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"Material Mind" exhibition has begun

The annual Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA, exhibition lasts until June 11

Western Washington University artist Rachel Rothberg stands next to her piece called Requiem, an oil painting of four colorful birds, on June 1, 2021. The Western Gallery Material Mind Exhibition showcases the thesis work of graduating Western students from the BFA program. // Photo by Crystal Tucker

Correction: A prior version of this story mislabeled Rothberg's year at Western. They are a fifth-year student.

After a year of hard work and conceptualization, graduating Western Washington University students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program will finally get the chance to present their thesis projects to the public from now until June 11.

Tami Landis, museum curator and educator in Western’s Art Department said that BFA is a year-long program where students filled out an application and were accepted last spring and started the program in the fall.

According to the gallery’s website, this year’s exhibition, “Material Mind,” explores the vast and complex relationship between the tangible and the intangible, the real and the imagined.

There are a variety of different types of artwork on display. Some include: Nicole Sletta’s Yetisquatch, Emma Fuhrmann’s mixed media, Rachel Rothberg’s oil painting and many more.

The website also includes information discussing how the artists have chosen materials that act as conduits to memories or ideas that often feel beyond reach. Additionally, the artists have worked to expose themes of isolation, identity, time, heritage, technology, corporeal realities, the natural world and human connection.

“Something that is really important to me as an artist is to have that community of artists to bounce ideas off of and I’m really lucky to have the BFA people to talk to,” fifth-year student, Rachel Rothberg said. “With COVID-19, I kind of felt isolated while I was painting these and in some ways I’m sure isolation was a big influence on how my work came out. I’m sure it would have been a lot different if COVID-19 wasn’t around.” 

Darrell Rosen, a local Bellingham artist, explained how being an artist can change one’s perspective on the world and also be therapeutic. 

“It is an escape into another world, one where time and rules are different,” Rosen said. “Pressure lifts and I’m in charge.” 

Some students have also chosen to represent personal memories, which according to the gallery’s website, was done by artists exposing the fragility of the structures, surfaces and places that surround one’s past, present and future being. Additionally, the gallery explained that in experiencing “Material Mind”, the displayed artwork aims to offer a glimpse into each artist’s mind.

While the gallery is set to present students' work, the event organization had to be changed due to COVID-19. According to Landis, since students aren’t able to have in-person artist talks, the event is live streamed for outside viewing.

“Normally we would all meet in person but because of COVID-19 a lot of that has been disrupted and moved virtually, which has been a real challenge,” Landis said.

Despite the limit on how many people can be in the gallery, those wishing to see the art can still make an appointment to view the artwork in person.

Those interested in seeing the art exhibit are able to register for a 30-minute in-person walkthrough to see what the students spent months working on. It is asked that no more than five visitors are in at a time during the gallery and masks should be worn at all times to help with social distancing.

Landis added that safety precautions also had to be put in place when students were initially working on their projects.

“The students still had their studios but were asked to work spread out,” Landis said. “They were able to access the campus and when it came to installation, the students got to work with an installation supervisor who helped with their work that took about eight days.”

Landis said that the students had to jump through hurdles and a lot of their meetings and critiques were held virtually rather than meeting in a studio. 

Rothberg also said that this year has brought on its own set of obstacles to overcome because of the pandemic.

Rothberg, one of the artists with their work on display at the gallery, created four large oil paintings of birds that they called “Requiem.

“I’ve been making bird-related art for a long time,” Rothberg said. “I’ve always been interested in nature; with this piece my advisors were pushing me to make them larger.”

In addition to Rothberg, this year’s artists include: Chloe Dichter, Lily Foss, Emma Fuhrmann, Amanda Jenkinson, Lisan Kent, Julia McIntyre, Haley Mounes, Iz Ortiz, Nicole Sletta, Danil Sonjaya and Henry Watts.

Gallery hours for this year’s event are being held from May 20 through June 11 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m, while Tuesday and Friday hours are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The gallery is located in Western’s Gallery by Red Square.

According to the website, it is preferred that registration to attend the gallery is done on the website before attendance. Once every individual attending has signed up, a confirmation of appointment time will be shared. 

Landis added that she hopes the students will have learned something from this experience and that they continue to push themselves. 

“My goal is that they experience what it means to install an exhibit in a professional gallery so that they have that experience under their belt so that they can go to other programs with a little more insight,” Landis said.

Crystal Tucker

Crystal Tucker, reporter for The Front, is a third-year Western student, aiming to be a Public Relations major. Crystal has always had a passion for Journalism. Throughout high school, she was a part of her school paper at Sehome High School. To contact Crystal, please reach her on her school email at 

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