Mungo award winner: Mary Robinson

Art professor helps students build community

As a professor in the School of Visual Art and Design, Mary Robinson believes in creating a sense of community – both in the classroom and beyond.

“We create art to find our place in the world. Through teaching, mentoring and setting an example as a practicing artist, I encourage students to view themselves as artists and citizens of a broader community, locally and globally,” Robinson says. “I also help them see that we are an integral part of the natural world.”

For the past 18 years, Robinson has taught art in the College of Arts and Sciences at UofSC, and she leads the  printmaking program. This year, she received a Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award.  She says one of her favorite parts of being a teacher is watching students experience “moments of discovery.”

“That discovery can take many forms. They might be struggling to understand something, and you try to explain it in different ways, and you show it in different ways and finally they understand. Watching that is exciting,” she says. “Students often think they’re not capable of doing something, and then over time realize they can do it. I’ve seen that take at least  two forms. Sometimes I get students, especially non-studio art majors, who think they can’t draw or they have a fear of drawing. Anybody can draw, they just don’t know that. Helping them discover that is so rewarding.”

The printmaking process is technical and it involves work with heavy equipment and chemicals like acids that can be dangerous when they aren’t used properly.

“You have to follow a lot of precise steps. So, all of that can be intimidating and students think, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ And by the end of the semester they realize they can. That’s rewarding, too.”

One of my greatest strengths as an educator and mentor is to help students connect what they learn in the classroom to a much broader context.

A large part of her job is educating students and the public about printmaking, since many people know little about the topic or think it’s limited to posters or printing out sheets of paper. Printmaking includes everything from inking metal plates to screenprinting T-shirts.

It’s a process she fell in love with while she was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. She hadn’t taken any printmaking courses as an undergraduate, but was so intrigued after a visit to a printmaking workshop that she refocused her career.

“Printmaking incorporates drawing and painting and typography and some three-dimensional aspects like carving wood,” she says. “All these things I was interested in as an undergraduate came together under the umbrella of printmaking.”

As a teacher she says she works with students “to consider conceptual, formal and technical aspects throughout the artmaking process, spanning from idea to execution to self–critique. I provide students with the opportunity to recognize what is effective in their own work as well as the work of others, and how to improve. I demonstrate techniques; present the work of historical and contemporary artists from diverse cultures; lead group discussions; hold one–on–one discussion with students; conduct critiques; incorporate reading and writing about art; and lead visits to museums, galleries, artists’ studios and national printmaking conferences,” she says. “One of my greatest strengths as an educator and mentor is to help students connect what they learn in the classroom to a much broader context.”

And, as is typical in art classes in communal settings like printmaking and ceramics, she enjoys the strong sense of community that emerges and develops throughout the semester.

“It happens in the classroom. Students end up staying stay in touch. I’m still touch with students I taught 18 years ago,” she says. “But it extends beyond the classroom. In printmaking, we do a lot with organizations in town, the Columbia Museum of Art, the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. That gives students a sense of community beyond the classroom. And it gives them confidence.”

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