisdom of which there were many,” Bretschneider said.

Bretschneider said she has an extra room of Wilkins’ things, everything from her degrees, to awards, to her graduation gowns. “There may be another book in there,” she commented.

At the end of the presentations, professor of art Tim McDonald asked Bretschneider if she could foresee an installation of Wilkins’ work. Bretschneider said she contacted the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore and they merely offered to keep some of Wilkins’ things in their archives.

Krakow told Bretschneider not to give up and to keep reaching out to museums since Wilkins is well known in her profession. If she keeps her options open, she could definitely find “a home in the right museum,” Krakow said.

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