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Art Takes Flight

Students Benefit from International Opportunities, New Studio

When A.J. Stoneburner flew away and joined the circus, he was doing what a lot of Montana State University-Bozeman artists have done lately. He was traveling to another country to share and learn more about his craft.

Stoneburner, an athlete who came to MSU to play football only to be sidelined by a back injury, won a trip to Belgium as the U.S. platinum winner of the 2001 Agfa Young Creatives Contest. As part of his prize, he attended circus school for a day where he tried juggling, riding a unicycle, walking on stilts, swinging on a trapeze and-like the scene on his award-winning poster-inching his way across a tightrope.

"I've never won an art prize before," Stoneburner said when he returned to his Colorado home. "I think I was in shock."

A.J. Stoneburner and his
award-winning circus poster.

Richard Helzer, director of the MSU School of Art added, "The value of our students being exposed internationally to the arts is extremely important. ... I think all we can do for our students to create an international educational experience for them, the better off we are."

MSU has 450 art majors, so the school will always see a great deal of interest in doing things internationally, Helzer continued.

Just in the past year, for example, a dozen students studied art history, drawing and printmaking in Italy. Another group accompanied professors Michael Peed and Jay Schmidt to Oaxaca, Mexico. Robert Smith taught in Italy during the spring 2001 semester and then went on to exhibit some of his works in Japan and organized a print exhibition in London. Helzer was one of three artists featured in a month-long exhibition in Todi, Italy.

"Our students now come from all over the country. They have that interest. They recognize that need," Helzer said.

Helzer was arranging MSU's Semester in Italy program when he happened to meet an Italian artist, which led to him being invited to show his work in an exhibition titled "Baroque and Alchemy." The Semester in Italy program began in 2001 with 19 students and continued in 2002 with 12. Helzer said numbers were probably down because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but he expects the spring course to average 15 to 18 students.

Richard Helzer checks on the progress of the swine barn remodeling project.

Besides the international opportunities and Stoneburner's award, the School of Art "has and continues to have marvelous things going on," Helzer said. Among those was Travis Hough winning a $12,500 Master of Fine Arts Fellowship from the Dedalus Foundation in 2001. The foundation gives two fellowships a year to painters or sculptors who are in their final year of working on their Master of Fine Arts degree at an American institution. Hough is a painter.

"The Dedalus grant is meant to help with the transition between graduate school and beginning a career in art. It did just that, allowing me to focus on my thesis and not have any financial worries during that time," said Hough, who is now teaching English in Japan as a means of experiencing the aesthetics and culture that have most influenced his art. He planned to return to the U.S. in August to begin his career.

"It's a remarkable, wonderful thing for us and for him," Helzer said of the award. "I think it's an acknowledging of the quality of our graduate program. We are very proud to have that happen."

One way the university hopes to enhance its graduate program is by converting a former swine barn into 12 studios for graduate students and an art gallery. Located west of the MSU campus, the building will offer 6,000 square feet of "plain, white, simple, rough" space to students who used to work out of the basement of Taylor Hall. The building will be named the Senska Wilber Graduate Art Studios and should be ready by October 2002.

"It's the ideal kind of research space for the art program," Helzer said. "That's what we were after."

Evelyn Boswell

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