Artful Conversations

The Highest Height

Jean Dufy, View of Paris, ca. 1920-1940. Watercolor and Gouache on Paper.

On February 28th, 2020 Dickinson College senior art history students celebrated the opening of their exhibition, Framing Space: Depictions of Land, City and Sea.  The exhibition represents the capstone experience for art history majors at Dickinson.  Throughout the fall, they work collaboratively to select the works to be included in the exhibition, organize its layout, and design its appearance.  They also research and write a substantial catalog that is published along with the show.  The experience represents the highest heights of art historical achievement for graduating seniors. Here’s an image of the curatorial team on opening night:

From Left: Bizz Fretty, Hannah King, Ashlyn Buffum, Kaila Basile, Natura Sant-Foster and Melinda Schlitt.


This year, however, was different.  The exhibition was open for approximately one week before Dickinson’s spring break.  Due to COVID-19, the college did not re-open after break.  Currently, the show is up, but shuttered behind the doors of a museum and campus closed as part of larger efforts to protect the health and safety of our community.

In this conversation I speak with Ashlyn Buffum (pictured below on opening night), one of the senior art history students who curated the exhibition, about her capstone experience.

Ashlyn Buffum, shortly after everyone put on their corsages, opening night.


Heather: Going into your senior year, what were your thoughts about curating an exhibition at The Trout Gallery?

Ashlyn: I was nervous and worried that my writing was not up to par for a publication. I also committed to be an Art History Major early in my college career so there was a large build up. It definitely felt weird when everything was over since it had been something I knew I had to do for almost four years. I had come a long way from my freshman year and it was an amazing feeling to finally hold the catalogue in my hands.

Featured in the exhibition: Joyce Tenneson, Trees and Rocks, 2015. Gift of Michael Moses. 2017.33.15

Heather: From your perspective, what was the most challenging aspect of curating Framing Space?

Ashlyn: We had a challenging subject especially since there were many different mediums, subjects, artists, and regions. The challenge was trying to find a cohesive way to display the paintings, photographs, and prints.


Heather: What surprised you the most during the curatorial process?

Ashlyn: I had never really done curatorial work before so it was a new experience for me.  I don’t know if anything major surprised me, but I loved the research aspects of the project. It was a lot of fun to follow historical clues and find as much intriguing information on artists and their paintings as I could.

One of the exhibition research discoveries: when you remove the frame and clean the painting, you see that the figures in the front center are wearing ice skates. Unknown artist, Untitled (Winter), ca. 1900, Oil on wood. Gift of Arturo Fox, 2015.2.32.

Heather: How did you feel during the opening reception of the exhibition?  Describe your experience that evening

Ashlyn: I was so excited and happy that my friends and parents were able to see what I had been working on during the fall semester. I loved discussing and answering questions from the visitors about the works of art that I had studied. It almost didn’t feel real since we worked so hard the previous semester and I had been waiting for that moment for my entire college career.

Heather: You are a graduating senior.  Due to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19, your capstone experience, as well as many other experiences typical of graduating seniors are dramatically different this year.  Can you share with us the thoughts that are uppermost in your mind as you finish your senior year remotely?

Ashlyn: It is scary and new times that we are living in currently. I am disappointed about not being able to be on campus for my last semester, but I am thankful that I was able to achieve as much as I did. I am especially thankful I was able to have my study abroad experience last year. I am extremely lucky that I was able to finish my capstone project in the fall semester and able to squeeze in the opening of Framing Space just before everything happened. I cannot imagine myself doing research or writing for my thesis write now.

All of my classes have been able to somewhat continue like normal with only small changes with tests and things. I especially enjoy my Creative Writing: Fiction class and Goddesses, Prostitutes, Wives, Saints, and Rulers: Women and European Art 1200-1680. I love the topics that my Women and European art class discuss. Currently we are talking about female artists like Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Lesyter , Lavinia Fontana, and Sofonisba Anguissola. My writing class is a form of escape. We have fun in class and chat about different topics each class. It is always nice to see my fellow classmates and know that (although our home situations are different) we are going through similar things.

Heather: You can learn more about the exhibition Framing Space by checking out the published catalog, written by senior art history students.


Cover, Framing Space catalog.

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