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Professor, Alumnus Turn Moments from Online Meetings into Art - April 27, 2021
Leslie Gates (left) and Eli Andrus (right).
Dr. Leslie Gates is an associate professor in Art Education at Millersville University and a 2003 alumna. And, like many others, she’s attended a lot of Zoom meetings over the past year. A lot of them.
But Gates, ever the creative, took advantage of the time to turn still images from her many meetings into art via a series of sketches featuring her colleagues at their home offices.
She explains that as the pandemic wore on, she found herself worn out and fatigued from going from meeting to meeting online. Gates says she missed the human connection that comes from working alongside your friends and coworkers. One night, as she chatted with a friend from work – yes, via Zoom – she felt the urge to sketch. So, she did just that.
The ongoing series of drawings, each framed in a little black box, is a familiar sight to those who’ve worked remotely over the past year. The sketches feature a solitary subject within, sometimes mid-thought, sometimes looking off-screen.
Students and alumni from Millersville University may recognize some familiar faces in Gates’ work. “The main technical challenge to what I am doing is really in the capturing of images – trying to find something that is clear, well-composed, and then translating the screenshot into a drawing.”
Her efforts and attention to detail have certainly paid off. To date, she has made 32 drawings that capture a unique time in her work life. Gates’s Zoom drawings are also the subject of the article, Working in the Rectangle, featured in the December 2020 issue of Art Education Journal.
Gates is not the only artist who’s taking to creating during Zoom meetings. 2004 MU Art Education graduate Eli Andrus had a similar instinct.
Andrus now lives in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and teaches art at the elementary level in the Downingtown Area School District. Outside of his teaching gig, he maintains a studio practice making, exhibiting, and selling art. “There has been a steady stream of private commission work [recently],” he notes.
During the pandemic, he has been drawing his subjects live during meetings using black and white gouache. “Gouache is essentially an opaque watercolor medium that captures fine detail, dries quickly, and is reworkable,” he explains. “Those characteristics make it a good medium for improvisational and direct work like sketching people in Zoom.”
Andrus says he’s always sketched during meetings. “I find it helps me focus,” he says. “When everything switched to Zoom, it was a natural transition. However, the conceptual potential soon asserted itself and my Zoom portraits took on a life of their own apart from my typical sketching practice.”
Gates and Andrus have both pondered what their work might mean to themselves and others in the future, as it captures a very unique time in history.
Gates says she is grateful that she followed her instinct to create. “I think we will need time to process all we are losing, loving, and learning during the pandemic,” she says. “As the pandemic goes on, I become more convinced that documenting it at the moment feels like the right thing. I am using drawing to document something I know I don’t yet fully understand. The drawings feel like artifacts to me. I am starting to wonder what I will understand about these drawings in 10 or 20 years.”
Andrus echoes her sentiments. “I can only say it has been a cathartic exercise in processing and documenting a watershed moment in history. I suspect that will be its long-term legacy.”
'A lot of trash': Truckloads of rubbish removed from Conestoga River inspires Millersville art
Courtesy of LNP 4/22.2021
Stacked atop a pile of worn, dirty tires, a collection of rubbish now sits inside the lobby at Millersville University’s welcome center, offering an unusual sight as students and visitors pass through.
It’s more than a haphazard stack of garbage. In fact, it’s a work of art — a sculpture of a flopping fish created by members of the school’s art club out of litter they helped to clean from the Conestoga River last weekend, ahead of today’s annual Earth Day.
Now, club President Tina Borchert, a sophomore art student, said she hopes their sculpture will help to bring on-campus awareness to issues like litter and pollution. That’s especially true, she said, because the trash used to build it was collected Saturday from the water and streambanks along Windolph Landing Park in Lancaster Township, just a few miles away from the school. “I didn’t think they were going to find so many big things,” Borchert said, marveling at the volume and variety of litter collected during the cleanup. “We got a lot of trash.”
Appreciating a key resource
Providing students that first-hand insight was kind of the point of getting involved in the cleanup, said Assistant Professor Justin Mando, who teaches science writing at the university and sits on its Sustainability Committee.
“It’s a major resource that we have right near campus, and we wanted to get students out and involved,” Mando said, referring to the river. “I don’t know if it’s as appreciated as it could be.”
Hoping to make that connection, Millersville educators like Mando invited their students to join conservationists at the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and the Conestoga River Club, who hosted the Saturday cleanup.
They were hoping to get 25 volunteers between the three organizations, but the number of willing trash collectors quickly grew to about twice that size, Mando said. He guessed that could be attributed to the ongoing spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus, which has limited students’ opportunities to gather indoors.
“Students are looking for opportunities to get together,” Mando said. “It’ll be the first time that I’ve had a chance to meet most of my students. I’ve never seen them except for on Zoom.”
Safer outdoor spaces have become wildly popular destinations during the pandemic, bringing renewed interest in outdoor areas like Windolph Landing Park, according to Ted Evgeniadis, a Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper.
However, the pandemic has also led to increased litter — protective medical waste like face masks and rubber gloves, as well as plastic take-out food containers from restaurants that ceased in-door dining as a pandemic precaution.
Still, he’s hopeful that events like Saturday’s cleanup will help to inspire the next generation of stewards working to keep pollution out of local waterways like the Conestoga, as well as the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, which are just downstream.
For Todd Roy, the Conestoga River Club’s founder and president, the reasons to protect the local river are numerous. He spoke about the obvious environmental concerns, but also the seemingly endless hours of recreation the river presents to anglers and kayakers.
“I could just go on and on,” he said, worried that appreciation has waned for others. “We lost sight of it. It became a drainage ditch in the backyard instead of the centerpiece of the community that it should be.”
Making a difference
All of that discussion served as a backdrop for Saturday’s cleanup, when dozens of repeat and first-time volunteers walked along the Conestoga’s riverbanks, picking up tiny pieces of trash from below weeds and wildflowers. Others donned hip waders and walked into the waterway, some helping to remove discarded tires from the mud below.
Among them was Millersville sophomore Kevin Nix, who said he often reads about pollution and other environmental issues in the news, where they seem “daunting.”
“It’s been a concern. You ask yourself, ‘What can you do?’” Nix said, pointing to volunteer opportunities like the cleanup as an answer.
Also participating, Nadine Garner, associate professor of psychology, stood in a grassy field ahead of the event, pointing out the volunteer group’s makeup, which included students studying a wide variety of subjects.
“This just really shows that sustainability is really for everybody,” she said, speaking from behind a protective mask. “The synergy is amazing.”
2 dozen tires removed
All told, about 60 volunteers pulled nearly two truckloads of trash from the river and it’s banks, Mando said. That trash included more than two dozen tires, he said.
It’s those materials that Borchert and her fellow art club members — Oscar McDonah and Heidi Nauss — used to create their fish sculpture, which is now in the school’s Lombardo Welcome Center. There, it sports a dorsal fin made from a traffic cone attached to a body built with a discarded bucket, beer cans and other reclaimed trash.
“I think it definitely raises awareness about what is going on,” Borchert said.
By all metrics, Mando said he considers the cleanup a success.
“There is something really fulfilling about cleaning up a place that, when you arrived, looked a lot worse than when you left it,” Mando said.
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