Professor-Sculptor Hones Craft in Paris
Scott Hardwig had heard great reports from fellow artists who had spent time at the Virginia Atelier in Paris, which is sponsored by the Cité Internationale des Arts. "Everyone returned raving about their wonderful experiences," says the Roanoke College professor of fine arts. "The idea of living in another culture in the middle of Paris seemed very appealing. In addition, I looked forward to the opportunity to test my command of conversational French."
So Hardwig's decision to spend a sabbatical in Paris made sense, but shortly after he arrived in there, reality hit. "Working in clay and bronze proved impossible," he says. "The floor plans of the ateliers show a small outdoor balcony, which I had hoped to use to melt wax. However, my studio had neither a balcony nor any sort of ventilation, so it was out of the question to use wax at this location."
And then there was the not-so-minor matter of materials. "Three days after I got to Paris," he says, "I took a train and then a bus and then walked to find clay. I bought 75 pounds of clay, put it in my backpack and carried it back to the atelier. The process took a whole day." Hardwig later experienced similar difficulty when trying to purchase 45 kilos of plaster.
Humility and Adaptability
"It was very humbling, very unsettling to be without my usual materials or usual artistic space," says Hardwig, who has taught at Roanoke College since 1977. "I had to be adaptable. So I ultimately used wood, plaster, metal, clay, glass and some stone I bought at a tile supply place."
In addition, the professor discovered although he could read French well, conversing in the language proved to be nearly impossible. "My efforts to speak and to comprehend were abysmal, and that's very painful when your profession revolves around expressing ideas."
Nevertheless, Hardwig was determined from the outset to create artistic works that responded to the environment of Paris. He went through museums, to be sure - a must for getting firsthand impressions of artists whose work he had long appreciated and taught. "I was able to visit the Louvre once or twice a week and work my way through most of the collections during my stay," he says. But walking around the city proved to be even more inspirational.
Hardwig, who has a bachelor's degree in biology from Swarthmore College as well as bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, was intrigued by Paris' use of space.
He was particularly impressed by the clear demarcation between public and private spaces even in the parks. "It was interesting to observe what battle or what person they chose to celebrate in their sculptures," he says. "But people walked right on by the sculptures of generals or kings or the monuments that commemorate certain battles. The artworks in the parks now serve mainly as decorations, like unused furniture."
Hardwig's visit to Père Lachaise, a cemetery that includes the graves of famous writers, musicians and generals, proved serendipitous. "That cemetery was most fascinating," he says. "Fresh flowers adorned some of the gravesites, and policemen were assigned to guard others. The tombs looked like little houses, an interesting form of architecture in miniature. There were even 'street addresses' as well as numbers on the tombs."
The little tombstone houses in Père Lachaise sparked an idea. "I decided to base my work on those houses," Hardwig says. "I wanted to create something that, rather than memorializing a certain person or event, left a generalizable impression, something that people would respond to, something with a full feeling. I wanted to create something that could be shown in a public space and make an impact, not just serve as decorative furniture."
So create he did. During his sabbatical, Hardwig crafted nine small-scale mixed-media works revolving around the tombs-as-houses theme. He showed three works in a group exhibition at the Cité Internationale des Arts and later exhibited all nine pieces in the Olin Gallery at Roanoke College.
"The experience in Paris changed the way I think about my work. Before I had been most concerned about shape, color, line and proportion. Now, I'm concerned about conveying feelings and emotions," he says.
"Several students came to the show on campus, and one of them said to me, 'They're very sad.' That's what I was striving for. I didn't want to create something maudlin or sentimental, but I did want to convey a feeling of humanity to which all people could respond."
A Renewed Empathy for Students
"My humbling experience in Paris gave me renewed appreciation for the struggles that students face in art class," says Hardwig, who has been honored with the Roanoke College Dean's Council Award for Exemplary Teaching. "In Paris, I was a rookie, bereft of my customary routines. I had been thrust into an environment in which I didn't have the right space for making art, didn't have easy access to materials and couldn't communicate in the native language. I now understand the panic that students must feel when their art professor says, 'Just try it!' I'm much more empathic."
The Parisian sabbatical also affected the way Hardwig teaches about great art. "It's hard to talk knowledgeably about great works of art if you haven't gleaned firsthand impressions by visiting museums, such as the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay."
A New Interest in Stone
Hardwig's work with stone in Paris, driven mainly by necessity given the lack of his usual materials, instilled the desire to work more with stone upon his return to the United States. He applied for and has been awarded a grant for summer 2006 during which he plans to work with an architectural stonemason. He intends to learn to create large bases or podiums out of stone to showcase future artworks. Some of the small-scale mixed-media pieces created in Paris, for example, might serve as models for future large-scale installations.
"I'm very glad that Roanoke College is a member of the Virginia Consortium for Professors of Fine Arts and that the Consortium maintains studio facilities in Paris," he says. "My experience in Paris was life-transforming as an artist and as a human being."
"I'm very grateful that the College has supported everything I have wanted to do," he adds, "and that support can't help but be reflected in the classroom."