Category Archives: Arts

David Holt Brought the Mountains to Williston

Holt on the washboard and Goforth on the fiddle

Musician and music historian David Holt inspired a chapelful of Williston students to try hamboning. The traditional African percussive art, brought to the American South by enslaved people, consists of rhythmically slapping parts of the body: legs, arms, chest, different parts of the hand, and, as seen in the two-second video clip that downloads when you click here, cheeks. “This is what people used to do before they had cable,” Holt quipped. Continue reading

Painter Cody Rutty Brings Iterative Abstraction to Williston

Visiting artist Cody Rutty
Visiting artist Cody Rutty

Cody Rutty, an American painter living and working in Boise, Idaho, will be the third visiting artist to spend time at Williston Northampton School as part of the Grum Project, funded by a generous alumna. Rutty will be on campus through April 14, leading classes, working with individual students, and creating a large oil painting that will remain at the school.

After studying architecture and virtual technology and design at the University of Idaho, Rutty pursued fine art with a focus on painting. This focus has led to what he calls iterative abstraction: a process-driven approach to visual art through repeated layering. Continue reading

Two Students Receive Inaugural Williston Working Artist Award

Williston is fortunate to have many student artists who are deeply engaged in, and passionate about, the visual and performing arts. In a recent assembly, members of the arts faculty presented a new honor, the Williston Working Artist Award, to two students who pushed themselves beyond their teachers’ expectations to develop unique artistic voices. The first recipients are Rio Oshima ’19 in dance, and Kevin O’Sullivan ’18 in theater.

Natania Hume, visual and performing arts department head, described the students’ commitment. “Their passion has led them to express their own visions and perspectives through their art,” she said. “With hard work, imagination, and extraordinary effort they have made significant creative contributions, which strengthen our artistic and school communities. They are leaders and collaborators who excel in their art and are deeply invested in creative communication.”

Rio Oshima '19 brought down the house at a recent Fall Family Weekend assembly.
Rio Oshima ’19 brought down the house at a recent Fall Family Weekend assembly.

Oshima, according to dance teacher Debra Vega, “practices hip-hop every single day. He arrives early to rehearsal and stays late. Sometimes I have to remind him to go eat dinner.” She added that when he has free time, he practices dance moves in the hallway of Reed on a little carpeted area. “Perhaps you have seen him?” she asked. Most on campus would say, yes, we’ve seen him in a roughly three-foot by three-foot space, out of the foot-traffic flow, making subtle shifts in his body, dancing to an internal soundtrack.

“And what you might not know,” Vega continued, “is that Rio, on his own time, travels to New York City to participate in hip-hop dance battle competitions, competing with some of the best hip-hop dancers in the world. I think this is a very brave thing to do for a sophomore in high school and a student who has only been dancing for two years.”

Kevin O'Sullivan '18 on the slide whistle during a dress rehearsal of "The Comedy of Errors"
Kevin O’Sullivan ’18 on the slide whistle during a dress rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors”

In introducing O’Sullivan, Director of the Williston Theatre Emily Ditkovski began by talking about collaboration. “Collaboration is at the heart of what we do as theater people. In improvisation, this idea is called ‘yes, and….’” The fall production, The Comedy of Errors, required an extraordinary amount of saying “yes, and…,” Ditkovski said, and described O’Sullivan as being “relentlessly collaborative.”

“Using the tools at his disposal: a tambourine, slide whistle, even a washboard, he provided a new layer of humor, depth, and magic to our show. He watched each scene over and over, experimenting with sound effects until they were perfect. He loved getting ideas from his fellow actors and took time to teach his collaborators the ins and outs of how to do the effects just right. Whatever crazy note I gave him, he took. ‘We need a sound there. Fix that other sound, it’s not working. Learn the ukulele.’ With a zest and joi de vivre all his own, he didn’t just say ‘yes,’ he said ‘yes, and….’”

Congratulations to Rio Oshima and Kevin O’Sullivan!

Visiting Artist Tanja Hollander Links Art and Social Media

Tanja Hollander presents in an AP English class. Photo by Jo Chattman
Tanja Hollander presents in an AP English class. Photo by Jo Chattman

Photographer and artist Tanja Hollander spent three days on campus with students recently exploring the intersection between art and social media (see photos here). She kicks off a new 5-year visiting artist program, the Grum Project, funded by a generous alumna.

In her own work, Hollander asked the question, “Are you really my friend?” and set off to shoot formal portraits of her 626 Facebook friends. Some were close friends, many she barely knew or had never met. In all, she traveled for five years across the U.S. and around the world by car, boat, airplane, bike, and on foot, through the eye of a Texas hurricane and in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, taking breathtaking photos all the while.

As she spoke at Williston’s assembly, she asked students to consider, “What is a real friend?” and had them write their answer on a Post-It note. The notes, which students stuck to the rear wall of the chapel, bore honest and heartwarming responses, such as, “Someone who listens to my rants and loves me for me” and, “A real friend wants you to be happy.” Hollander then collected the notes and placed them on letter-size paper, and will scan them. She inserts keywords from each response into a database.

At assembly, she shared a tag cloud that showed the most commonly cited words from Post-Its she’s collected (“love,” “trust,” and “listen” were a few that ranked highest). Hollander will show her Facebook friends’ portraits at an exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art early next year, and is working on a documentary and a book about her work. Students’ Post-It notes will appear in the exhibit, along with thousands she’s collected.

In English, journalism, and art classes on campus, she challenged students to think about social media in new ways. True, she said, selfies and photos of brunch may be deemed shallow, but they are also a natural extension of a human fascination that began with the first known modern self-portrait in Italy in 1435 by Leon Battista Alberti, and continued through the Dutch masters’ paintings of still-lifes of food.

Hollander also sought to connect social media to political forces—think of Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring, and, more recently, more than one million Facebook check-ins at Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

For her Williston project, Hollander asked the entire school community, and particularly the students in the three classes she visited, to collect a photo and a story from someone they didn’t know well, and to post them on Instagram, using the account @willistonpictureswords.

Post and photo by Natalie Romain ’18

Students went out with their smart phones and returned with photos and captions that told moving stories of people all around the school and neighborhood. There was a striking image of the owner of the local dry cleaner, framed by a window, whose two grown children live in his native Honduras.

There was a photo of the woman who cooks at Williston’s Stu-Bop, looking away from the camera with a slight smile, who is quoted as saying, “I have one sibling now. I had three, now I have one.”

There was an international student, a sophomore, who said, “I feel like in the first year I was not able to discover myself or be who I really am. It took me a long time to adjust to this new culture. The best part of it was when I finally became myself again…I overcame Mt. Tom [a reference to our local mountain].”

Back in class, students assigned hashtags to the collected photos/stories. For the international student, they added, #theclimb. Hollander then navigated to #theclimb, an Instagram page where all posts with that hashtag exist, and clicked on a video of a little boy in a park in Spain, climbing a half-submerged boulder. The students cooed over the boy, marveling at his bravery and steadiness as he got to the top and then slid down.

“We just went to Madrid to see a super-cute kid,” Hollander said, smiling, perhaps, at the unexpected places social media can take you.

Lots to Do at Williston’s Family Weekend

Damp snow Thursday night didn’t keep parents and families away from Fall Family Weekend.

Despite a snowy start, Williston Northampton School’s Family Weekend was a big success, drawing nearly 300 family members from around the corner and across the country. (See photos here.)

During the two-day event, families met with their students’ teachers, listened to a cappella music and watched previews of dance and theater productions in a special all-school assembly, and heard a state-of-the-school update from Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Students Kathy Noble.

An international family reception was held on a snowy Thursday night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hill. On Friday afternoon, around 100 parents and family members joined the Hills for a reception at their home. Families watched a rollicking production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors on Friday and Saturday nights (read more here).

Parents of international students gathered at the home of Head of School Robert Hill.
Parents of international students gathered at the home of Head of School Robert Hill.

Spectators witnessed Wildcat play in several sporting events on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon (see athletic results here and athletics photos in our Flickr albums). Williston’s Shaler Invitational cross-country race drew 17 teams—more than 550 runners—from around New England. Williston’s boys team came in fourth out of 14 and the girls team came in fifth of 13.

For many parents, attending a panel hosted by the Williston College Counseling Office helped start (or continue) the search for the higher education institution that will be the perfect fit for their child. The panel, introduced by Williston Director of College Counseling Catherine McGraw, included Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid, and enrollment at Union College; Gil J. Villanueva, associate vice president and dean of admission at the University of Richmond; and Michael Geller, the New England regional director of admissions/associate director for regional programs at the George Washington University.

Boys cross-country teams at the starting line up
Boys cross-country teams line up at the Shaler Invitational.

Malatesta taught high school social studies at independent schools in New York and Pennsylvania before taking a turn toward admissions. He was director of financial aid at Hamilton College before returning to work for his alma mater, Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

“There’s great success to be had out there,” Malatesta told the audience, and encouraged students and their parents to look for “programs, philosophy, and opportunities” that line up with their needs and values.

Before joining the University of Richmond, Villanueva served as dean of admission and chief admission officer at Brandeis University. He previously worked at Bucknell University and Harvey Mudd College.

Matt Malatesta of Union College, Gil J. Villanueva from the University of Richmond and Michael Geller of the George Washington University talked college admissions.

Villanueva talked about the three Rs of the college search process: reflection, research, and resources. He added, when visiting schools, don’t pack too many visits in a single day. Seeing one college or university per day will allow a prospective student to really take in the atmosphere of an institution.

Before George Washington University, Geller worked in the Admissions Office for 16 years at Wheaton College. His message was that admissions officers look beyond grades to what those grades actually mean in context. How rigorous were the classes, how ambitious the schedule? “What we want to see is that students have taken a curriculum that appropriately challenges them,” he said. “Just hearing ‘3.5 GPA’ doesn’t tell the whole story.”

McGraw said she was delighted by the high turnout to the panel, which had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate everyone who signed up to attend.

“We were so excited by the level of parent engagement in the college-search process,” she said, adding she appreciated both the honesty and the levity expressed by the panelists. “We definitely anticipate holding this event every year,” she said.