Using Words as Mirrors — Book and Letterpress Class Helps Explore Identity

Ben Blount

Laurie Laker ’12

“My work explores questions of race and identity, and the stories we tell ourselves about living in America,” explains Ben Blount, the Detroit native designer and letterpress printer, as well as visiting professor for his Block 6 class, Book and Book Structure.

Born and raised it the Motor City, Blount studied graphic design at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After college, he worked as a designer for several years before returning to school.

“I’d always had an interest in design, typography, and books as a form, and I took an evening class at Columbia College Chicago to learn how to use a printing press,” recalls Blount. Columbia College Chicago is a college that specializes in arts and media disciplines across all areas of creative expression, and it was only when Blount started those evening classes that he learned of full-time graduate program there, and that his path in life had to change slightly.

“I’d been on my way to design school, but that evening class made me switch gears. I refocused, worked towards and received an MFA in Book and Paper Arts,” he says.

“What really attracted me to it was the tactile nature of the craft, how interactive it could be. I loved manipulating type! It’s also really cool just how much everyday language comes from printing; mind your p’s and q’s, out of sorts, hot off the press, make an impression – all these phrases have their origins in print work, so it’s a really impactful medium of work,” he says.

Now based in Chicago, Blount has a “day job” as an Art Director for an advertising agency in the Windy City, and still finds time to devote to his socially conscious printing and letterpress work.

His design is all client-based work, and Blount strives to maintain an emotional, meaningful lens to all his work,

“The printing work, and my ad work, it all comes from something emotional. It’s all about finding and expressing something more meaningful, even if it’s someone else’s work that you’re putting your own spin on, as I do for my day job,” he says.

“People get into this for all sorts of reasons,” he says. “Some are interested in design and art, others like making things or problem solving. You can get into it through an interest in typography, as I did, or you can have an interest in printmaking, it really varies.”

His Block 6 class at CC was his first time ever teaching undergraduate students, and Blount arrived at CC not quite knowing what to expect.

“It was a really great experience, I loved it,” he says. “I had a wide variety of students, from a few senior art majors who already had they had been introduced to printing, but I wouldn’t say they could print to an English major who brought their writing and poetry into the letterpress work. Everyone brought something to the table, and they all came with a level of responsibility and competency that was really encouraging.”

The Press at Colorado College, now in its 41st year since being established in 1978, has two full-sized printing presses, a composing and drafting room, and a huge variety of type options, materials, and inspirational pieces for students to draw upon.

The time pressures of a class on the Block Plan are unique for every area of study, but with artistic expression and creativity, there’s a particular emphasis on being pushed for time.

“Nobody lagged,” jokes Blount. “All the students were pretty conscientious with their work, but also brave – they’d try more difficult things than necessary to finish their assignments! Letterpress work takes years to master, and they were trying difficult and creatively cool things with asmallwindow of hours, it was inspiring.”

Some figures and artists of inspiration to Blount include master printer Amos Kennedy, who taught a Dynamic Half-Block at the college this January called Slinging Ink.

“Amos Kennedy visited my class in graduate school, and my work took a real turn after I talked with him,” recalls Blount.

“I also took a huge amount of inspiration from Audrey Niffenegger while at Columbia College Chicago,” Blount says. Niffenegger co-founded the Center for the Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago, and works as both an academic and an artist across printing, as well as an author, best known for her 2009 novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Music plays an important role in Blount’s life and work, as well.

“I’m a huge hip-hop head,” he says. “Their wordplay, how they tell stories, the constant references to the past and retellings, that’s what I try to do visually, too. MC’s like Mos Def and Black Thought, they’re geniuses!”

Blount’s own work deals with identity, race, and culture, “I’m trying to have a conversation with the viewer,” he explains.

“I’m not using print work as a confrontation option, but a conversational one, trying to represent and explore topics visually that may be uncomfortable for some people verbally.”

Of particular interest and focus for Blount at the moment is the work of “exploring and solving problems around white supremacy,” he says. “The issue is, it’s really hard to move forward linguistically because we’re not all coming to this conversation with the same language basis, which is where the visual element of print can be useful, I hope.”

The focus of Blount’s work coincided with the release of the initial report from the college’s external review on racism and anti-racism, conducted by Dr. Roger Worthington and colleagues from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education at the University of Maryland.

“The Worthington report inspired a lot of the work I did while at CC,” Blount says. “Anti-racism seems a step beyond the normal diversity and inclusioninitiatives you see at a larger organization, which was encouraging. I tried to figure out what I could pull from the report, from being on campus around the students, and events of the day with speakers like Shaun King and others.”

Immersing himself in the life of the college was of paramount importance to Blount, and this included a presentation on art, race, and identity called “See Something Say Something in the Tutt Library Event Space in February.

“CC is an amazing place,” he recalls. “It was important to me that I got involved as a member of the community.”

“The press is very cool. It’s really great to see people of all majors from across the community come through the press, utilizing the space and people like Aaron Cohick as resources, not simply art majors. It’s a real community, and I loved being a part of it.”

Anna Lang ’19 Competes in Equestrian Nationals

By Ritik Shrestha ’22

Among the many successes of CC athletics this year, the achievements of the equestrian team might fly under the radar. During this season, Anna Lang ’19 qualified for the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association national tournament which took place May 2, at the New York State Fairgrounds.

Starting at the age of seven, Lang’s love for horses (and living in close proximity to a barn) made riding a natural fit. This isn’t to say that the process was easy as Lang juggled classwork and other responsibilities while also practicing at least twice a week. Using what she worked on in her lessons, Lang then had a grueling schedule of seven shows where competed for a spot in the regional tournament. She then needed to place at least first or second in the next two rounds of qualification to earn a spot to compete against the 16 best North American riders in her class.

“I haven’t had to ride as hard as I did in a very long time,” says Lang when asked about the qualification process. During nationals, the participants drew horse names out of a hat, with Lang drawing a grey gelding named Zazu. This was the first time she worked with this particular type of horse, adding to what was an already challenging experience.

While Lang did not finish in the top 10, she says that she was “extremely grateful for the opportunity and happy that she had the opportunity to go (to nationals).” When asked to sum up her season, she says she is grateful to her committed team for giving her “one of the best seasons I’ve had riding here at CC,” and she wants to give “a special thanks to my co-captain and best friend Mac Millard ’19 for supporting me over the past four years.” She also thanks her trainer, Tracy Powers “for helping me grow as a rider,” as well as her family and friends.

Professor Amy Kohout Addresses Problematic Nike Ad

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

When people think of historians, they don’t often think of marketing and advertising. Professor Amy Kohout doesn’t have experience in marketing, but she does think about how historical context is essential for successful advertising. Recently, Kohout saw a Nike trail running ad with a problematic slogan and was able to get it taken down within six hours using her Twitter network and the #twitterstorian community.

The ad, which showed up online in late March, depicted a solo runner on a bluff above the ocean with the slogan “the lost cause.” The final sentence said “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting.” Kohout explains, “the Lost Cause is a white supremacist narrative constructed by white Southerners that frames slavery and the Old South as benevolent and the war as noble; it was deployed alongside campaigns of violence and racial terror targeting black southerners in the decades following the Civil War.” Kohout then took to Twitter to share the ad and invite other historians to add context to the phrase. “Twitter creates the opportunity to reach a lot of people quickly; when I first tweeted about this, I tagged senior scholars who work on these issues and who have large Twitter followings,” she says.

Within six hours of Kohout’s original tweet, Nike and other trail running shoe retailers had wiped the ad from social media. They still debuted the trail running line without other advertising, and never issued any apology, so the story went largely unnoticed outside of the #twitterstorian community.

The Nike trail running ad is not the only time Nike and other companies have released problematic marketing campaigns, and Kohout says this is an important reason for companies to employ people with interdisciplinary backgrounds. “I think companies can’t claim to care about equity and justice and then spend money creating ads like this one… I do think that historical context is deeply important, and that this ad is an example of what can happen when folks with strong backgrounds in history and the humanities aren’t in the room,” she says.

Additionally, she explains, “I think companies — and institutions, organizations, and individuals — should do the work to understand their histories and how they might relate to our present, and to think about what it might mean to center equity and justice in the work that we do.”

More information about the ad and the response it generated can be found in the Washington Post.

 

‘Bluegrass Meets Klezmer:’ Ofer Ben-Amots, Keith Reed, and Grace Hale ’20 Join for Musical Collaboration

By Miriam Brown ’21

American Southern bluegrass and Eastern-European Jewish klezmer may seem like an unlikely musical pairing. In fact, when Professor of Music Ofer Ben-Amots first asked Grace Hale ’20to participate in a collaboration combining the musical genres, she wasn’t even sure she heard him correctly.

“He repeated himself jokingly,” Hale says. ‘Yes, Grace. [The theme] is Bluegrass Meets Klezmer. Haven’t you heard of such a thing?’”

Ben-Amots explained that he, Keith Reed, bluegrass program director,  and mandolin player Sierra Hull were collaborating for two performances: one on March 31, with the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and one on April 9, with the Walla Walla Symphony. Hull needed her song “Sunday” to be arranged for orchestra, and Ben-Amots wanted Hale to do it.

“It was like being thrown off the deep end,” Hale says, “and I was absolutely elated.”

This was the second time that the Walla Walla Symphony played Ben-Amots’ music, but Hull’s first time working with an orchestra and Hale’s first time arranging a song. Neither Hull nor Hale knew quite what to expect or how their final product would be received. They had four weeks to prepare the “Sunday” arrangement — four weeks that Hull was on tour and Hale was in Australia for Ben-Amots’ composition block. Needless to say, communication was slim, but Hale felt a sense of peace in accepting the uncertainty of how the product would be received.

The performances were so successful that they left Hale wanting to know more. Now, she is studying orchestration independently with Ben-Amots.

“It certainly showcased CC and the Music Department in a whole new light,” Ben-Amots said. “Grace Hale’s orchestral arrangement of Sierra Hull’s song ‘Sunday’ has been highly successful and an artistic breakthrough! … It’s also a wonderful message to other students: if you are bold and diligent you can get a head start and make a significant mark in the field, during your college years.”

Susan Grace Releases New Album Ahead of 2019 Summer Music Festival

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

Professor of Music Susan Grace recently released her new album, “Music by Stefan Wolpe for Two Pianos,” and performed the pieces at Steinway Hall in New York City on April 29. Steven Beck also performed with Grace; the performance was sponsored by Wolpe Society, Bridge Records, and Steinway.

The album received a wonderful review from the London Times, as Paul Driver wrote, “This impressive eighth volume in Bridge’s Wolpe edition brings the premiere recordings of his 1933 March and Variations and 1936 Two Studies on Basic Rows… The style here, as in the first item, is a muscular neoclassicism with agitprop leanings, but the Studies epitomize Wolpe’s wonderful reimagining of Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique: a bracing, masterly diptych.”

Grace says recording the album was grueling, “but being introduced to the music of Stefan Wolpe by our management was a great find. Preparing this music for the recording was the delight.” She adds that she appreciated “the opportunity to play Wolpe’s music for people who understand and promote his music and to celebrate the release of our Wolpe CD.”

In addition to making her music and teaching at CC, Grace is also the director of the CC Summer Music Festival, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer. The music this year spans from “traditional classical to contemporary to an all women composer concert including music from 1800’s to present, a multi-media presentation in Cornerstone main space featuring video, digital sound, movement, and the festival fellows, and a concert featuring dancers from the Carolina Ballet with solo piano music,” Grace explains. Faculty and student performers “provide first-rate performances both in chamber ensembles and orchestra” and “the excitement generated by our musicians provides some of the best music making in the country,” she adds. This year’s festival will take place on CC’s campus from June 2-22.

Good Luck to CC Rugby, Heading to Nationals this Weekend

Cutthroat Rugby

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

CC’s Cutthroat rugby team recently beat Western Colorado University 19-0 in the National Small College Rugby Organization Rocky Mountain 7s. This win qualified the team for SCRO National Rugby 7s playoffs in Pittsburgh, April 27-28. The team calls themselves the Cutthroats rather than the women’s rugby team to be gender inclusive; they heads off to play in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Bridget Galaty ’21 has been playing rugby since fifth grade, and has been on the Cutthroats their entire time at CC. In fact, Galaty considered rugby when choosing a college and says “when I was a prospective student at CC, I sat in on a class and ended up being seated next to a few people who played on the rugby team. They were super nice and helpful and I could already tell this was a group of people I wanted to get to know and play with.” Galaty’s choice turned out to be a great one. “The Cutthroat team is so kind and loving and we really are a family. I know that my teammates have my back and will be there to support me both on and off the field. Further, I feel comfortable being myself around them and I never feel judged for being my authentic self,” Galaty explains.

In Pittsburgh, Galaty is “looking forward to playing games that are competitive and force us to play our best game.” As evidenced by their 19-0 win over Western Colorado, Galaty says, “We are a really good team…so I just want to see us doing what we know how to do and hopefully that will help lead us to victory!” The Cutthroats begin with their first game against Endicott College on Saturday at 10:20 a.m. in Pittsburgh and will then play Eckerd College at noon.

Deploying ‘Kenny the Robot’ to Make Remote Connections

Kenny the Robot

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

You never know when you might need a little help from a… robot? CC is known for its small class sizes and strong connections between professors and students. However, there are occasionally times when someone can’t physically make it to class. Associate Professor of History Jane Murphy called on Kenny the Robot in this exact situation when Maddie Bodell ’20 couldn’t make it to one day of Murphy’s History of Medicine class during Block 6.

Kenny is an iPad attached to a wheeled, mobile base that can be remotely controlled and maneuvered by the user. Users are also able to control Kenny’s line of sight. Kenny’s ability to be remotely controlled was particularly handy when Bodell couldn’t be in the classroom for an integral day of Murphy’s class. For this course especially, the classroom community and participation were important. Murphy says, “writing intensive classes are capped at 12 students and we exchange drafts of work throughout the block… You need to trust people to share your writing drafts with them — that participation in a process is a large part of the work we all do.”

On the day Bodell had to miss, Murphy had arranged to Skype in with Nancy Bristow, CC history alumna and professor of history at the University of Puget Sound, who authored “American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.” The discussion about Bristow’s research and the students’ research “was our final element of the course and not something I could make up later,” Murphy adds. Via Kenny, Bodell was able to engage in the discussion with Bristow and her classmates.

“Kenny enhanced my learning experience by allowing me to participate in a class discussion in a more natural way when I couldn’t physically be present. It was fun having more of a presence than just a computer screen,” Bodell explains. Additionally, the day she missed was the day of the “bomb cyclone” spring blizzard right before Spring Break, and she was able to direct Kenny to the window to see the storm. “I could move him around since he was on wheels and I could use my computer keys to control his movement. He’s actually pretty fast,” she adds.

Murphy says, “We are fortunate to do most of our teaching face-to-face, in a context in which we have gotten to know and trust one another.” She says she sees Kenny’s potential to enable further classroom participation when a student cannot be in class.

Contact the ITS Solutions Center if you have an opportunity to use Kenny in your class: (719) 389-6449.

 

CC Climbing Team Prepares For Nationals

By Miriam Brown ’21

Apparently, Colorado College’s climbing team has never heard of the “sophomore slump.”

In just their second year of existence, the team finished third at the regional championships in Denver, with only a quarter of the competitors brought by rivals University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University. Two of CC’s climbers, Claire Bresnan ’19and Rin Gentry ’19, were named regional champions in their respective categories. Of CC’s 11 competitors, seven will be headed to the National championships in Murfreesboro, Tenn., April 26-27.

Instead of having a hired coach, the team is led by three of their athletes who double as coaches: Katherine Hade ’22, William Abbey ’22, and Emily Barga ’21. Captain Zach Levy ’21credits their leadership as having been crucial to their success thus far.

“This year our team has a group of students who are extremely devoted to bettering their climbing and training to prepare themselves the best they can for this climbing season,” Levy said. “A lot of our success can be attributed to the student coaches who have stepped up this year to lead the team and guide our athletes down a successful path.”

The team holds simultaneous practices three days a week at three different climbing gyms, using workout regimens designed by Hade, Abbey, and Barga to test their strength and conditioning. They try difficult boulders and timed workouts to simulate a competition environment and to prepare themselves for anything they might face at nationals. The competition at nationals will be steep, but Levy thinks they’re prepared.

“We are very excited to be heading to Tennessee over the first weekend of Block 8 and can’t wait to see what nationals has in store for us,” he says.

It’s a Home Run: Faculty and Staff Build Connections on the Field

Intramural Softball 2019

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

Professor Emeritus of History Bill Hochman’s legacy continues not only in the classroom, but also on the softball field. Hochman started and coached the faculty and staff intramural softball team in 1955 and they continue to play every spring.

Heather Stapish, payroll manager, has been on the team since 1999 and is also the current captain. She was appointed by Hochman two years ago when it became more difficult for him to make it to the games. Stapish enjoys carrying on Hochman’s legacy of the team, and says “He loved this sport and he LOVED this team.”

Associate Professor of English Steven Hayward has been on the team for the entire 10 years he has worked at CC, and says “I joined on the advice of Susan Ashley, who was then dean of the college. She said I’d love it and she was right.” The team plays against student intramural teams, allowing for more connections between students, staff, and faculty outside of the classroom. “It’s great to meet your students outside of the classroom and compete; it’s a wonderful, sort of secret, campus community,” Hayward says.

Stapish adds that she enjoys being around the students, which is also what led Hochman to start the team originally. Additionally, many of the staff and faculty have been on the team for years, and Hayward explains that these friendships are the best part of being on the team. Relationships built on the faculty and staff team continue off the field, as Hayward reminisces:

“My nickname on the team is Hammer, given to me initially by Professor (Peter) Wright in the Religion Department and then adopted by Bill Hochman. One time there was a faculty meeting at which I made a particularly contentious point that Hochman agreed with. He stood up to say so. ‘Hammer’s right,’ he said. No one knew who he was talking about, but it’s in the minutes of the meeting.”

Games are played on Armstrong West Quad, Tava Quad, and Tutt Science Quad. View the schedule and find out how you can get in on the action.

Tutt Library Wins AIA/ALA Library Building Award

Tutt Library

By: Miriam Brown ’21

After its reopening in 2017, Tutt Library became a symbol of Colorado College’s core values: intellectual curiosity, environmental sustainability, innovation, and collaboration. The library’s renovations were so transformational to its relationship with the campus that it is receiving national recognition, as one of six libraries awarded with this year’s American Institute of Architects/American Library Association Library Building Award for the best library architecture and design.

According to Library Director JoAnn Jacoby, Tutt Library was such a competitive candidate in part because it was “built for the block,” designed to maximize flexibility for students. The renovation more than doubled its seating capacity, and rooms throughout the building can transform from a classroom to a conference room to a study room to match the community’s needs. Additionally, technologically rich spaces such as the GIS Lab, DataViz Wall, and Tech Sandbox make it a hot spot for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Today, the library averages around 1,800 visits each day, and 43 percent of faculty report that they visit the library more than before the renovation because of the “open and inviting spaces.”

Tutt Library is also uniquely representative of CC’s sense of place. It reflects the college’s commitment to environmental sustainability, as the largest academic library to be a carbon-neutral, net-zero energy facility. Throughout the building, there are windows and terraces to give visitors a view of Pikes Peak, and the outside of the building is decorated to reference locally mined red sandstone.

“We now have a reimagined library that is as adaptable, nimble, and innovative as our students and that was built to sustain the academic rigor and intensity of CC’s pioneering Block Plan,” says Jacoby. “We got the award, I think, in part because of how well the transformation aligns with our mission and unique identity, so in that sense, the award calls attention not just to this particular building, but what it represents about our community.”