Student Spotlight: Studio art major Emily Harwell ’16

by Elise Higgins | 5/23/16 5:01pm

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Emily Harwell ’16 prefers to focus on nature, specifically honing in on human violence against nature.
Source: Courtesy of Emily Harwell

Emily Harwell ’16 was among many senior art majors who recently won the Class of 1960 Residential Life Purchase Award. Faculty and members of the Class of 1960 saw all the work shown at the senior art exhibition and then selected which ones they wanted to buy to decorate residential dorms and offices.

Harwell won the award for her collages “Untitled” and “Study of Money.” To create these pieces, she cut real money and prints of bills into geometric shapes then displayed them on a piece of copper leaf.

Harwell said she felt honored to win this award and was excited because it gave her the opportunity to have her artwork displayed permanently. Although she had always been interested in art, she never envisioned herself pursuing it as a major or professionally.

When she came to Dartmouth, Harwell originally planned on majoring in environmental science. However, she eventually changed her mind and switched to majoring in studio art, although she is pursuing an environmental science minor.

Harwell said that the transition to becoming a studio art major was relatively easy since she had already taken so many studio art classes simply out of interest. However, while Harwell had the technical skills, she needed to invest more time in her art which she was encouraged to do by studio art professor Colleen Randall.

“She really pushed me to work harder, spend more time in the studio and consider majoring,” Harwell said.

After she made the decision to pursue the major, Harwell began to take her art more seriously and explore various themes that she would continue to work on throughout her time at Dartmouth.

Although her artworks selected by the Class of 1960 focused on money, she usually focuses on natural elements. Her interest in environmental science led largely to this focus. However, Harwell said she has always been interested in nature due to her Native American heritage. She grew up in a small town in Oklahoma on a 40-acre piece of land mainly made up in large part of forest. As a result, she spent time outside appreciating nature.

“I spend more time outside than inside,” Harwell said.

Harwell tries to conceptualize exactly how nature fits into her work.

Jenny Seong ’16, a fellow studio art major who works in a studio next to Harwell, said that the two of them occasionally discuss and comment on each other’s art.

“She’s more interested in nature and how humans have manipulated nature,” Seong said.

Hayden Chun ’16 agreed with Seong about the combination of nature and destructive elements.

“To me, her artwork often creates a strong dichotomy, highlighting beautiful plants and scenery from nature with a darker, twisted perspective,” Chun said.

Over the years, Harwell said her work has become more focused on human violence against nature, which she associates with men’s violence against women.

“I think about my connection with the land and my body while creating,” Harwell wrote in her artist statement for the senior art exhibition.

The subject of violence against women is particularly relevant for Harwell for two reasons. Sexual assault is a large problem within the Native American community, in which one in three women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. This rate is alarming in and of itself, but particularly so because it is higher than the overall average rates of sexual assault among women. As a member of the Native American community, Harwell said she felt connected to this issue. In addition, Harwell is herself a survivor of sexual assault, making the topic extremely personally relevant.

“As a survivor of such violence, it is important to me to create work that expresses resilience via beauty while also addressing that this darkness, or violence, is present and strong,” Harwell said.

Harwell said that after her assault, she noticed that her art became darker in subject matter subconsciously. After writing her artist statement, Harwell begin to think more deeply about her work and the meaning behind it.

Harwell said that after writing her statement she began to focus more on the conflict between violence and pure elements.

“In my work, sometimes I’m successful in combining the two and having balance, and sometimes one overcomes the other,” Harwell said.

The relationship between these elements has continued to evolve over the years that Harwell has spent creating art while at the College.

“It’s been amazing to see her work evolve over the past few years, and I can’t wait to see how her passion will continue to grow,” Chun said.

The gallery presentation for the Class of 1960 Purchase Award was one of Harwell’s last projects while at Dartmouth. However, she wishes to continue working on her art once she graduates. She plans on doing two post baccalaureate semesters before eventually going on to graduate school.

This summer, a gallery that had viewed Harwell’s art in the senior exhibition will showcase and put her art on sale.