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Cole values the education she's received at Monmouth

Barry McNamara
 Alyse Cole’s experience majoring in art at Monmouth College might be best demonstrated by two images of a house.

One image – a simple one-dimensional drawing with a front door, a couple windows, a roof and a chimney – can be compared to a “garden-variety” college experience. It’s the type of image that might be found on a refrigerator door.

The second image – a weathered structure, captured in somber black-and-white photography, rich in details – symbolizes the deeper experience that Cole is having as an artist at Monmouth. It’s the type of image that might be found hanging in an art gallery. In fact, thanks to Cole’s good eye for photography, that’s exactly where it will be, as part of the annual student invitational exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Part of her “little collection” of photos of older area homes, the piece is not the only one that Cole has on display. An untitled work is currently in MC’s Everett Gallery, where it won “Best of Show” in a juried exhibit, and a related set of two pieces, titled “Unused Series,” was recently juried into a national exhibition in Massachusetts.

Creating award-winning work is a process, and it’s one that Cole believes can be attributed in large part to her choice to attend a small college, where personalized instruction and unique opportunities have combined to accelerate her growth as an artist. Chief among those unique opportunities have been a semester-long study abroad program in Florence and an intensive three-week SOFIA (Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activity) experience.

“I chose Monmouth mostly because of the campus and the student-to-faculty ratio,” said Cole, a graduate of Washington (Ill.) Community High School. “I knew I wanted to major in art, but I’m still deciding which area to pursue – drawing, painting or photography.”

A recent MC science excursion to the Galapagos Islands was dubbed by one of the participants as “every biologist’s dream.” Similarly, it must be every artist’s dream to be immersed in the sweeping art history of Italy, which Cole experienced as part of a program offered through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

“I had two or three art history classes, and I fell in love with that aspect of it,” she said. “I also had a drawing class that was taught in a different method than what is used back here.”

Cole studied Renaissance art, attending classes in museums by day and staying with a host family at night. She was able to “wander around” the city, soaking up its culture, as well as travel around the country with friends.

“I loved seeing all the old churches and what they used art for,” she said. “I was able to visit Rome and Venice, and they are my two all-time favorite places. The art history is everywhere. The whole experience changed me as a person.”

While “exploration” was the word in Italy, “experimentation” was the theme of SOFIA. Cole not only learned a new technique of painting, but also got to see if being a working artist suited her.

“Being in the studio from 8 to 5 every day was like working as you would if that was your job,” said Cole, who plans to attend graduate school and pursue an M.F.A. in studio art. “It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with encaustics,” which is a technique of painting with hot wax.

“We were in the art store, and Professor (Brian) Baugh said, ‘Why don’t you try this?,’” she said of encaustics. “SOFIA was the perfect opportunity to try it because of the extra time I had and the money that had been budgeted for special projects.”

Cole was quick to adapt to the new technique, with one of her encaustics works receiving “Best of Show” at the MC student exhibit.

“When working with encaustics, I can create many layers which build up to create the thickness and depth in the piece,” she said. “I wasn’t really trying to say anything with the winning piece really, but if I am, it’s about the lines, the layers and how they work together. I leave the rest up to the viewer. But for me, it is about the process of making art – the decision process and then actually working with the wax.”

Based on her exceptional performance in the art department, Cole was chosen to participate in this fall’s “Seriously Creative” fine arts trip to Chicago.

“The great thing about Alyse is that she has been consistently diligent about her art making, and has a genuine curiosity that has allowed her to successfully explore a variety of media and mediums,” said art professor Stacy Lotz. “Her diligence and curiosity carry over in everything that she involves herself with, and she is a true leader in the department.”

The talented senior also puts her art experience to use as one of three editors of COIL, Monmouth’s art and literature magazine.

“I’m definitely pleased with my choice to attend Monmouth,” Cole said. “The art department is small enough that I’ve been given a lot of opportunities that I might not have had, and I’ve received a lot of personalized attention. I’ve been able to develop personal relationships with the faculty. Being around them all the time has created more time to learn.”

She concluded, “I definitely value the education I’ve received at Monmouth. I believe the liberal arts idea is very important.”