In response to the College’s decision not to renew Sculptor in Residence John Bisbee’s contract, over 30 current and former students of Bisbee have rallied around the instructor, circulating a petition asking administrators to reconsider their decision. 

Co-written by students Kenny Shapiro ’17 and Nicole Smith ’16, the petition will be sent to President Clayton Rose, Dean of Academic Affairs Jen Scanlon and Chair of the Visual Arts Department Michael Kolster in an effort to convince them to keep Bisbee.

“We ask the administration to reconsider the decision to let John Bisbee go. To do so is to remove someone who has, for almost twenty years, been a positive fixture not only in the art department but also in the Bowdoin community. Please do not deny countless Bowdoin students present and future the chance to take class with an exceptional and irreplaceable artist, teacher, friend and mentor,” reads the letter in part. 

Bisbee first started working at Bowdoin in the 1996 and has worked part time, teaching only in the fall. During the rest of the year, he works at his studio in Fort Andross on fantastical sculptures made using 12-inch nails and spikes.

Bisbee declined to comment on the record about the petition.

“[The petition] is a public vote of confidence for Bisbee just because, for whatever reason, the administration doesn’t think he should be here, and that’s clearly so out of line with what his students think,” said Shapiro. 

Scanlon said she does not comment on personnel matters.

Kolster explained that following the hiring of Assistant Professor of Art Jackie Brown in the spring of 2014, Bisbee’s position was no longer needed and, as such, was converted to a digital media position. 

“In late spring 2014, given that our sculpture classes now were being taught by [a] full-time permanent faculty member dedicated to that area, the department unanimously decided to convert the half-time three-year Artist in Residence position from a sculptor to a digital media artist,” wrote Kolster in an email to the Orient. “The Dean for Academic Affairs approved our request... and all concerned parties were notified of this decision at that time.”

Kolster further characterized these decisions as part of a larger, ongoing effort on the part of the department to expand and strengthen their offerings. 

“We are pleased that now we have full-time permanent positions dedicated to the instruction of all five of the primary media comprising our major course of study: drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography...This is in sharp contrast to ten years ago when we had, effectively, only two full-time faculty lines dedicated to drawing and painting,” he said. 
Many students, however, are saddened at the loss of Bisbee. 

“The reason I pursued art here is because of John Bisbee,” Gina Stalica ’16 said. “His classes are just completely different than any classes I’ve taken here, which for me was absolutely necessary because they forced me to think in a way that was different from anything that I’d experienced in my life and especially in a class at Bowdoin.”

Other students echoed similar sentiments.

“John Bisbee’s teaching style is definitely unorthodox and he’s been described as an eccentric figure at Bowdoin, but I’m afraid that if the school doesn’t want to keep him that says that they don’t value that kind of openness, generosity of spirit and intuitiveness,” Emily Simon ’17 said. “I think it’s great that we have other professors in the department who are more focused on technique...but Bisbee is just as rigorous, he just takes a different approach and style. I think it’s important we have a range of styles in any given discipline.”

“He is this dog-loving, bearded nail sculptor who has an eye for the beauty that surrounds him,” said Mariah Reading ’16. “I learned more from him in the first day of his public art class than I have learned from any other professor at Bowdoin—so much that I’m doing an independent study in painting with him this semester despite the fact that he is a sculptor and not a painter.”

“As a teacher here for 20 years, he’s been instrumental to so many students’ personal growth and creativity. I feel sad that future Bowdoin students won’t be changed by Bisbee, as I know so many have been,” said Haleigh Collins ’17. 

After the end of this semester, Bisbee will return to his private studio in Fort Andross to work full-time on his sculptures. 

“Ideally the administration would reconsider their decision but if nothing else we just want John and the community to know how valued he is,” Smith said in an email to the Orient. “He’s done so many amazing things for so many of his students and that deserves recognition.”