Ashley Hawkins (B.F.A.’07/A; M.P.A.’13/GPA; Cert.’13/GPA) fell in love with printmaking as a student in the VCU School of the Arts. She wanted Richmond, Virginia, to be a place where an education in art was more accessible and where artists would develop and want to stay. She now runs Studio Two Three, a printmaking and private studio space where over 100 artists work and hundreds more visit and take classes.
A wood sculpture — and functional bench — that evokes the 7-mile section of the James River that runs through Richmond has been installed in the entranceway of Virginia Commonwealth University’s recently expanded James Branch Cabell Library.
The sculpture, titled “Fall Line,” was created by Heath Matysek-Snyder (B.F.A.’00/A), an assistant professor in the Department of Craft/Material Studies and lead professor of the wood area in the School of the Arts, who has been working on the piece in his Scott’s Addition studio for more than two years.
“My hope is that when people walk into Cabell Library, they’ll recognize it as the James River, which I find to be an amazing element of Richmond, a really amazing feature of the city,” Matysek-Snyder said. “This will be an object that greets you. It will be a place to meet. And it will be a feature that says goodbye as you walk back out.”
The 27-foot-long white oak bench mimics the contours of the James River from Pony Pasture to the 14th Street Bridge, with aluminum on top of the bench representing the outline of the river, including Belle Isle. The bench is broken into four sections, with each of the three negative spaces representing a different iconic Richmond bridge, also rendered in aluminum, and allowing pedestrians to walk through.
By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)
Wildlife artist Robert Caldwell (B.F.A.’00/A), owner of RL Caldwell Studio and Gallery, is known for his highly detailed, photorealistic paintings. His early works feature Northern American birds sprinkled with a few other types of animals he has observed on his travels around the country. In 2012, a trip to Africa sparked a new direction for his art, as if overnight elephants, zebra and monkeys appeared on his canvas. He has since returned to Africa three times, leading groups of professional artists as well as students from his Midlothian, Virginia, teaching studio on photo safaris. This Monday, he takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account, as he makes his fourth trip to Africa.
What sparked your interest in art and wildlife?
I have always loved the outdoors and do whatever I can to get outside and see wildlife. Although I would much prefer to be in the African bush or on the side of a mountain in Colorado, I still search out and find small wildlife in any setting, even here in Richmond.
It was actually in college that I was sitting in the studio waiting for the professor to show up when I picked up a magazine called Wildlife Art and started flipping through its pages. It was that day that I was introduced to Robert Bateman and several other artists working in the wildlife art genre. I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t that be a great and rewarding career?” I did not set out from that point to be a wildlife artist, but the seed had been planted.
Why did you choose to attend VCU’s art school?
Actually VCU chose me. In high school, I went to National Portfolio Day, and VCUarts was one of the programs that reviewed my portfolio. As the then-assistant dean of the School of the Arts started looking at my work, she began asking questions like “Were you helped with these drawings?” and “Did you trace them?” and a few others that I thought were odd. Odd because, of course, I didn’t have help, they were my creations.
While I was packing up my work, she asked if I could come back at the end of the day. When my parents and I returned, she asked me if I wanted to come to VCU. I answered yes without much thought, and the next thing I knew she accepted me on the spot.
In addition to being an artist, you’re also a teacher. How did that transpire?
Eight years ago, I was approached to teach a drawing class at a small art studio in Midlothian. That’s when I realized I liked teaching. Within a year, I was teaching four classes a week, which grew to six classes six months later. The studio I was teaching at decided to downsize, and it was about the same time that I was entertaining the idea of opening my own studio/school.
In 2016, I opened the doors to the RL Caldwell Studio and Gallery, where I teach, on average, 70 students a week in six different classes. Two of my former students have joined the school as instructors, and we now have classes Monday through Thursday. I leave Fridays and the weekends open so that we can hold art shows for the students and bring in outside instructors for special workshops.
When did you first go to Africa and what prompted the trip?
I went to Tanzania for the first time in October 2012. A friend of mine, Jan Martin McGuire, who at that point had been to Africa 18 times, kept telling me about all the wildlife, the habitat and just the sheer beauty of Africa. One day, after about an hour of conversation, she invited me to join her and her husband on their next safari to Tanzania. I was fortunate enough to pay for the trip by doing presales of new work I would create from my safari adventure.
What keeps you going back?
It’s simply the most amazing place to see and experience wildlife on a grand scale. As a wildlife artist, it is really important to continually observe animals in their natural habitat so that you can accurately depict them in your paintings and drawings. I feel very fortunate that I can now share Africa with my collectors, students and friends who join me on safari on yearly trips.
What has been one of your favorite moments in Africa?
My entire trip in 2012 was a life-changing event. Within the first hour of driving into Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, I saw my first wild elephants, impala, zebra, wildebeests and even a cheetah! I immediately saw a difference in the animals’ behavior and muscle structure and knew that I would never draw or paint another zoo animal again.
Of course, the fact that I even traveled to Tanzania was life-changing. It takes two very long flights, one eight hours and the other 10. This is where I mention that I’m petrified of flying, the type of petrified where you break out in a cold sweat and freak out at every strange noise and bump. I had also never been out of the country and was traveling by myself. That trip, and every one to Africa since, has completely taken me out of my comfort zone but it is worth it.
What stamp do you want next on your passport?
There are a few places I’d like to travel, and Africa continues to be high on that list. I have two safaris already planned for 2019, one to Botswana and the other back to Kenya with an extension to Rwanda. The Botswana safari will be another life-changing event as you have to take small bush planes to get from camp to camp (did I mention I hate flying?). The Kenya safari will introduce me to several new parks, including the Maasai Mara, but it’s the Rwanda extension that I’m really looking forward to. There, we’ll be spending time with mountain gorillas. What an adventure that will be!
Up next, though, is a trip this fall to Rome and Florence, Italy. Not a wildlife trip, but an art tip that several of the students at my art school have asked me to plan and schedule. I, of course, will be taking my camera and looking for urban wildlife.
By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)
Hannah Standiford (B.M.’11/A) picked up her first guitar at 13. Music has played an integral role in her life ever since.
She studied classical guitar at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a bachelor’s in music in 2011. Since then, she has performed as the frontwoman for a number of bands and has taught guitar and voice lessons with several music schools in the Richmond, Virginia, area.
“Through [teaching], I’m able to help other people access something that’s enriched my life so much,” Standiford says. “It gives me an incredibly fulfilling feeling.”
Shortly after graduating from VCU, she attended a performance by the University of Richmond’s Gamelan Raga Kusuma Balinese ensemble, which performs traditional Indonesian music using percussion instruments. This was her first exposure to the concept of community music, a form of music making that emphasizes collaboration among individuals who play, create, improvise and perform music together.
Standiford was hooked and wanted to explore community music further, so in 2014 she applied for and received a Darmasiswa scholarship, which supports foreign students wanting to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia. She traveled to Solo, Java, where she began studying gamelan and the traditional string music style called keroncong.
When she returned to the States the following year, she started her own keroncong group, Rumput, which combines both Indonesian and American folk styles.
Wanting to continue to study keroncong at its source, she applied for a Fulbright scholarship through VCU’s National Scholarship Office. The Fulbright program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government that fosters international goodwill through the exchange of students and scholars in countries around the globe.
“It took me all summer to write the two-page proposal, but it was worth it,” she says. “I’m really grateful for the [National Scholarship Office] at VCU. Having somebody to help me through the steps and take me through a mock Fulbright panel was a huge help.”
Meredith Sisson, NSO assistant director, alongside NSO Director Jeff Wing, assisted Standiford through the application process.
“[We] work to help applicants make connections with alumni, faculty or other field experts that we think can help them think through their ideas,” Sisson says. “Hannah’s project builds on her previous experiences in Indonesia and on her studies of Appalachian folk music. If anyone can do this, it’s certainly her.”
Standiford was named a Fulbright Scholar and returned to Indonesia in early 2017. With her scholarship, she’s researching keroncong’s two unique styles, langgam jawa keroncong and stambul fajar, in different locations across the country.
“[Keroncong] is known as a music of nostalgia, past its halcyon days but still popular among music veterans,” she says. “Though it’s not widely practiced anymore, there are still communities where [keroncong] is evolving alongside the younger generation who want to keep the style alive.”
She’s currently living on the island of Medanau in Belitong, Indonesia, documenting the stambul fajar through recordings, writing and interviews with the island’s only veteran of the music, Achmadi, and another local, Jabing, who recently received funding from the local government to preserve the music as well.
“[Stambul fajar] music is extremely endangered,” Standiford says. “What we’re hoping to do is preserve a facet of human expression that is specific to the people on this island and nowhere else in the world.”
Once she completes her studies in Indonesia, Standiford plans to publish a paper on keroncong and its recent revival, with the hopes of making the music accessible to a wider audience by combining aspects of it with American folk music. She’s already planned a tour, starting in July, with Rumput to perform in both Indonesia and the U.S.
“[Rumput] relies on the idea of community music making just like keroncong,” Standiford says. “We’re all indispensable, and there’s no lead player. We just want to create the best musical experience possible.”
Scholarship assistance for alumni
More than 50 VCU students and alumni have earned Fulbright awards since the VCU National Scholarship Office was created in 2005. The office offers a range of services to VCU alumni interested in applying for competitive national and international scholarships and fellowships, including the Fulbright scholarship. Learn more.
VCU Libraries and the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art will look back at the influential artist and VCU School of the Arts faculty emeritus Richard Carlyon (1930-2006) with a one-night program and art showing of several of his video installations.
The event — held in conjunction with a new retrospective exhibition of Carlyon’s work, “A Network of Possibilities,” at the Reynolds Gallery — marks the recent addition of video works to the Richard Carlyon papers held by Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries. It also will mark the launch of a campaign to raise a $1 million endowment for Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries.
The event, “The Life and Work of Richard Carlyon,” will be held Feb. 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor lecture hall of James Branch Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave. Attendance is free and open to the public, though registration is requested.
By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)
“I was born in Berlin, Germany, four years before the [Berlin] Wall went up,” she says. “I remember being frightened by the guards, the barbed wire and German shepherds, but our parents felt it was important that we see it.”
The family also lived in Mexico City and Rome before returning to the States shortly after the conclusion of the Cuban missile crisis. When Dillon was 17, the family moved to New Delhi. It was 1975, the year a bombshell, tell-all book called “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” was published. The book listed the names of 250 CIA officers, and her father, Paul Dillon, was on that list.
“We always thought he worked for the State Department, but when we saw a news article identifying him, we learned the truth,” Dillon says.
The book was written by former CIA officer Philip Agee who worked for her father when the family lived in Mexico City seven years earlier. In it, Agee revealed that Dillon’s father was an operations officer in the Agency’s Soviet division. Eventually Dillon learned that he handled the CIA’s highest-ranking double agent, Gen. Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov.
Going her own way
A year later, Dillon returned to the U.S. to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, graduating with a music degree focused on composition and theory. Though music was her passion (she still sings to this day), Dillon realized that she wanted to go in a different direction.
“Five of my siblings attended VCU. We all lived in the Fan,” she says. “Just about all of us worked at Strawberry Street Café. It was how we worked our way through college. We had an amazing experience!”
After graduation, Dillon worked as a roving assistant at National Geographic, where she eventually landed in the advertising department. She loved the publishing industry and decided to pursue a career in business operations. She moved to New York City and got a job at a trade magazine in advertising sales, marketing and circulation. From there, she worked at TV Guide, Glamour, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications, later becoming president of Reader’s Digest.
Putting pen to paper
With 25 years of experience in the publishing world, Dillon was ready to write her own book, one that told the story of her father and Polyakov. After learning that the general’s son, Alexander Polyakov, had emigrated to the U.S., she sought him out, and he was willing to share his stories with her.
She began to collect material written about Polyakov from newspapers, magazines and various books, and with his son’s help, she also gained access to information from Russia that she had translated. Combining that information with interviews she had from her father’s former colleagues and friends, she filled in the details of the story.
The resulting book, “Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War,” paints a broad picture of the Cold War, the issues and the political environment and tells various stories about government operatives and assets. The book also delves into further detail about what life was like for both the Dillon and Polyakov families unknowingly growing up in the family of spies.
“With [Alexander’s] help, I was now able to tell the story from two sides,” Dillon says. “General Polyakov worked on behalf of our country for 18 years. I felt it was important people know what he did for us.”
Dillon returns to VCU on Dec. 6 for a talk at James Branch Cabell Library to discuss the book and reveal additional insights into Cold War politics. The talk will be followed by a Q&A, book-signing and a reception.
A new book by Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dale Brumfield (B.F.A.’82/A; M.F.A.’15/H&S) reveals the history of the Virginia State Penitentiary, the Richmond prison that was built in 1800 and that the ACLU at one time called the “most shameful prison in America.”
“Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” is the latest book by Brumfield, who earned a B.F.A. in painting from VCU’s School of the Arts in 1981 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from VCU’s Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2015.
Brumfield is the field director for Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, as well as a digital archaeologist and the author of eight books, including two histories of the underground press — “Richmond Independent Press” and “Independent Press in D.C. and Virginia: An Underground History.”
He will give a reading and sign copies of “Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” on Sunday, Oct. 29, from 4–6 p.m. at Babe’s of Carytown’s back room, 3166 W. Cary St. in Richmond.
Brumfield recently discussed his new book, and explained what made the Virginia State Penitentiary so notorious.
A Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts alumnus has quickly turned his existing exhibition at the Anderson into a benefit for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.
VCUarts will host Steven Casanova’s (B.F.A.’15/A) “Richmond Potluck” on Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Anderson, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St. Casanova is one of six recent alumni featured in the “Reach Out and Touch” exhibition, on view at the Anderson through Oct. 8.
Casanova’s work, “The Richmond Cookbook,” is a submission-based citywide cookbook showing the diversity in culture and background through Richmond, while contrasting living situations and food access throughout the city.
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts announced today the launch of its Arts Research Institute, which will serve faculty in their creative research and interdisciplinary practices across the university. Through supporting faculty projects, catalyzing interdisciplinary collaborations, and facilitating public dialogue about the role of artists in society, the Arts Research Institute will be one of the few arts research offices to employ a spectrum of artistic practices as rigorous research methods on par with science, directed at responding to current issues of our time and a complex future.
Alicia Dietz (M.F.A.’16/A), a former Army pilot, is a woodworker, craftsman and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. If she’s not at her Richmond studio creating functional and concept art, she’s traveling up and down the East Coast doing art projects with military veterans. Follow along with her next week as she takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account.
What was your time as a pilot like?
I have wanted to fly since I was 6 years old and watched medevac helicopters land on the roof of the hospital that my mom worked at. When I got to high school, I talked to as many pilots as I could and asked them how they learned to fly. The overwhelming majority said they learned in the military so that’s why I joined the Army. I earned my undergrad in advertising and journalism at Ohio University, going through the Army ROTC program while I was there. I graduated in 2001 and was just entering flight school when 9/11 happened. I was in flight school for just over a year before getting assigned to a unit stationed out of Germany that was already deployed to Iraq.
I was in the Army for just over 10 years, flew as a maintenance test pilot and commanded two different companies, one in Alaska and one in Egypt. I took aircraft on flights after repairs to test their airworthiness before releasing them back onto the flight schedule. That feeling when the wheels just lift off the ground is one that never got old for me.
How did you get into woodworking?
My father and grandfather had always done woodworking in their spare time. My dad had a little workshop in our basement and over the course of a decade, built our entertainment stand and coffee and end tables. Then, while in the Army, they had Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers where you could learn how to frame things, throw a pot or build a table. I would go in during my downtime and play in the shop. It was a great way to de-stress and learn something new. I got addicted!
After I got out of the Army, I used my GI Bill to go to a very traditional woodworking school in Vermont for two years, learning dovetails, mortise and tenon and traditional wood construction. I had the amazing opportunity to go to San Diego and do an internship with Wendy Maruyama, who studied at VCU for a bit and who was a real inspiration to me and introduced me to concept in my work. She was the one who encouraged me to go to grad school.
Why did you choose VCU, and what’s your favorite memory of being on campus?
Wendy had many positive things to say about VCU, and even though I was in Vermont, my partner was living and working just south of Richmond. I knew that when school in Vermont was over I was moving back to Richmond. It was extremely convenient that one of the best art schools in the nation was right in my backyard!
My favorite memories would have to both being a TA and now teaching [woodworking at VCU]. To see the spark ignite when a student falls in love with woodworking is truly magical.