Glenn Swanson, a studio art major from York, Maine, spent this summer on campus participating in a class taught by UMaine sculpture professor Greg Ondo. In addition to creating a sculpture of their own, students worked side-by-side with artists taking part in the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, a six-week artist-in-residency program held this year in partnership with UMaine. Each student was assigned to an SISS sculptor, investigating aspects of that individual artist’s culture, her/his approach to art specific to that culture, and techniques and conceptual aspects of the artist’s individual process.
How did you get interested in sculpture?
Sculpture had not even been on my radar screen when coming to school. I had no experiences in 3-D work in high school, so it really took some time for me to get immersed. Midway through Sculpture II, I started to challenge myself to use the different machinery and materials available, and I really hit my stride.
What has your experience been like this summer with the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium?
My experience with the symposium has been incredible. The artists have incredible motivation and it’s infectious. I have been introduced to so many new techniques and tools that have broadened the types of things I can make. It has generated a whole new level of medium for me, and has created so many ideas.
Which SISS sculptor were you assigned to? What did you learn from that sculptor about his/her process and technique that you will take with you in the future?
For the symposium, I was assigned to work with Koichi Ogino of Japan. Koichi has a lot of experience with public commissions and working in large-scale stone carving. He always told me to work slow, as carving is certainly not a quick process. Plus, it can be pretty meditative when you take your time to practice the technique correctly. I took some of his philosophy with me as well. Koichi says that he aims to create “good air,” or a good atmosphere when he is creating the public art. He does this by really checking out the site where his final piece will go, and getting to know the people who live there. I asked him one time if he values one of these more than the other, and he said it was impossible to, because both of them are so important to building the atmosphere.
How did your work with that sculptor inform the sculpture you did for Greg Ondo’s class?
Although my final piece for Greg’s class looks nothing like any of Koichi’s work, I was really drawn to the simplicity of shapes that Koichi uses. I tried to do the same thing with my sculpture by keeping features basic, but suggestive of familiar features. I think it encourages imagination and can create points of conversation from different viewers.
UMaine was primarily a financial choice in the beginning, but it grew to be a lifestyle choice shortly after I moved in freshman year.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
Sculpture is easily the most helpful class I have taken. It fosters my creative side, but it has also taught me a lot of problem-solving skills and given me the chance to learn valuable techniques such as forging, welding and wood work.
How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
I find that the academic atmosphere here encourages students to be independent thinkers, and to take hold of their own education. We certainly have the guidance and resources we need, and many of the professors really want us to spearhead the development of our degrees.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better?
I can’t attribute my experience to any one person. The entire atmosphere of UMaine and the Orono community (people, resources, recreation) has really been the creator of my college experience.
Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
I was talking to my boss (Advanced Structures and Composites Center laboratory operations manager Vernon Darling) one day when he asked me where I wanted to go with my major. I listed off a variety of options of what I intended to do in the future when he said to me, “You know what life is, Glenn? Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” That has really stayed with me, and it always reminds me to take a step back when I’m in a funk.
Have you participated in any internships or co-ops related to your major?
I had an internship last summer in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire where I worked with at-risk teenage girls at an art program. There wasn’t so much a focus on teaching technique, but more that we (myself and the other interns) had to be a constant in these girls’ daily routine. I don’t know that I had much classroom preparation, but the internship certainly gave me a greater insight to the amount of personal involvement related to teaching.
What are UMaine students like?
UMaine students are driven. Most people are here because they want an education, not just because college is “the next step after high school.”
What surprised you about UMaine?
I never expected UMaine to have the kind of recreational resources it does, both on and off campus.
Describe UMaine in one word.
What do you do outside of class?
I enjoy playing outside. I like to run, climb and ski.
Favorite place on campus?
Computer cluster in Fogler Library. It’s sociable.
Favorite place off campus?
Changes all the time.
What’s your favorite thing to eat on campus?
I get sandwiches from the sandwich bar in the Union if I eat on campus.
What is your favorite UMaine tradition?
My friends and I have done the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race every year. That’s a blast.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
Having some of my work in the student art exhibition. I put a ton of work into a really personal piece and I was really happy to see it in the gallery.
What do you hope to do after graduation and how has UMaine helped you reach those goals?
I really just hope to be able to do something creative, whatever industry it may be in. I love making things and having pride in the finished piece, and my classes at UMaine have given me invaluable hands-on experience.
What was your first year like?
New things were being thrown at me all the time, and it was hard to pass up any new experience. It was pretty spontaneous.
What is your favorite memory of living on campus?
I was out of my comfort zone for sure, so it showed me that I could adapt.
What is there to do in Orono, Maine?
There’s some good local music at the bars on occasion. Within a short drive there is also a huge variety of outdoor things you can do, like paddling and rock climbing.
What difference has UMaine made in your life?
It has taught me that you have to take initiative in all aspects of life. Nothing is going to be handed to you in the real world.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Get excited about being in a new environment, and whatever it is that you want to get out of college, you’re going to be the only one who can really make it happen.
Image Description: Glenn Swanson