Newly welcomed artist-in-residence Nancy Blum hopes to “bring Bowdoin’s art students the experience of making a living as an artist.” 

As the spring 2015 Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project Visiting Artist in Residence, Blum has been spending her first week in Assistant Professor of Art Carrie Scanga’s Printmaking I class.

Audrey Blood ’13, a Visual Arts major who currently works at the Zea Mays Printmaking studio in Massachusetts, is back at Bowdoin to serve as Blum’s assistant. Blum will then stay for another three weeks as an “artist in residence” in the Visual Arts department. 

“I always had a fear that I couldn’t be an artist,” Blum said during a campus lecture on Tuesday. “I knew I had aptitude and desire but I did not have a sense that I contained brilliance.”

Public art—art funded by the public and displayed in public places— has given Blum many opportunities. Her current project, which will be displayed in San Francisco General Hospital, will feature glass windows decorated with medicinal botanicals. Fifty feet of her drawings will be translated into glass. Though her work incorporates many different mediums and techniques, drawing remains Blum’s favorite form of expression.

“First and foremost at this point, I draw,” Blum said. “The first step to etching is drawing. Drawing is the first step of many things.”

In describing her creative process, Blum makes it clear that her process differs from typical artistic routines.

“As an artist who has been doing this for a while, my ideas have been developing for decades,” she said. “I don’t draw out a composition or sketch before I begin. I just draw directly from my train of thought.”

Blum and Professor Scanga’s relationship goes back over a decade.

“Nancy was a mentor and studio critic for me when I was a graduate student at the University of Washington. Much of what I know about how to give a good studio critique I learned from Nancy,” wrote Scanga in an email to the Orient. “Nancy can give a critique that sees right into the heart of an artist and draws out authentic action and hard work. She is motivating, extremely caring, and tough.”

Although this is not Blum’s first visit to Bowdoin, she was enthusiastic about the opportunity to return.

“Bowdoin’s an incredible institution. It’s nice as an artist to get to come to a place that’s beautiful, has great facilities, and bright students,” said Blum. “My undergraduate basis was in liberal arts. I think it’s the best form of education for developing the mind.”

Blum did not pursue art until she decided to go to the Cranbrook Academy of Art at age 28. Following graduate school, she did artistic residencies. After many years, and a professorship at the University of Wisconsin, Blum ventured into public art.  

During her first week on campus, Nancy will be working on an etching project with help from Scanga’s students. She is aiming to create a series of fifty copper etchings.

“I recently spent time helping Nancy in the studio,” said Daniel Lulli ’18. “It was scary because she’s a professional and I’m a newbie but it was really nice.”

Artistic help is not the only valuable thing that Scanga’s students will be giving Blum; in fact, Blum is most excited for their company.
“I mostly work alone in my studio, so it’s really nice to get to interact with students while they help me,” she said.

“She has been an artist-in-residence at many colleges and universities prior to Bowdoin, and she is known for giving great career advice and studio critiques. I expect that the students who interact with her will receive some great mentoring if they’re open to it,” Scanga wrote.

Though the students in Printmaking I will be helping Blum, she will hopefully return the favor.
“When it comes to etching, Nancy is very familiar with the material. Having her there as a resource will be incredible,” said Clarence Johnson ’15.

Blum cites botanical renderings, fieldwork, and exploration as her main inspirations. Her work often focuses on floral themes. 

“[The flower] has been historically relegated to the background—it doesn’t have any form of agency,” said Blum. “So my content aims to pull it forward and...have it be of a scale that it gets to inhabit the active space.”

“[Flowers] are going to survive us by the way…they’re not quite as innocuous as we think,” Blum said of flowers her lecture on Tuesday.

“When I heard her comment on nature outliving humanity, I thought, ‘That’s a very Bowdoin thing to say,’” said Lulli. “I’m excited to see where this goes. I like her.”