The Johnson Museum presents a virtual workshop for students with artist Sharon Walters

The London-based collage artist Sharon Walters will lead a virtual workshop on Saturday, April 24, from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., to inspire Cornell students to get creative during their Wellness Day breaks (April 23 and 26). The workshop is presented by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in collaboration with their student organizations, the Museum Club and Student Educators: Art and the Museum (SEAM).

This free Zoom session will allow student participants to work alongside Walters on a project as she discusses her artistic process, professional background, and sources of inspiration. Students are encouraged to use magazine clippings, personal photography, and found materials in their collages. Museum Club members will also hand out collage art supplies during the Wellness Days event on the Arts Quad on Friday, April 23, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Sharon Walters is an artist, educator, and program coordinator specializing in hand-assembled collages celebrating Black women. Her collage series Seeing Ourselves has garnered much attention both in London and internationally, and she has amassed a dedicated following on Instagram @london_artist1. The Tate Modern recently invited her to serve as a mentor in their prestigious “Emerging Artists” program. Walters writes, “The series Seeing Ourselves is a celebration of black women. I started creating the body of papercuts and collage works three years ago as a way of exploring representation of black women in many arenas, including arts, heritage and media.”

Linking wellness to creative practice is also a concern for Walters: “My practice is a means of meditating and helps me to explore creatively without boundaries, in a world where there are so many barriers. My intention is to unite a broad range of people through creativity while exploring the prominent themes of practice and encouraging us all to improve our self-confidence and make time for mindful creativity.”

Following the workshop session, Walters will encourage participants to share their collages and will answer questions in a conversation moderated by Museum Club President Rayna Klugherz ’23 (A&S) and SEAM President Madison Albano ’22 (A&S). Cornell students can register on the CampusGroups platform.

To provide additional points of inspiration, members of the Museum Club and SEAM have selected artworks from the Museum’s collections, whose themes and artistic strategies resonate with Walters’s own, to go on temporary display at the Johnson. The Museum is currently open in a limited capacity to members of the Cornell community by appointment. The selected artworks include creations on paper and textiles by Kara Walker, Faith Ringgold, and Mickalene Thomas.

The program with Walters is part of an ongoing initiative by the Johnson Museum of Art to promote mental health and wellness amongst the student body. Funded through a generous gift by a member of the Museum’s Advisory Council, the initiative also included two Take ’N Make virtual events last fall, which featured students leading their peers through at-home art activities inspired by works in the Museum’s collection. Museum Club and SEAM members packed art supplies into bags and scheduled contact-free pickups for 200 undergraduates prior to the live Zoom workshops.

The final report from Cornell’s Mental Health Review, released in April 2002, uncovered that about 35% of students face mental health challenges during their college years, and a growing number of students arrive at Cornell with preexisting diagnoses. Students of color also reported higher levels of distress.

The Museum Club and SEAM wanted to use the Spring 2021 semester to focus on creativity as it relates to bettering mental health, as well as on representations of Black women in art. Annmarie Ventura, the Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator for Student Engagement at the Museum, explains, “The Johnson certainly has an integral role to play in offering opportunities for students to express themselves through art making in an encouraging, educational, and welcoming atmosphere.” Prior to the pandemic, SEAM members created mini-tours for Cornell students to take a break during study week by exploring specific artworks on view and appreciating the sweeping views of Cayuga Lake and campus from the fifth floor of the Johnson.

Museum Club is led by students who share an interest in museums and art, and promote student awareness of the Johnson’s vast collections, exhibitions, and resources. The Club organizes and hosts programs and special events that give students the opportunity to visit the Museum in informal and social settings, and now over virtual platforms. The Museum Club often works in conjunction with Student Educators: Art & the Museum (SEAM), a group of students passionate about art history and arts education, often using the Johnson Museum as a resource to learn about educational approaches to the collection. SEAM members act as bridges between the campus, community, and the Museum; sharing their knowledge through tours and outreach, supporting existing Museum education tools, and creating new programs.

Andrea Potochniak is the editorial manager at the Johnson Museum. Clara Enders '22 (ILR) contributed to this reporting.

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