Dream Rocket: Professorship taken to new heights outside of classroom

Learning through collaboration in the community is central to art education, and Jennifer Marsh, the Catron visiting professor of art, is working to make that a focus of her professorship.

The Catron Visiting Professor of art, established by James and Norene Ketcherside, allows the Art Department at Washburn University to bring in a different professor every one to three years to teach students, work with the Mulvane Art Museum, and also work in the community. The hopes for the professorship are to expand art education at Washburn as well as in the city and state.

“The professorship is so important,” said Glenda Taylor, professor and chair of the Art Department. “It allows us to bring in new ideas, new media, and typically the position is filled by someone who has recently graduated from a master’s fine arts program, so it allows us to have a fresh perspective from someone who is right out of their graduate work.”

For the endowed professorship, each person to take on the position gets to decide how they are going to work with the community. Marsh, who started her visiting professorship at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, will continue to work on her Dream Rocket project which she started a few years ago. The project is a large-scale collaborative fiber wrap, consisting of more than 6,000 fiber panels decorated by students, teachers, veterans, seniors, and any other person with a message. The panels will be connected to wrap the Saturn V moon rocket in 2014.

Through the Mulvane Art Museum, Marsh is connecting with schools to have students work on panels with the theme “Dare to Dream,” and Marsh hopes students will decorate their panels with their hopes for the future. Marsh then schedules shows around the country to display the panels.

“Participants are excited because they interact and watch their art work travel around America,” said Marsh. “I do whatever I can to schedule a show in a little community so they can see their artwork on display with other’s artwork.”

The project – from encouraging people to participate and submit work, to gathering the panels and figuring out how much time and materials it will take to connect all of the panels together - requires people from all disciplines, and Marsh thinks a university is the perfect place to find people to help.

It’s professors like Marsh, who create opportunities for students, that Taylor said are invaluable to the university and the student’s educational experience.

“I just can’t say enough about how much the professorship has added to our department and the whole concept of art moving into community,” said Taylor, who really appreciates the Ketcherside family for establishing the professorship. “All of our Catron professors, except one, have remained in Kansas and have become a part of the Kansas arts culture.”


A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Bell Tower