Mancuso’s senior art purchases paint brush strokes across campus

Courtesy of Halcyon Mancuso

Back in 2018, English Professor Halcyon Mancuso was having dinner in the Dining Commons when she came to a realization about her surroundings.

“I was just eating and looking around, and I saw all these empty walls,” she said.

After noticing the potential around her, Mancuso thought, “We’ve got all these students who do art on campus. Why can’t we get some student artwork up here?”

Mancuso decided she wanted to buy pieces from senior studio art majors and gift them to the University for display around campus.

To turn her vision into a reality, Mancuso discussed the idea with Ellie Krakow, director of the Mazmanian Gallery. 

Krakow said when Mancuso started buying student art, “All of us in the [art] department were thrilled, because it’s such a great opportunity for students to have the experience of selling their work, having their work become part of a collection, and getting their work to be then seen on campus.

“We make art so that it can be seen,” Krakow added. “It’s just really amazing that their work gets to be seen in a long-term way. It’s probably really inspiring as a student to see that other students can sell their work, and have their work be on campus, and really be visible in that way.”

According to Krakow, senior studio art students display their work each spring through thesis exhibitions in the Mazmanian Gallery in the McCarthy Center. Mancuso selected works from these shows for the first few years of her art-purchasing program. 

Krakow said during the COVID-19 pandemic, when senior thesis shows did not run in the gallery, Mancuso selected works from the annual “Juried Exhibition.” Unlike the thesis exhibitions dedicated to graduating studio art majors, the “Juried” show is open to all students.

As Mancuso’s initiative developed, Krakow said her role was finding ways to “make the whole process more systematic so that we can communicate clearly with the students about what they need to do in order to be eligible for the prize.”

Krakow said during the senior thesis shows, “I walk around the show, show her what the students are working on, and help with communication between the students and her.”

She added that she hopes a guide is created in the future to allow people to tour the campus and visit each of the pieces. “How do we get people to look, and want to look, and be engaged?”

Mancuso said visual arts represent the era in which they were created. She hopes the Danforth Art Museum curates an exhibit with the pieces once the collection gets larger, organizing them chronologically by year. “I think it’d be kind of cool to look at the art in that way.”

After selecting which pieces she wants to buy, Mancuso said she works with College of Arts and Humanities Dean Marc Cote to solve logistical challenges with obtaining and displaying the pieces she buys.

Cote said he drafted the form students can fill out if they are interested in selling their art to Mancuso. He also contacts each year’s senior art studio seminar professor to inform painting, ceramics, sculpture, and printmaking students about the opportunity to sell their work.

He also found locations around campus where the art could be displayed and obtained approval to place Mancuso’s purchases in their new homes. Mancuso wanted to ensure “we would make all efforts to place the artworks prominently on campus.”

Cote formed a committee to investigate potential spaces in the McCarthy Center, where two of the pieces Mancuso purchased in 2018 are currently on display.

He said finding places to hang the art also requires making sure “people who frequent the areas of hanging are supportive of the idea.” He said Mancuso’s most recent award “coincided with the history department’s request to have some identity representation” in their space on the third floor of May Hall.

Cote said the Facilities team that hangs the pieces have been cooperative and responsive. Each piece is hung using a “security hanging system” to prevent theft and damage to the art.

He also orders plaques which are displayed alongside each piece. The plaques include the student artist’s name, year of graduation, artist’s statement, and indicate the pieces are on loan as part of Mancuso’s Student Artist Purchase Award Program.

Cote said when he first heard about Mancuso’s program, he was pleased “because something like this can often be used as a springboard,” giving confidence to students in a competitive field such as studio art.

He said current art students “might be inspired to see alumni work done when they were students hanging so prominently.” He added seeing quality student work highlighted may be helpful for prospective students and their families when deciding to attend Framingham State.

Mancuso said one of the reasons she collects and donates the art is to help the University build a collection of student artwork. 

“If any of these students hit it big somehow – you never know – that becomes a sort of a point of pride for FSU, to be able to say, ‘We knew them when we taught them, and there’s at least one of their pieces hanging at FSU,’” she added.

Paul Yalowitz, chair of the art and music department, said giving art students money for their pieces and displaying them on campus “is a great way to get them started.”

He said the award program benefits students because they can put on their resumé that their work is hanging in a permanent collection at FSU.

“It’s a little bit of recognition for the department, showing some art around campus outside of our building and outside of the gallery,” Yalowitz added.

He said Mancuso’s donations allow the art department to share what their students are doing so other departments and administrators can understand what they do in class, developing “more of a community instead of everybody being isolated all the time.”

Yalowitz said displaying art around the campus helps teach the FSU community that art can carry “powerful stories and messages” that deal with heavy topics.

As an example, Yalowitz said Mancuso’s most recent purchase – Markha Baieva’s triptych “Bicultural in America” – tells a very powerful personal story about recent history. “She’s telling the story of her family and her experiences.

“You can have a history lecture that’ll give you some information, but you could also show these images and read her experiences,” he added. “That informs as well, and it can inform in a different way.”

Baieva’s triptych was purchased by Mancuso from the Spring 2021 “Juried Exhibition.”

Baieva said she didn’t know about the program until Mancuso reached out to her.

She said FSU’s art department is “very small and intimate.” Usually, only professors and her peers saw her artwork.

Baieva said when she learned she had won Mancuso’s award, she was honored. “I was kind of shocked that they chose my work because there’s so many talented artists in my graduating year. So I felt very happy, and I was very excited.”

She said displaying student artwork around campus is a great way to “recognize people for their artwork.”

Her triptych was hung in the history department’s hallway on the third floor of May Hall at the department’s request. Baieva said the location where her pieces are displayed is “very nice.

“My work is about diversity and coming from different backgrounds. There’s a lot of history behind that, so I think that was a great spot to put it,” she added.

According to Baieva, “Bicultural in America” is composed of a self portrait and portraits of two of her friends – one who is Colombian and the other who is Nigerian and Filipino. The portraits are painted over collages of the people and things each subject loves.

“It’s a way of showing someone’s culture and where they’re from in the background, and things that make up who they are, while the portrait that is painted on top is who they are in America,” she said.

Baieva said selling her work to Mancuso and seeing it hung up on campus gave her “confidence and faith” in her work. “People are interested in the work that I’m creating and that makes me want to create more work.”

Mancuso said one of the purposes of purchasing student art is to help them establish a market value as an artist. “The first time you sell a piece of work, that establishes what the market will bear,” she said. Students work with Krakow to decide on a “fair price” for their pieces.

Senior Jenna Billian, an art major with a sculpture concentration, said having the opportunity to sell her art for a fair price “would positively impact my self esteem and would help me build confidence to get my artwork out into the world.

“Having my art on display in a permanent collection on campus would feel great! I would feel proud and would bring my family and friends to see it.”

Billian said one of her professors mentioned Mancuso’s program during class at the end of October. “That was the first I had heard of the program.”

Senior Haley Donahue, an art major with a sculpture concentration, said the opportunity for senior students to sell their artworks at a fair price is a good idea.

“Regardless of whether or not a graduating senior plans to make their career solely out of selling their work, having a good point of reference as to how to accurately price and sell work is incredibly important.

“It would feel very good to have my art displayed on campus in a permanent collection,” she added.

Donahue said if students knew more about the program, “It would give artists more time to prepare to submit, which would be beneficial.”

Both Billian and Donahue plan to submit pieces for Mancuso to consider purchasing.

Mancuso said she started the award program because she loves collecting art. 

She said, “The ones that I’ve chosen so far have had very much an outward-looking focus in their themes. And I say themes purely because I don’t believe that art has one theme to it.”

Mancuso hopes students keep making art that reflects multiple perspectives and multicultural ways of looking at the world. “If they keep making that kind of art, and I keep buying that kind of art, those are the statements that we would like to put around FSU.”