Finding an "Artist Identity"

June 12th, 2015 | SMWC

Master of Arts in Art Therapy Students Make Return To Campus

By: Katie Shane

Art Therapy Students
Thirty-five Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Master of Arts in Art Therapy students presented their works at the Masters Art Thesis Exhibition Open House, along with sharing their three-year journey through the program.

The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) campus is growing a little larger this month as 110 students and ten faculty members arrive for June Intensive course sessions as part of the Master of Arts in Art Therapy (MAAT) program.

To celebrate their arrival, a Masters Art Thesis Exhibition Open House was hosted on the second floor of the Rooney Library on Sunday, June 7. Thirty-five MAAT students presented their works, along with sharing their three-year journey through the program.

The exhibition asked students to showcase their “artist identity.”

“The artwork displays what they have learned through the program in their three years. They are almost done; they will graduate in December, and they have created different types of art experiences and learned about themselves personally and professionally to become an art therapist,” explains Kathy Gotshall, director and assistant professor of art therapy. “Art is a language where we express who we are and what we think about and what we are passionate about, and so the artwork is another dimension of them expressing themselves.”

For Nashville, Tenn., resident and third year student Dee Ann Grand, the showcase is her first as an artist. Grand explains becoming an art therapist is her third career after working as a teacher and in publishing most of her life. Deciding to “finally” pursue her true passion she enrolled at The Woods. The exhibit marked a major milestone in her studies, her life and new career.

Dee Ann Grand
Third year SMWC Master of Arts in Art Therapy student Dee Ann Grand, of Nashville, Tenn., says the exhibit marked a major milestone in her studies, her life and new career.

“For me, this is my first gallery. I have never done this before, so it’s sort of a ta-da,” she says with a smile. “For me, it’s a first and a nice little icing on the cake.”

Paired along with various mediums of art are short essays penned by each student.

In her essay, Emily Medlock, a third year MAAT student from Buckhannon, W.Va., described her time in the program as a “transformation.” Medlock says her artist identity morphed from a fine artist to an art therapist.  

“I started out thinking I was going to do something more art based but I didn’t feel like I was going to be fulfilled just doing art for myself so I thought, what can I do to help people with my art and that’s why I chose art therapy to be able to give back in some way,” she explains. “I am excited to see what I can do in my own community in West Virginia and the art therapy community in general.”

The Master of Arts in Art Therapy program began at SMWC in January 2000 and is recognized by the American Art Therapy Association. The SMWC program was designed for women and men who plan to utilize “art in therapy and art as therapy.” 

“Art provides people a language to communicate,” Gotshall explains. “An art therapist is trained both as an artist and a therapist to be able to use the art to communicate, process life events for wellness. Art therapists work in hospital settings, with hospice, breast cancer care and support groups, they work in prisons, in school systems with at-risk youth, they work with people of all ages… the field of art therapy is very vast.”

Although SMWC is a “brick and mortar” college, the MAAT is taught in a distance learning format. The program provides students the opportunity to participate without leaving their professional and personal responsibilities.

Emily Medlock
Emily Medlock, a third year SMWC Master of Arts in Art Therapy student from Buckhannon, W.Va., described her time in the program as a “transformation.”

For students like Medlock, the distance learning program fit perfectly into her learning aspirations.

“This is the only way I would have been able to complete a Masters in Art Therapy,” she says. “In West Virginia, we have no programs, and this was the only distance learning program available. I was nervous about distance learning; I had done my undergrad very traditional in class, and it has been wonderful. We are a very tight knit group, and when you come here it is like coming home even though you are leaving your home.”

The same feelings for The Woods are described by third year student Marilee Minshew. The Houston, Texas, native calls the campus a “sanctuary.” Despite students of different backgrounds traveling from different areas of the country, Minshew says they all connect at The Woods.

“Everyone says ‘Oh it’s so special’ and it is,” Minshew says. “It really feels like a place of healing… it’s almost like a sanctuary for the heart and soul and brain.”

As part of the MAAT program each student will visit the campus three times each year: late July, early January and early June. The average length of the residency is between four and six days. The entire program is designed to take three and a half years.

While students enjoy the flexibility of distance learning, each says the on-campus residency is one aspect they enjoy the most.

“I’m tearing up. I love my cohort,” Minshew says as joyful tears fill her eyes. “Through discussion boards and having to share our personal art and the stories behind that art in conjunction with academic learning we know each other so well … I have made friends that I will rely on professionally and personally for the rest of my life.”

The MAAT art exhibition will remain on display until August 2, 2015, on the second floor of the Rooney Library.

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