The academic year may have ended, but campus was still abuzz with activity the last week of May when H.W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Art Sheldon Tapley hosted his annual Art Camp at the Jones Visual Arts Center.
Designed for current undergraduates, alumni, and professional artists invited by Tapley, the camp is an intensive session of figure drawing from life. Attendees draw or paint for six hours per day for four days in a row, generating a substantial amount of work in a very short period of time.
The camp grew out of Tapley’s desire to provide working artists with an opportunity they may not have otherwise.
“Many artists love to work from the figure, but they don’t always have the opportunity due to issues of cost, scheduling and space,” Tapley says. “I decided to invite artists from around the country to Centre’s studios and provide them with models.”
Tapley hosted his first camp in 2006. The camp has been held annually since 2008, with the number of attendees steadily growing. This year it reached the limit of its capacity.
Participants this year included current Centre students, recent and older Centre alumni, and professional artists—including ten university faculty members—who represented thirteen different states. Several of the artists have been represented by galleries in New York, London, and Berlin. This unique mixture of high-caliber artists provides everyone with an unparalleled networking and educational opportunity. For many Centre students, this is a rare opportunity to work alongside professional artists and gain access to a vital career network.
“The camp is a great opportunity to get to know other people in the profession,” says Tapley. “It’s particularly useful for the younger members of the group who are just starting a career.”
Tapley stresses that, though the camp provides a unique learning experience, it is not a formal workshop or seminar. The informal nature of the camp allows each artist the freedom to explore his or her own particular interest or style. As a result, a wide range of work is on display at the closing reception.
Not only does Art Camp provide a unique educational and career-building experience for Centre students and alumni, it also highlights the deep commitment Centre faculty members have to their students and their work.
“I have the pleasure of seeing my former students return here and strengthen their bond with the Art Program and with Centre College,” Tapley explains.
One such former student is Emil Robinson ’03, who has attended every Art Camp ever hosted by Tapley. His devotion to the experience ultimately stems from what he describes as “the power Sheldon has as a teacher—the warmth he exudes, the welcoming feeling he has. It makes you feel devoted to the experience.
“Centre kind of does that in general,” he adds. “You feel like you owe something to a place which has given you so much.”
Robinson is a professional artist who exhibits nationally and internationally, most recently presenting a solo exhibition in London, England. For Robinson as a professional, the camp provides an unparalleled work environment.
“Art-making requires sustained engagement that’s really rewarding,” he explains. “Art Camp gives you a booster shot of that sort of experience. You can reach a point of energy and concentration that’s pretty rare. I love being able to focus on my work so intensely.
“There isn’t anywhere else in the country that provides this sort of an environment and opportunity,” he continues. “There are plenty of schools that have serious drawing programs that reach out to their alumni, but Sheldon has created a unique opportunity for those of us privileged enough to be invited to come and work.”
In particular, Robinson appreciates the unstructured time and the available resources.
“When I’m there, sometimes it feels like I’m in my own private studio and can work with a particular model to get the pose I want. It’s part of the genius of Sheldon’s system—he invites a handful of really serious artists and he hires enough models that each of us can engage directly with one if we want to.”
Robinson’s praise of the camp continually returns to Tapley’s qualities as a professor and a friend.
“Sheldon is one of the most generous and supportive people that I can think of,” he says. “When I graduated, he was so supportive, and he’s been extra supportive ever since. Through his generous spirit and intelligence, he’s created a network of artists by continually reaching out to alumni.
“He’s really something special,” Robinson adds. “His camp is something you can’t even imagine unless you’ve been a part of it.”
By Mariel Smith