Art celebrates Oberlin women

by Michelle Chang

Although we often hear sound bytes about Oberlin's glorious and progressive history, the reality is that we really do not get exposed to it in detail very often. This weekend, visiting artist Suzanne Benton will attempt to bring elements of our distant past a little closer to us.

Benton's monoprint series, portions of which will be exhibited in Fisher Hall over the weekend, features 19th Century Women at Oberlin College. The aim of the series is to honor Oberlin pioneers in higher education for women and African-Americans.

They are names and faces you probably won't recognize, but these are the real heroines of the tradition Oberlin claims to carry on. One piece features Adelia A. Fields Johnston (OC 1856) who was the principal of the Women's Department at Oberlin from 1870 to 1900. Another will introduce you to Ida Gibbs Hunt (OC 1884), civil rights leader and co-chair with W.E.B. Du Bois of the second Pan-African Congress. Pioneers of yesterday

Benton took actual photographs from the Oberlin College Archives and integrated them into collages. The prints are beautiful paper that is both hand-painted and hand-made. Benton is not an alumnus of Oberlin, but was attracted to the rich history of activism here. In 1995, she put together a similarly inspired series on 19th century women writers and feminist activists. Her base is in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Students will have the chance to here Benton herself speak at a forum on Saturday entitled "Ways of Seeing Women: The Art, the Photos, and the Works of Nineteenth Century Oberlinians." Other speakers include Associate Professor of History Carol Lasser, historian Marlene Merrill and Oberlin College Archivist Roland Baumann.

Other pieces from the series will be on exhibit at the Fireland's Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) in Oberlin. Benton is a part of FAVA's April show entitled "Vessels: Historical/Mystical/Scientific," which also features two other artists. After the exhibition in Fisher, her pieces will continue their exhibition in Mudd library.

The past seems to drive so much of this college's mentality and yet we are actually quite disconnected from our roots. This is a rare opportunity to explore our history through a creative lens, giving us a more intimate portrait than perhaps any history books can offer. It is a chance to become more informed about a legacy we often boast about, but do not often take the time to revere with the proper respect and thoughtfulness.

Suzanne Benton's monoprints will be on exhibit in Fisher Hall from Apr. 4 to 5. The forum is on Apr. 4 in Fisher Hall from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m FAVA's April show opens Apr. 5 and continues through Apr. 30. All exhibits are free.

Pioneers of Yesteryear: 19th Century Oberlin women are honored in the prints of Suzanne Benton (photo courtesy of FAVA)


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Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 19, April 3, 1998

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