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Behind the scenes with the co-curators: “Sincerely Yours,” the Class of 2021 exhibition

Part II of II

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Five members of the Class of 2021 were selected for a special opportunity to co-curate the senior exhibition. Nicole Denzler, Photography & Video; Mandi Hall, Fine Art; Alexis Lebesco, Illustration; Regina Marie Mehaffey, Graphic Design; and Rachel Stork, Fine Art. These students were selected out of a pool of applicants for a competitive position within the Gallery as part of an exhibition and curating internship. 

Charged with designing and installing an exhibition that represented and showcased every one of their classmates, where did they begin? What dictated their choices? And what do they hope the end result, “Sincerely Yours,” tells the world about this resilient, perseverant, tenacious, tired, and determined Class of 2021?

How does the placement contribute to the meaning behind the artworks?

Nicole Denzler: You can’t stick art wherever and expect the setup to look right. There are steps and layouts you have to go through to let the art flow together. 

Alexis Lebesco: When we first started to dabble in layout, we came together as a group and began making our own layouts that we then mashed together to come up with a preliminary layout. For gallery 3, since we wanted to keep the “vintage store” feel, or “mall”, we decided to group artworks by category as a store would merchandise its items. Books with books, fabrics together, and small items together. Then we let the color speak for itself to flow together well. In the first floor gallery, we decided to just let the colors do their thing and how an artistic flow through vibrancy and temperature of color. We wanted everything to feel at home and purposeful: The movies go to the theater and the merchandisable works go to the mall. The bottom gallery is a home for these beautiful big pieces of artwork for the beautiful big room we have. 

Rachel Stork: It was interesting finding so many color connections and complements I didn’t expect. We were able to find aesthetics that made sense and rhythms between works as we planned it all out. 

Are there any concepts you hope to convey? Did you find common threads throughout the artworks of your classmates? Did you choose to arrange the works in these threads?

Mandi Hall: The biggest thing I wish to convey is the theme of our exhibition. I feel as a team we have been very committed to creating an environment that feels nostalgic along with a more modern take on the original ideals of a gallery. In each department there are visible threads throughout the work, creating a natural division in the work to be appropriately placed in the gallery most fitting to the work and our theme. This was decided on color patterns as well as mediums used. 

Nicole Denzler: There were a couple of art pieces that had cooler tones and others that were very loud, so that was helpful. 

Regina Mehaffey It was difficult to find a thematic consistency when there were 58 very different artworks. We figured it would make more sense to group pieces together based on what type of work or medium it was instead of basing it on subject matter. This led to the idea of the “mall” and “theater” sections of the gallery.  

 

Sincerely Yours branding by Kelly Phan '22, Graphic Design

“Sincerely Yours,” branding by Kelly Phan ’22, Graphic Design.

How do the arrangement and presentation support the artwork connections you found?

Mandi Hall:  Once finding similarities in the work based on color patterns and mediums, it became easy to start placing the work and creating an environment that resembled the infamous ’80s mall vibe. We wanted to create an interactive environment that felt familiar and light, and by dividing the work by mediums and color it allowed us to create that environment around the work to emphasize it and not to outweigh it. 

Rachel Stork:  We made sure our accents would play with the right colors in the pieces they would be around. A lot of it was about trying things and seeing if they felt right. We spent a lot of time making sure we all felt each wall was right and gave the seniors on it their moment.

Nicole Denzler: We chose to have the bigger paintings up higher so people would have to look up and the louder or smaller pieces were placed for eye level. You can’t have a loud piece disappear in the ceiling of the gallery, same with smaller pieces. You want them to maintain their power at eye level.  

What do you intend the viewer of this exhibition to experience?

Regina Mehaffey We wanted to give a nostalgic feeling of “better times.” I think we can all agree we are sick of hearing about COVID by now, so we wanted to make this a fun experience that could help viewers forget about the state of the world for a while. 

Nicole Denzler: I hope for them to experience the artworks themselves, but but also the experience we crafted for the audience with our ’80s theme. 

Alexis Lebesco: With this year being so dark in the beginning but with a growing light shining forward, we wanted to begin to bring people together and also bring nostalgia and happiness into the artwork and experience. This exhibition is meant to be walked through in every aspect, there is not one wall that is empty, even the stairs have artwork to be seen. We wanted people to walk through and feel happy, to embrace the bright colors and enjoy the artwork but also look at the galleries as art pieces themselves. 

How did you find working with a team of curators from different disciplines?

Regina Mehaffey I personally loved it. One of my favorite experiences at PCAD is the interactions I got to have with other creatives. I’ve always found it extremely interesting how differently we think across each major; even the terminology we use is different. I think it helped immensely with the exhibition being creatively interesting, while also having it be laid out in a cohesive way.  

Did you find being a part of the Class of 2021 a benefit in curating this exhibit? Can you elaborate on the advantages you may have found?

Regina Mehaffey Absolutely! Again, it’s all about knowing how hard we’ve all worked in such an uncertain time. The empathy we shared made us work so hard to try to make this the best showcase of our four years at PCA&D even if this isn’t exactly how we hoped it would go. 

Alexis Lebesco: Absolutely, being a part of the class helped us connect better with the students to help display their artwork in the best way possible. As a part of the Illustration class graduates, it was easier to have me connect with them through email and every class. Since I was comfortable with everyone and everyone knew me, there was an unspoken level of trust between us that we both knew this show was going to be amazing for everyone. 

Mandi Hall: I think the biggest benefit was the fact that we all felt the same amount of pressure to pick one piece of artwork that represented us as an artist throughout a very uncertain time. I think that experience alone helped us really come together as a class and helped us as curators push so hard to create an exhibition that emphasized the importance of each artist’s intentions.  

Rachel Stork:  Definitely. While I by no means can predict what all of the Class of 2021 wants, I can at least gauge what I think the students I’ve grown with and known for these past couple of years might hate or love. We have the advantage of having our ears close to the source so we can create something the class would enjoy.

How is being an artist in the exhibit a challenge?

Regina Mehaffey: I think the hardest part was each of us wanting to make sure each of our peers got their time to shine in this exhibition. We know how hard each of us has worked and we didn’t want anyone to feel like their work didn’t get the attention it deserved. 

What do you think is the strongest aspect of this exhibition?

Alexis Lebesco: The unity of the entire exhibition. Since we were a team that worked so well together, it really shows in how we brought the exhibition together. We killed this exhibition and each and every one of us had a part in it. We thought every part of the exhibition all the way down to the pillars. 

Regina Mehaffey I’d like to think how engaging the exhibition would be its strongest aspect. We tried really hard to make being in the gallery itself an entertaining experience while still making sure it was all about the pieces in the exhibit.

Do you have a message to provide the world with to understand better the creatives in your cohort in the Class of 2021? 

Mandi Hall:  Dear world, as artists we are constantly finding new ways to express the things we feel and others feel. The class of 2021 came together and found a way to showcase our differences through uncertain times and overcame the obstacles placed on our paths. We may all work in different ways or mediums but we all came together to create, really representing how resilient we are as humans. Class of 2021 persevered and we came out stronger!

Regina Mehaffey  I just hope they understand how hard we’ve worked this year. We’ve gone without a lot of “lasts” that I think many of us were hoping to have our senior year. Trying to be creative every day in the midst of a global pandemic is not the easiest task. It’s why we as curators felt so strongly about our show’s title. Yes, we are strong and persevered, but we are also tired. 

Rachel Stork: There was so much passion and work that went into this. We really wanted to make this was above and beyond and I know we would’ve gone even further with more time on our hands. I hope the world can tell how much we care about making sure the seniors got the exhibition they deserve.

Alexis Lebesco: This year’s graduation class is a class that is tired but resilient. We have seen the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, learned how to live with it, and then learned how to overcome it, all within a year. We are eager to show what talents we have to bring to the table and we will show every single person that we can. We have poured tears, happiness, and love into our artwork and into each other. This year was a year of learning how to not be so close, but we are still close. We are still here and we just want the world to hear us, even with our masks on.

ABOUT THE CO-CURATORS 

Nicole Denzler

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, b. 1999

Photography & Video, BFA & Art History Minor

Influenced by Gregory Crewdson and Erwin Olaf, portrait and fashion photographer Nicole Denzler incorporates cinematic lighting and narrative to add dramatic layers to her work. After growing up in an environment that was unsupportive of women, Denzler focused her senior thesis project on showcasing the beauty of strong women through her craft. During her time at PCA&D, she represented the Photography & Video Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior exhibition in the Main Gallery, completed a mentorship with photographer Bobby Sax, participated in Lux, and exhibited her work at the Lancaster Museum of Art. Following graduation, she plans to continue building her photography business.  

Photo of Nicole Denzler by Brianna Linwood

 

Mandi Hall

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, b. 1998

Fine Art, BFA & Art History Minor

Mandi Hall uses heirlooms, fibers, and vintage elements to excavate the past. Using oils to explore portraiture and fabric to create installations, much of Hall’s work intertwines family and tradition, often employing feminist themes. For her senior thesis project, Hall created installations using furniture and textiles to explore the way traditions are sewn into generations. During her time at PCA&D, Hall was a Curatorial Board Member of the PCA&D CORE Gallery (where she also served as treasurer), and she was a co-curator for the senior exhibition in the Main Gallery. She exhibited at the Lancaster Museum of Art and CORE Gallery, where she also participated in Artist Talks and Panel Discussions. 

Photo of Mandi Hall by Nicole Denzler

 

Alexis Lebesco

Levittown, Pennsylvania, b. 1999

Illustration, BFA

From patterns, to logos, to book illustrations, Alexis Lebesco’s work is moody in a comforting way. Working primarily in digital media, she also enjoys oil and acrylic paints and graphite. Her senior thesis project consists of four pattern collections, an online shop, and DIY embroidery kits. During her time at PCA&D, Lebesco represented the Illustration Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior Exhibition in the Main Gallery and completed a mentorship with artist Kayla Bryer. Following graduation, she plans to work in licensing and surface design.

Photo of Alexis Lebesco by Nicole Denzler

 

Regina Marie Mehaffey  

Ephrata, Pennsylvania, b. 1998

Graphic Design, BFA & Art History Minor

Graphic designer Regina Marie Mehaffey draws inspiration from Grunge and Gothic styles. Her work features organic patterns, textures, and shapes along with monochromatic and undiluted color schemes. Mehaffey’s senior thesis project is branding for a comedy club that teaches young adults the craft of humor. During her time at PCA&D, she represented the Graphic Design Department as co-curator for the 2021 Senior Exhibition in the Main Gallery and served as treasurer for the local American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Chapter. Mehaffey completed an internship with A Frame of Mind, helping them to redesign their website. Following graduation, she plans to go into the packaging design and advertising industry. 

Photo of Regina Marie Mehaffey by Nicole Denzler

 

Rachel Stork

Christiana, Pennsylvania, b. 1996

Fine Art, BFA

Working with oils, cut-paper, and other multimedia materials, Stork’s work explores the human experience through the representation of figures and existential concepts. Her senior thesis project explores the many facets and irrationalities of love. During her time at PCA&D, Stork was the inaugural recipient of the PCA&D Mary Colleen Heil Presidential Scholarship, exhibited work at the Lancaster Museum of Art, and served as secretary of the PCA&D CORE Gallery’s Curatorial Board, where she organized dynamic exhibitions and programming. 

Photo of Rachel Stork by Nicole Denzler

Sincerely Yours, The Resilient, The Perseverant, The Tenacious, The Tired, & The Determined is on display at the Main Gallery at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, 204 N. Prince St., Lancaster, on Gallery Row through July 17, 2021. Reservations to visit the exhibit in person are required and can be made online. And for those who are unable to visit the campus, the exhibition is also available online at PCAD.edu/Gallery. 

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