Teaching > Maine

The Water's Edge: Word and Image on the Coast of Maine


Professors Joseph “Joe” W. Heithaus and Cynthia O’Dell combined their artistic talents – poetry and photography – to offer a May Term course on the island of Vinalhaven, a town located in the Fox Islands, an hour and a half by ferry off the coast of Maine.

The two chose the island in hopes that students would be inspired by what they saw. Alison L. Stephens ’14 describes her reaction. “One morning Claire (Zingraf) and I woke up to see the sunrise over the ocean, and it was an experience unlike any other. It's not something I get to see at DePauw. Writing how I was feeling made the emotions real, and learning how to put my feelings into words heightened the emotion and put it into context – making it a feeling very hard to forget.”

The course, “The Water’s Edge: Word and Image on the Coast of Maine,” encourages students to combine photography and poetry through exploration of landscape, history and culture. Heithaus, professor of English, and O’Dell, associate professor of art and art history, began exchanging their work several years ago before proposing the course that incorporates both their expertises.

The students spent four days preparing for their trip on campus – reading, writing and photographing in a classroom and the DePauw Nature Park. The professors provided background and instruction. While students were able to focus on one genre during the three-week term, they were expected to use both word and image in their final projects, which were shared with the Vinalhaven community at the public library at the end of their stay.

Both professors agreed that the presentations transformed the experience. “More than 30 community members attended,” Heithaus explains. “It was a small room, but it was packed. The images were on the screen. The students read. You could hear gasps, and one woman wept. People were emotionally blown away. The writings were powerful, and the images showed their own town in an entirely new way.”

“The students were always professional and were welcomed everywhere they went,” O’Dell says. “The way they connected with the people we met was incredible, and because of that, their projects became more of a collaboration with the community rather than just something they created on their own.”

Senior April L. Daugherty titled her project, “Visual Metaphor.” “As I began photographing and writing, I realized that I seemed particularly interested in finding the beautiful in the mundane – photographing or writing about something ordinary in an unusual way, extracting something fascinating from what seems to be the norm,” she says.

“I became particularly interested in this idea after studying poet William Blake with English Professor Wayne Glausser,” Daugherty explains. “The metaphor has to do with the way I linked my photography and writing. As I started using photography, I instantly started working with close-ups, and using these concentrated extractions as metaphors for my own life and experiences in my writing.”

As an English literature major and art history minor, Daugherty says she is accustomed to analyzing and critiquing the works of others, but she never spent a significant amount of time being a creator of art. “Joe, Cindy, the other students and Vinalhaven residents really made me feel confident about the work I produced. I left the island with a sense of worth as an artist, despite my beginner status.”

Clarissa "Claire" A. Zingraf ’14 says she was familiar with a photographer who used light in his work with long exposures, and the outcomes were beautiful and spiritual. “Because the island is so remote, it seemed like the perfect place to try his technique,” Zingraf says.“I built my project from one photograph that highlighted the edge of a rock that lined the coast, and added a collection of similar photographs by mimicking the waves, and playing with light up against pillars, rocks and trees.”

“After I had a group of photographs, I connected them to writing,” Zingraf says. “Children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown’s gravesite is on the island, and I decided to make my project a tribute to her and named my collection “Goodnight Vinalhaven" after her book, Goodnight Moon. The writing was a rhyme that went along with her book, and it said goodnight to different aspects of the island.”

Stephens explains that her final project was based on perspective. “I focused on the color red in nature and the stereotype associated with the color – blood and anger. It led me to secrets – how they burden people, and how people unintentionally leave them places. My project is a collection of secrets that were left in nature from anonymous voices and challenges the perspective of nature as serene and calm.”

Click on the tumblr links below to see the students' final projects.

April L. Daugherty '13 http://lisezmoi48.tumblr.com/

Garth A. McMains '15 http://rpm2nite-wgre.tumblr.com/

Alison L. Stephens '14 http://structuredimagination.tumblr.com/

Kaela A.Vass '13 http://kaelavass.tumblr.com/

Rachel T. Yingling '13 http://idreamtiwenttomanderleyagain.tumblr.com/

Clarissa A. Zingraf '14 http://clarissazingraf.tumblr.com/