On Thursday afternoon, Bowdoin students and community members gathered in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library’s Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) Learning Lab for a discussion on the collaborative book created by book artist Rebecca Goodale and Professor of Art Carrie Scanga, “Back Then and Now.”
The discussion was facilitated by Mainer, poet and art critic Carl Little.
Goodale and Scanga were initially introduced by former SC&A director Richard Lindemann. The two Maine artists soon became great collaborators and friends.
Now, the pair co-teach a Visual Arts class together entitled The Printed Book. Goodale and Scanga describe collaboration as an escape from their sharpest inner critics.
“Anything goes … [working with Goodale] opens up a playful space for me,” Scanga said.
The two artists bring their collaborative energy into the classroom, allowing students to benefit from their relationship while learning the art of bookmaking. Facilitating a collaborative and discussion-based environment is one of their goals for the class.
“If there’s more than one voice in the classroom, you can say, you could be right this way, this way or this or this way. And once you know that, then you’re empowered,” Scanga said.
Students taking the course attended the discussion on Thursday. Scanga and Goodale hope students retain knowledge of the natural length, depth and enjoyment of a professional creative process.
“I just want our students to feel the joy of making things,” Scanga said.
Elisabeth Chan ’25, a student in the class, said she learned about how her professors’ engagement with the world around them inspires their professional projects.
“I learned about their thought processes and the way they approached this medium of art, which is really interesting considering that we’re all sort of novices within their studio,” Chan said.
“Back Then and Now” is based on an old saltbox farmhouse on Pettengill Farm, located on the Harraseeket River estuary, with a long history of different residents.
Scanga said she was moved by her first visit to the farmhouse, which is open to the public for just one day a year on historic Pettengill Farm Day. This year, the house is open this Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
During Scanga’s visit, the drawings on the plaster of the second-floor walls immediately captured her attention. The unknown artist behind the drawings became a character in the pair’s project. Goodale remembers thinking of the mystery artist as “the girl in the wall.”
The most recent resident of the now-abandoned farmhouse, Millie Pettengill, adorned its walls with elaborate, colorful wallpaper, which inspired Goodale’s contribution to “Back Then and Now.”
“I love making patterns,” Goodale said. “That’s why I thought it would be good for us to tackle this, because of the wallpaper aspect.”
The book layers Scanga’s black and white prints, inspired by the plaster drawings, with Goodale’s bright wallpaper patterns, creating a commentary on the interconnectedness of time in the farmhouse.
The artists built the book so that the sun appears to be rising as the reader flips through, adding another layer of time to the project. The book is also influenced by Pettengill’s life, incorporating renditions of her pets and decorations into the book’s tour of the farmhouse and its history.
Little focused the discussion on the artists’ ability to create something unique by combining their respective skill sets.
“It’s just a wonderful way of creating something as two people, as opposed to going solo,” Little said. “And the way they share tasks and work together? I think it’s a perfect example of artistic collaboration.”
While this is Goodale’s first time teaching at Bowdoin, many of her other works have long been a part of Bowdoin’s collections. On a trip to the Schiller Coastal Studies Center last year, Goodale ran into a member of the Environmental Studies faculty. When Goodale introduced herself, the professor expressed prior knowledge of her work and felt as if he already knew her, despite never meeting her before. Goodale attributes this experience to the strength of the Bowdoin art community.
“That is a gift Bowdoin gives me over and over again,” Goodale said.
Special Collections Education and Engagement Librarian Marieke Van Der Steenhoven organized the event, which is part of the Bowdoin & The Book initiative. Van Der Steenhoven described the initiative as a bridge between the Bowdoin community and the SC&A’s expansive collection.
Van Der Steenhoven encouraged students to visit SC&A outside of class and to seek out what interests them. She hopes to guide future Bowdoin & The Book events in the direction of these interests.
“There’s this incredible network in this community,” Van Der Steenhoven said. “We have these collections that demonstrate that, so bringing people together around it feels pretty important.”
Marc Rosenthal contributed to this report.