The Nanovic Institute's European Internship and Service Grant is awarded for a variety of undergraduate opportunities, but not often for an artist-in-residence position in Wales. That, however, is exactly what Alexandria Williamson wanted to do with her summer! Alexandria ('16), a Studio Art major, spent seven weeks in an artist-in-residence community called Stiwdio Maelor in North Wales. In doing so, she learned more than she might have expected. Read all about her experience:
As a studio art major with a concentration in photography, I have been exposed through my coursework and through personal research to a wide array of photographers practicing in the commercial and artistic spheres. In the fall of last year, I decided that I ultimately want to utilize my knowledge of the photographic medium as a practicing studio artist. I hoped to utilize the summer months to work towards this career goal. From my professors, instructors, and graduate students in the art department, I have received a wealth of advice regarding how one can establish themselves in the arts. One of my instructors recommended that I seek out artist-in-residence programs. I was able to find a residency in North Wales that accepted me and offered me a seven-week position as an artist-in-residence. Without the aid of the European Internship and Service Grant, I would never have been able to accept this position.
Alexandria Williamson setting up an image (above), and the final image (below)
The artist-in-residence community into which I was accepted is called Stiwdio Maelor, located in a small town in North Wales called Corris. “Stiwdio” is Welsh for “studio.” The building in which the residency was housed is historically important to the town because it used to function not only as a place of residence but as one of the town's major stores: Maelor Stores. Most of the people whom I spoke to in Corris had fond memories of shopping at Maelor and of the family that lived in the building and maintained the storefront. I spent the majority of my time in Wales at Stiwdio Maelor, working on my art and my ideas for the coming academic year. A few weeks into my stay, Stiwdio Maelor hosted a photographic and filmic competition. We had an exhibition of prints as well as a short-film viewing. In conjunction with the print exhibition, I showed a selection of my work, images I had created during the past spring semester. This was my first ever exhibition. Not only was this an important professional experience for me, it was a great learning opportunity. I had to consider how I wanted people to interact with my work in order to determine what I wanted to show and how to set up my exhibition space. Furthermore, because I was present at the exhibition, I was able to speak with people about my work. I think it is important as an artist to consider how everyone will interact with your ideas, and this was my first opportunity to show my work to an audience that was mostly non-artists.
Because Corris was largely residential, people from the town as well as the other artists-in-residence visited surrounding towns for supplies. Each Wednesday, there was a market in a nearby town called Machynlleth. Following the lead of most of the townspeople, I took up the practice of going into Machynlleth for market days on Wednesdays. Further away, at about a forty minute drive through the countryside was the university city of Aberystwyth. The coordinator of Stiwdio Maelor is in the process of attaining her doctorate in printmaking at the University of Aberystwyth, so I was able to attend many of its art events. Early in my stay, I saw an exhibition of the National Portrait Gallery’s: BP Portrait Award 2014. The BP Portrait award is a prestigious international portrait painting competition. I was also able to attend an exhibition of the work from the graduating classes of undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students from Aberystwyth University. I was quite impressed by the ambition and the caliber of work produced by all of the students matriculating from the program in Aberystwyth. Finally, I was able to attend an art-talk given by one of my dear friends from the residency program at the Old College of the University of Aberystwyth. I found that after living and working with many of the artists at Maelor, I felt a strong camaraderie with them. It was wonderful to hear this artist talk about the trajectory of her artistic practice and the conceptual underpinnings of her work.
Original artwork by Alexandria Williamson
The entire residency experience was a wonderful opportunity for me to make connections with artists. I often showed my portfolio to the other residents at Maelor, and many of them offered constructive feedback. Their perspectives were interesting to me, because they were different from those from which many university students and professors would approach my work. Furthermore, I met only two other photographers during my entire stay. This meant that people were coming at my work from very different technical backgrounds than my own. I found that we had discussions that were focused on the thoughts behind my work, and speaking with them was a wonderful opportunity for me to articulate and discuss my ideas. From the other artists, I not only received great feedback, but further insight into the diverse range of ways in which someone can maintain a successful artistic practice. Many of artists who stayed at Maelor were from non-academic backgrounds. They had completed their graduate degrees, but their artistic practices existed outside of a university system.
My stay in Corris, Wales was an incredible learning experience. Because I was traveling on my own, I had the opportunity to really connect with the other artists in my residency program and the residents of Corris. Living and working in a new community with a culture different from that which I have become accustomed to offered a unique challenge. I believe having undertaken this challenge will help me navigate the difficult transitions I have to come: graduating from the University of Notre Dame and seeking out graduate programs and a new artistic community. Placing myself in a new environment and challenging myself to work independently has helped me become more confident in my artistic ideas and more steadfast in seeing them through to their full potential.