NEA Grant Allows MaryLee Shorr, Jeff Fina to Study Rembrandt, Shakespeare in U.S. and Abroad This Summer

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. – SUNY Orange students MaryLee Shorr and Jeff Fina are among a dozen students chosen from across the country for the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts’ “2007 Visual Arts/Liberal Arts Workshop,” a month-long international summer program that will immerse the participants in the works of Rembrandt and William Shakespeare.

This inaugural four-week workshop, made possible through a recent grant from the NEA, will take the students to New York City; Giverny, France; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Shorr and Fina will join students representing such schools as the Chicago Art Institute, the University of California at San Diego, Gonzaga University, Tulane University, the University of Chicago and St. John’s College. The workshop begins May 20 and concludes June 20.

PHOTO: MaryLee Shorr and Jeff FinaThe NEA is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts—both new and established—by bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest national funder of the arts.

Renowned sculptor Greg Wyatt, whose work can be viewed all across the globe, is coordinating the trip. The original model for Wyatt’s sculpture on display at the State Department in Washington, D.C., will ultimately be a central exhibit in the College’s Gilman Center, which will house papers, artifacts and memorabilia from Congressman Ben Gilman’s more than 30 years as a public servant.

"Rather than study in a classroom, these students are going to study Rembrandt and Shakespeare in their own environments, where they lived, where they were inspired and where they did their work,” says Richard Heppner, SUNY Orange associate vice president for liberal arts.

"It is an incredible honor for the College to be included in this program, and it is an incredible opportunity we can give to our students,” Heppner adds. “The opportunity is so unique, for SUNY Orange to have two students selected is beyond description.”

The theme of the program will be “Interiority in the works of Shakespeare and Rembrandt.” Students, six selected from fine arts programs and six from liberal arts, will meet in New York May 20 and spend three days studying there before embarking for the campus of the Terra Foundation for American Art at Giverny. Included in the Giverny leg of the trip will be a day-long visit/lecture at the Louvre in Paris.

Following a week in Giverny, the students will proceed to Amsterdam for a laborious three-day immersion in the works and life of the noted painter Rembrandt. The international portion of the trip will conclude in Stratford-upon-Avon, the setting of Shakespeare’s early life. The students will see several plays mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and visit settings from Shakespeare’s life, including a series of important sites in London.

"I know it was very important to Greg Wyatt to make this an opportunity for those who, most likely, would not otherwise be able to study in Europe, much less with such renowned experts as Dr. Stanley Wells and Karl Oberhuber” says Mary Warrener, chair of SUNY Orange’s English department. Oberhuber is a world-renowned art historian while Wells has edited anthologies of Shakespeare’s work and is chairman of the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Both Shorr and Fina are second-year students and have emerged as standouts in their academic programs at the College. Studying Theater Arts, Shorr boasts a 4.0 grade point average while Fina has compiled a 3.5 GPA in Visual Communication Graphics. Their selection, according to Heppner, indicates the quality of students that community college’s produce.

"I think this shows that not only our students, but community college students in general, are as good as any, they just need to be given an opportunity. And it shows the possibilities that exist within a community college environment,” Heppner says. “I also believe this is a testament to our faculty that they were able to help these talented students reach their potential.”

Involved in theater for much of her life, Shorr most recently played Rosalind in a production of “As You Like It,” and co-starred in January with SUNY Orange professor Max Schaefer in the two-person, two-act play “Reunion” to benefit the College’s Theater Arts scholarship program.

She is co-founder of the non-profit group Women in Arts, which serves to promote local female artists while also raising money for local charities, and has served as president of The Apprentice Players, SUNY Orange’s theater group.

"I’m enthralled by being selected. I’ve never really traveled anywhere, so this is a really big deal for me,” Shorr exclaims. “As an artist, when you are stretched and pushed out of your comfort zone, that’s the best thing that can happen because it forces you to see things from a different point of view, and that’s when you learn the most about yourself and what you are capable of.

"To be learning with all of these artists, and studying outside of my discipline will really help me in the theater,” she adds.

Because the essence of photography is painting with light, Fina is hopeful this trip will allow him to refine not only his specialty (digital photography), but his artistic abilities with the camera.

"No matter what medium you are learning, you are going to apply it to what you know,” Fina says. “When sculptors sculpt, they are looking for gradient and depth to their pieces. In photography, you are trying to sculpt light to create gradients and depth.”

An exhibit of Fina’s images is currently on display in the SUNY Orange Student Gallery, and he was selected this semester for an internship with local artist Bruce Bleach.

A relative newcomer to photography, Fina first began taking photos while deployed as an Army gunner in Iraq. It was during an unexpected humanitarian deployment with the Army Reserves to Mongolia last summer that Fina began to apply the visual skills and knowledge he had learned at SUNY Orange, and his photography blossomed.

"I’ve noticed that when you travel, your eyes are wide open and you see things much differently,” Fina says. “I’ve only been doing this for seven months, and I’ve come from not knowing how to use a camera to doing, I think, fine art pieces. Now, I’ll be traveling and studying in Europe, where the entire Western art world comes from.”

Neither Shorr nor Fina can imagine a better summer than completing an intense four-week tour of the regions where two of history’s finest craftsmen of their respective arts—Shakespeare and Rembrandt—shaped their careers.

"I think this shows that not only our students, but community college students in general, are as good as any, they just need to be given an opportunity. And it shows the possibilities that exist within a community college environment. I also believe this is a testament to our faculty that they were able to help these talented students reach their potential.”

Richard Heppner, associate vice president for liberal arts

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Mike Albright
Communications Officer
115 South Street
Middletown, NY 10940