Sunday, November 28, 2010

Origins: Part 2, My Graduate School Experience

Here's the second part to a series I started last month, in which I show my earlier works and trace how I found my voice as an artist.

This entry is about my graduate school experience. (Below is "Scaffold," one of my favorite paintings from this period.)

I almost didn't go to graduate school at all.

I applied to both the Massachusetts College of Art and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. My grandparents had wanted me to go to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth ever since 1979, when I was applying to undergraduate programs, because it was located near their town. I always scoffed because I wanted to move to the Big City (to me, that was Boston!). But when my grandmother heard I was applying to graduate school in 1991, she wrote to the UMass Dartmouth admissions office and asked for information on their College of Visual and Performing Arts. I humored her when she placed the catalog in my hand, but I knew I would never go there. I had my heart set on graduate school in Boston, where, by that time, I had lived for the past 14 years. And I had no doubt that one of the Boston area graduate programs I had applied to would accept me.

My grandmother died while I was waiting to hear back from the various schools, and since I was visiting my grandfather a lot at that time, I decided to schedule a trip to UMass Dartmouth during one of my visits to his house. I called the department chair and he arranged for me to meet one of the painting professors and tour the facilities. My grandfather drove me to the appointment, and he looked so proud and happy as he was dropping me off.

I looked all around the building for the professor I had been scheduled to meet, but no one had seen him. I finally found an isolated office with a suited administrator sitting at her desk, and I told her about my appointment. She knew nothing about it, but she was kind enough to call the professor's office and ask around. No one had seen him and no one knew anything about our appointment. "I don't want to go to this school," I thought to myself, "if they can't even keep a scheduled appointment with a prospective student. Forget this place! I would never go here."

So I returned home and waited for my acceptance letters from Mass Art and the Museum School. They never came, but two rejection letters did. And finally, so did an acceptance letter from UMass Dartmouth, where I had already made up my mind not to go. My heart sank! But then I thought, "Do I want to go to graduate school or don't I? If I want to go, here is the path that has opened to me."

It was fortunate that I was flexible enough to revise my decision, because from that moment on, UMass Dartmouth was the PERFECT place for me. It was time for me to break from city life and move to the peaceful beauty of seaside Southcoast Massachusetts. My adviser, Willoughby Elliott, was supportive and generous (and, by the way, NOT the professor who had stood me up!). Bill realized that I was just finding myself as an artist, and his mentoring instincts told him when to gently question what I was doing and when to just leave me alone and let me do my thing. I also made many many wonderful friends among my fellow students. (Below is a view of my studio at graduate school.)

I happily displayed 7 large paintings at my thesis show in 1997 (me beside "Scaffold" at the opening reception, below, photo by my dear friend Alma Cummings):

The crowning touch of the experience was that the legendary actor Anthony Quinn, who was also a visual artist, was the guest speaker at graduation the year I graduated. Mr. Quinn visited the thesis show exhibit and stopped at my paintings, calling them "beautiful"! This caused the school's president to contact me and ask if I would show additional paintings on the walls of the university's gala celebration to honor Mr. Quinn. My first solo show! (Below is a view of me talking with Mr. Quinn at the gala, taken by Alma Cummings.)

UMass Dartmouth was the perfect experience for me. I laugh when I think that I almost didn't go to school there at all, and I feel a twinge when I realize that, if it hadn't been for my grandmother sending for that catalog, I would never have gone. She was right all along! (Below are "Thorn" and "Thaw," two other paintings from my graduate thesis show. All of these works are acrylic, oil stick, paper and fabric on canvas, and approximately 60" H x 50" W.)


Martha Marshall said...

It's fun reading how you got from there to here. I love how significant people and events gently nudge us in the direction we need to go.

It's also interesting to see your graduate school works almost alongside the work you are doing now. I love both. Do you ever wonder about roads not taken? I do.

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you for the kind words, Martha.

That's an interesting question about the roads not taken. I guess I'm so happy with the way my life has turned out that I have no regrets.

Ian MacLeod said...

wonderful to hear about your grandparents and to know how the word 'beautiful' has the power to change lives.

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you for reading, Ian. One small good deed has the power to move mountains!

Karen Jacobs said...

Totally missed this entry when first posted... Lovely paintings, great to look back and track our progress.

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, Karen. Yes, it teaches you a lot to look back, and makes you appreciate where you've come from and where you are now. Plus gives inspiration on where you're going. I enjoyed reading your blog when you were remembering your beginning years as an artist, too.