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Spring 2003

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Centennial spotlight

On campus

Faculty focus

Arts on view



Alumni affairs
and development

Class notes


people & projects

X appeal
Steel strokes
Research & rescue
Everybody’s town
DIY snail mail
Mental fortitude

X appeal

Fifty years ago cartoonist, sculptor, and author Marilyn (Lyn) Keith Chevli ’53 got her bachelor’s degree in art from Skidmore. That same year, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University started conducting research on women’s sexuality.
     Last year Chevli was included in the Kinsey Institute exhibit Sex and Humor. Co-founder in the 1970s of Nanny Goat Productions, a publisher of underground “comix” focusing on female sexuality, Chevli was asked to donate her entire archive to the Kinsey Institute. Chevli, who once published under the pseudonym Chin Lyvely, was happy to oblige.
     A prominent contributor to underground comix (the “x” was both to set them apart from mainstream comics in their hippie-inspired social and political subject matter and to accentuate that they were “X-rated”), Chevli was motivated both by her feminist leanings and by her attraction to a medium that was “deliberately vulgar, extremely honest, and very entertaining.”
     Joining the wave of women comic artists who were attempting to counter the sexism they saw in male-produced underground comix, Chevli teamed up with Joyce Farmer to create Nanny Goat Productions, which published nine comic books that were distributed worldwide. The books, which addressed issues including abortion, birth control, and homosexuality, were the subject of much controversy.
     “We had a lot of fun both creating and selling comix,” Chevli remembers. “We went to a lot of parties where we met many of the stars of cartooning and became close friends with them. The down side for me was having to draw—I hate to draw and am no good at it to this day.”
     In 1980 Chevli sold her half of Nanny Goat Productions to her partner and published Alida, An Erotic Novel. At the time she was also exhibiting her sculpture at the International Museum of Erotic Art in San Francisco.
     In Laguna Beach, Calif., Chevli continues to make sculptures and, because she’s “led an exciting and sometimes flamboyant life full of risks,” is now working on a second memoir. —MTS

Steel strokes

Vermont sculptor Kate Pond ’61 brought her World Sculpture Project to Honolulu, Hawaii, in the form of All One, a seven-foot minimalist steel sculpture. The pair of half-inch-thick corten steel “brush strokes” are mutually supportive and form the Chinese and Japanese character for “person” or “humankind.”
     Each piece in Pond’s series marks the passing of the sun at the summer and winter solstice or equinox. All One—situated on a slight hill at one entrance to the Kapiolani Community College campus—is unique
in that it marks the two times in the year that the sun is directly overhead in Honolulu. (On these two days, in May and July, observers can watch the shadow progress to where it aligns with a shape Pond marked with volcanic cinders.) The dedication of the sculpture in late November coincided with the start of the ancient Hawaiian Makahiki festival.
     Pond started All One in her Vermont workshop and had the pieces shipped to Hawaii in a large crate. KCC students helped her dig—for three long, hot hours—a hole for the foundation. College maintenance workers poured the concrete and welded the steel components as directed. With its dark-brown color variations and beeswax patina, All One, says Pond, “is similar in color and shape to some of the trees surrounding it.”
     Besides considering how her sculptures interact with the sun and with their surroundings, Pond also contemplates how she can engage viewers with her pieces from up close. “The size of a sculpture and how it relates to the human body is important,” she says. “It needs to be large enough to engage viewers, but not so large that it makes them feel insignificant.” Of All One she adds, “Its size—just larger than human scale—welcomes people… I noticed students lying against the more vertical steel shape.” —MTS

Research & rescue

Sussing out the details is a big chunk of daily work for John Hopkins ’77, who runs Hopkins & Associates Preservation Consultants of Memphis, Tenn. The firm provides planning and design services for the restoration or rehabilitation of historic properties and says its work in fourteen states has led to more than 8,000 buildings being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
     While “the firm” consists of Hopkins and his spouse, Marsha Oates, they “maintain relationships with dozens of subcontractors—including archaeologists, structural engineers, architects, traffic engineers, landscape architects, exhibit designers, and artifact conservators to assist with the technical aspects of our projects,” Hopkins says.
Last year the city of Biloxi, Miss., hired Hopkins to research the untold story of slave life at Tullis-Toledano Manor, a Greek Revival house built in 1856 and preserved now as a historic house museum. The project includes renovating the former slave quarters, restoring furnishings to the house, and developing an interpretive element for visitors.
     Learning what slave life was like at Tullis-Toledano has been “incredibly difficult,” Hopkins reports—but that’s not unusual. “You can’t always find answer to your questions,” he says. “So you have to extrapolate.” His research has included conducting an excavation around the slave quarters to turn up architectural evidence that might shed more light on the lifestyle of those who lived there.
     Hopkins had hoped to personify who the Tullis-Toledano slaves were—by poring over deed and census records—but he’s found little more than their first names. “It’s a very sad commentary on the times, but since slaves were considered property, their names weren’t important.” Finding documents like letters and labeled photographs is a matter of luck, he says. “We thought we’d get lucky, but we didn’t.”
     In addition to the Tullis-Toledano project, Hopkins is also completing plans to restore the historic Biloxi Lighthouse and to develop exhibits and an interpretational program for the Pleasant Reed house, built by a former slave in 1887. The latter “will chronicle the experiences of this working-income family as they persevered and prospered in spite of the constraints of societal racism and institutionalized segregation,” Hopkins says. “It’s a great story, and when the house opens in May, I don’t think there will be a museum anything like it in the nation.” —MTS

Everybody’s town

Thornton Wilder once claimed his play Our Town was “an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.”
     No one understands that better than Scott Hamilton Kennedy ’87, producer, director, and cameraman for the seventy-six-minute documentary OT: Our Town, which chronicles an unlikely production of the play in a California high school.
     While Kennedy’s film narrowly missed nomination for an Academy Award, it has garnered a string of accolades at film festivals, including audience awards at Aspen and Palm Springs. The LA Film Festival awarded OT the jury prize for best documentary, hailing it as “a powerfully, formally ingenious emotional document that exposes the universality of social mores.” And it praised Kennedy for taking “a thematic risk.”
     Risk? Teacher Catherine Borek (Kennedy’s girlfriend) marshaled twenty-four kids at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., to mount the school’s first theater production in decades—without funding, costumes, props, or even a stage. She put a beloved American theater icon into the hands of skeptical inner-city kids, and Kennedy’s camera watched as the drama unfolded onstage (well, in the cafeteria) and off.
     “The play crosses time, class, culture,” says Kennedy. To underscore his point, he juxtaposed scenes from Dominguez with those from a classic 1970s TV production of the play featuring Hal Holbrook and an all-white cast. The world the young actors inhabit is a tough one, but the film sees behind the stereotypes. “At the school, I was just slapped in the face by the clichés that were broken,” says Kennedy. “Sure, there were dangers, poverty. But there was also this community living their lives, chasing their dreams.”
     The buzz on OT quickly swept coast to coast, and in December it played in the MoMA film series in New York City. More festivals and showings followed, including a March screening at Skidmore, where Kennedy majored in theater with a focus on directing. With independent film advocate Film Movement now on board, a fall commercial distribution is in the works.
     But it may be hard to top the LA Film Festival experience, where Holbrook was in the audience. “He came up to me,” Kennedy recalls, “and said, ‘If only Thornton Wilder could be alive today.’ You have no idea how that made me feel.” —KG

DIY snail mail

Brian Gordon ’94 may be a regular at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, but he takes his day job seriously. Gordon is on the faculty of the Fuller Museum of Art in Brockton, Mass., which has received a grant allowing him to bring an arts program to urban school children.
     His “Traverse Stationery” project engages kids in letter-writing—the old-fashioned pen-and-paper way—by having them create their own paper and envelopes from brown bags. Then the students write personal messages and send them to their counterparts in other countries. Maybe not as speedy as e-mail—but, as Gordon says, “In one package, you get art, literacy, and international relations.” And there’s this added benefit: “Letter writing is a way to travel while sitting still.”
     The idea for the project began at Skidmore, Gordon says, when he got seriously into writing letters. “At some point I just couldn’t rationalize spending money on stationery I didn’t like,” he relates, “so I started making my own—from supermarket bags and cereal boxes.” Taking a tip from family and friends who deemed Gordon’s paper projects “art,” he began marketing the pieces to stores in the Boston area. When he realized he couldn’t supply quantity without compromising quality, he diverted his efforts from a commercial enterprise to an educational one.
     Through his affiliation with the Fuller Museum, Gordon has nearly fifty students from four schools in Brockton (eventually, he’d like to train teachers across the country to conduct similar projects)—and he hopes they’ll continue crafting letters long after they’ve left his classroom. “A lot of my students live in low-income housing with little or no extras,” he says. “I want them to give language a chance, so they’re better connected to the world and to themselves.”
     Gordon’s project “is designed to show children that art doesn’t always take money,” he adds. “For the price of an overseas stamp, you can take yourself places and learn about new cultures. Right now for these kids, this is the only way to travel. There are so many stories they have to tell about their lives, and they need to know that there are people in the world who want to hear them.” —MTS

Mental fortitude

Once a journalist, Dawn Foti Levinson ’96 is now a health policy analyst with President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, assisting with a comprehensive study of the nation’s public and private mental-health system—the first such study in almost twenty-five years. (In February, says Foti Levinson, she was honored to meet former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who served as honorary chair of the 1978 President’s Commission on Mental Health.)
     The bipartisan commission will make recommendations to allow “adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities,” says Foti Levinson. She is a staff member to the commission under the auspices of the Presidential Management Intern (PMI) program, a prestigious and highly competitive postgraduate fellowship that allows a select number of young men and women to gain leadership skills on a fast track to high-level career federal employment. Foti Levinson was assigned to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and works in the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.
     The recipient of an M.S.W. from Portland State University, Foti Levinson is still getting comfortable thinking of herself as a public servant, she says, “but it’s something I take seriously. One in five people in this country has a mental illness. It can be very debilitating, yet it’s highly treatable. People need to know that effective therapies are available and recovery is possible.”
     During her two-year appointment to the New Freedom Commission, Foti Levinson and five other staff members will work with more than twenty commissioners including psychiatrists, psychologists, family members, a state senator, and a judge. By summertime, the commission will present President Bush with a list of primary recommendations; its final report will contain a wide range of options for possible presidential action. —AW


© 2003 Skidmore College