Exhibitions from the Archives

A living history

In 2010, Skowhegan began researching more than 200 artworks in our archive. Encompassing the entirety of our history, the archive is a survey of American art—its trends, concerns, materials, movements, and techniques. In summer 2012, Skowhegan opened two exhibitions, one on campus and one in downtown Skowhegan, advertised by the poster pictured below, and featuring a painting of Skowhegan’s original barn by John Udvardy (A ’57), completed when he was a participant. What follows is an email exchange between John and Sarah Workneh that illustrates the importance of the archive as a living history that both captures a moment in time, and has far reaching connections and a life beyond its moment.

Poster designed by Nataliya Slinko announcing one of two exhibitions of works from the Skowhegan Archives & featuring the work of John Udvardy.

Poster designed by Nataliya Slinko announcing one of two exhibitions of works from the Skowhegan Archives & featuring the work of John Udvardy.

On Sep 11, 2012, at 12:18 PM, Sarah Workneh wrote:

Dear John,

I am one of the co-Directors at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. I came to Skowhegan in 2010 and in my time there, we have spent considerable time going through the artworks on campus in Maine. We have identified a really beautiful painting of the old Fresco Barn that you made while on campus in 1957. Over the summer, while the program was in session, we curated a small show of works in the collection to show in the town of Skowhegan, as a way to demystify what we do on campus and to link our history to the area. We made the attached poster for the event, featuring your work. While the initial poster was used in town over the course of 2 days, we would now like to use an image of the poster in our upcoming newsletter (4,100 copies). Before we print on such a large scale I wanted to check with you to see if that is okay with you. It is such a remarkable piece, and a really amazing representation of such an important historical space on campus.

This summer I pulled the painting out of the racks to show two curators from the Colby College Museum of Art. Because it is so large and delicate, I didn’t want to put it back without help, so I left it leaning against the racks in the archive. The next day, I was touring Arlene Shechet, who had just arrived as a Visiting Faculty member, around campus. She stopped to look more closely at your piece which was still out from the day before, and was so excited and a little in shock that it was yours! Completely unexpected, and from what I understand you two had lost touch until fairly recently when you wrote a letter to her. Synchronicity!

Let me know what you think... and thank you!

Sarah Workneh

On Sep 11, 2012, at 4:45 PM, John Udvardy wrote:

Dear Sarah Workneh,

What a wonderful surprise for me when I opened your letter! As soon as I saw even a small portion of this work—I said to myself OMG that looks exactly like something I might have done!

When I saw my name on it, the deja vu and the wonderful sweet memories of it all came flooding back in on me! Believe it or not, but I can almost remember every brush stoke that I made on that piece and recall the wonderful smells and air of that barn. What great times and memories I have of my mind opening experiences and training I encountered during that precious summer time at Skowhegan.

Sarah you need not even ask—Of course you may use the work however you wish.

I am touched and deeply honored that you wish to extend its life further in this important way, and thank you!

If you could be so kind, I would greatly appreciate it if you could please send me a couple of the posters which you had made, and I am on your mailing list. But a few extra Newsletters would be appreciated! Thank you.

If you see Arlene Shechet again please give her my love and best wishes and congratulations on being there. She is the best! In an interesting way, with Arlene being there it almost completes another circle for me.

Thank you very much Sarah, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am.

With warm regards,
John Udvardy


Down the Rabbit Hole

By Katie Sonnenborn

I can’t say exactly when or how Skowhegan secured itself in my mind as a principal force in the art world. Over many years studying art history and then working at Dia Art Foundation, I came to understand Skowhegan as a place where new art practices emerged, relationships were forged, and artists experienced something entirely unique and important that in turn had a profound impact on the trajectories of contemporary artmaking. I sensed that time spent at Skowhegan had an over-sized impact on those who attended, and—though I am not an artist—had an intuition that I wanted, and would find, a relationship to the School.

For those reasons and more, I was immediately intrigued when approached about the prospect of becoming one of Skowhegan’s Directors. Coming from Dia, a philosophically resonant and similarly mythic institution that works with a few artists in-depth, I was tantalized by the prospect of supporting the diversity of artists who are part of Skowhegan’s expansive community. Moreover, Skowhegan’s structural complexity—dual Directors, dual boards, a Maine program, a New York office—was clearly not a simple route, but from the outside suggested a fundamental commitment to structuring the organization in a way that would best ensure its continued success: a plurality of voices, experiences, and contexts would necessarily inform its future.

One suspects a job will be a good fit when ideas start flowing during preliminary discussions, and as Sarah and I began to quietly brainstorm, I found myself spiraling down the rabbit hole before I’d even begun. Little did I know the truly complex universe I was entering into. The last seven months have been inspiring, chaotic, challenging, and fun. I inherited a multi-year strategic and organizational plan that proved an invaluable opportunity for deep reflection and study of virtually every aspect of the institution, as well as an indispensable introduction to the abilities and ambitions of Skowhegan’s staff, boards, and alumni.

Several major archival initiatives are underway, and this summer I immersed myself in Skowhegan’s history. The physicality of the campus experience and the legacy of those who have spent time in Maine is everywhere in this organization, and yet each summer is new and each group redefines what Skowhegan “is.” Our Oral History project demonstrates that a dynamic tension of past-present-future has always been at play in Skowhegan; so too do the artworks that have accumulated over nearly seven decades that we are beginning to catalogue, study, and share. I am eager to see how these projects unfold, and how they help locate Skowhegan’s story within the larger history of post-war and contemporary art.

Time on campus secured my conviction that Skowhegan’s unique governance structure enables it to identify and support some of the great artists of our time— international,  intergenerational, innovative, enthusiastic. Time off-campus confirms my suspicion that Skowhegan’s tentacles reach much further than a nine-week program would suggest, and that the conversations, events, installations, and publications created between September and May serve a vital purpose in contemporary art and culture. I appreciate the generous and warm welcome that this community has given me, and look forward to continuing to work together.


Oral History Project

“Skowhegan is a Xanadu, or Shangri-la in a way, in my consciousness.”
—Bill King

In 2010, Skowhegan began an oral history project that would document and shed light on key moments in our 66-year history, as well as complement the Lecture Archive that now features talks by over 600 faculty artists, dating to 1952. Through in-depth interviews with instrumental members of the community, oral historian Liza Zapol is capturing critical reminiscences and anecdotes ranging from Skowhegan’s genesis and nascent years, to its influence in, and relationships with, the broader art world. Beginning in summer 2013, Oral Histories will be accessible on campus alongside the Lecture Archive.

Initial support for this project has been generously provided by the H. King and Jean Cummings Charitable Trust of the Maine Community Foundation.

  1. Former Governor, Bill King, interviewed September 14, 2011, East Hampton, NY

  2. Artist Barbara Sussman, interviewed November 10, 2011, Hoosick Falls, NY

  3. Founding family member Muriel Palmer, interviewed November 11, 2011, North Bennington, VT

  4. Fresco Instructor Sidney Hurwitz, interviewed November 14, 2011, Boston, MA

  5. Artist Penelope Jencks, interviewed November 14, 2011, Newton, MA

  6. Former Governor Lois Dodd, interviewed December 1, 2011, New York City

  7. Former Trustee and Governor, Alex Katz, interviewed December 8, 2011, New York City

  8. Trustee Mildred Brinn, interviewed December 9, 2011, New York City

  9. Governor Daphne Cummings, interviewed January 23, 2012, New York City

  10. Former Trustee and Governor David Driskell, interviewed February 9, 2012, Hyattsville, MD

  11. Former Governor Brice Marden, interviewed April 17, 2012, New York City

  12. Former Director Barbara Lapcek, interviewed May 17, 2012, New York City

  13. Trustee Warren Cook, interviewed July 22, 2012, Skowhegan, ME

  14. Artist Abby Shahn, interviewed July 23, 2012, Solon, ME

  15. Artist Ashley Bryan, interviewed July 25, 2012, Little Cranberry Island, ME

The Path and the Flash

A Conversation with Paul Pfeiffer

Sarah Workneh sat down with Paul for a quick chat, a kebab, and an unexpected exploding bottle of water.

During your summer as faculty at Skowhegan I noticed you had a particular way of asking questions at lectures—you seemed to start someplace very far from the point, going down this winding path of seemingly unrelated build up, and then finally—the question and the entire track becomes clear and seems absolutely necessary.

Do you think this is representative of your process of making as well?

It might seem like a needlessly circuitous route to get to the point but I’m retracing my own mental steps, connecting the dots between observations leading to an insight or question. I guess this reveals something about my approach to the creative process. The first step is about gathering information. I enjoy the process of gathering. I think I can be a good listener or reader. To me it’s an exercise in focused attention. In the process of listening or reading or looking, mental images begin to form in my head. I associate the moment of insight with visual thinking because flashes of inspiration come to me in the form of mental images. I don’t mean to say that that’s all there is to the creative process. Just that it starts there. The more difficult part is often finding a way to give physical form to the mental image.

You have been traveling since 2010. Were you working towards some specific works?

I was between the Philippines, Berlin, Hawaii, where my mother lives, and New York. In the

Philippines, I was working on a project inspired by a 1974 video by Richard Serra and Nancy Holt titled Boomerang. Similar to Live from Neverland and The Saints, I worked with a group of people in the Philippines—this time employees from call centers—to re-enact Boomerang as a chorus, the echo effect coming from their overlapping voices. Travel

is part of the accumulation of information that somehow filters into the work, which is taking place simultaneously even though I might not

know where it will wind up. It, of course, involves my own personal relationship to the Philippines, and my mother who is a choir director.

Are you letting the ideas behind the work and the research dictate how the piece ultimately is realized? Are you okay with the accidents that happen when things aren’t totally planned out?

The Boomerang piece has been a long process and quite difficult to orchestrate. In the end it may exist only as a sound piece, no video, no installation. I think the “accidents” help to define the final form.

I always enjoy how precisely edited your work is—there’s a real economy of moves, which somehow seems counter-intuitive to this accumulation and to the acceptance of accidents. How do you decide how much information to give the viewer?

It’s a process of condensing things down to what’s essential. Ultimately the piece has to be convincing enough to stimulate the viewer’s interest. You can’t force a relationship to develop. In the end the viewer has to want to meet the work half way. When a work is successful, I’ve created enough visual context to help viewers find their own way into it, and when it isn’t, maybe I’ve suppressed too much, or maybe given away too much.

I remember at Skowhegan you barely spoke during your lecture, you just showed images. But then you answered a lot of questions after. That reminds me of the conversation we had the other day with Walead Beshty regarding the benefit print project you’re working on for Skowhegan.

We were discussing how there’s more to an object than its physical attributes. Objects can also be symbols of exchange. A benefit print edition, for example, is meant to function as art object—that’s one kind of exchange— and it also has a particular role to play in bringing a group of funders together to raise money. That’s another kind of exchange. In a way it’s meant to function pragmatically, like a handshake. It’s an agreement of support between the artist, the buyer, and the beneficiary of the money raised. Walead suggested creating a benefit print that literalized the handshake in material form: a cast of the space between two hands in a handshake.

So what are you making?

I am still thinking about it. All of the stuff we talked about will inform what it is—but again, the flash comes first.