In the fall, across Arts and Humanities, we say Happy New Year! We are excited about new beginnings, Seattle Pacific University’s 125th year celebration, and new students and faculty coming to campus.
This year, faculty members join us from as far away as the University of Notre Dame and the University of Missouri. Among them are Dr. Scott Cairns, director of the master of fine arts (MFA) program, Dr. Yelena Bailey in the English Department, and Dr. Matthew Benton in Philosophy. And our students and alumni are creating opportunities to engage the culture and change the world.
In all we do, we give thanks and praise to God who fills our world with beauty; with artists who paint or sing God’s truth; with scholars trained in words and texts. What an honor to serve in this place!
— Debra Sequeira
Dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities,
College of Arts and Sciences
Painting the interior life
The praise for Laura Lasworth’s art exhibit this summer at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Santa Monica, California, was as radiant as the paintings which inspired it. “Lasworth paints in a dawn-light palette with such luminous clarity and devotional intimacy that her images naturally read as sacred icons,” wrote Leah Ollman of The Los Angeles Times.
The paintings are the creation of Professor of Art Laura Lasworth, a professional in the art world and in the art classroom.
“The making of art helps me to reflect and make sense of a turbulent world and the complexity of the human condition,” says Lasworth, whose first show came in 1981. “I need to make art in order to stay in my life, but I teach because I believe it is my calling. In my role as teacher of art, my faith pours forth in the most natural way. I think the students perceive this.”
Her recent exhibition, titled AFTER IMAGES, was initially inspired by the works of Spanish poet and philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno. She turned to his book, The Tragic Sense of Life, to find a better understanding of the human condition.
“Through the study of his poetry,” she continues, “I encountered solace. With that sensibility as a foundation, I began this series of paintings attempting to weave the particulars of a personal narrative into a universal prayer for healing and transformation of the troubled relationships in all their many forms around our world today.”
“Every scene here (in the exhibition) resonates with deep personal and often religious significance …,” adds art critic Ollman. “Through the Seattle-based artist’s work, a great reciprocity is in play between eye, mind and soul, between beauty and grace.”
Featured in a variety of publications, including Art in America, Artforum, and IMAGE Journal, Lasworth’s work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the country.
Read review and see paintings from AFTER IMAGES.
Sam Fullhart ’13
Undergrad accomplishes rare feat
From a young age, Sam Fullhart of the Class of 2013 tended to think in an abstract, philosophical way. His deep thinking often came in response to questions such as: Are there any facts about what we should and shouldn’t do? If there are, how do we know them? Does God’s foreknowledge make it impossible for humans to have free will?
For his honors thesis, the philosophy and economics double major decided to explore the claim that humans have some kind of mental faculty that functions in part to enable them to distinguish between judgments about what they should do relative to a given set of conventions, and judgments about what they should do because it is the right thing to do.
“To illustrate,” says Fullhart, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, “a person could say, ‘The conventions of table etiquette require you to put your knife on the right side of your plate,’ a type of judgment most people would say differs from the judgment a vegetarian makes when he says, ‘You shouldn’t eat meat.”
It was that level of inquiry that accomplished a most remarkable result for his thesis. In his senior year at Seattle Pacific University, an article based on his honors project was accepted for publication as the lead article in the first issue of the Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics. ”Distinguishing Morality from Convention: Evidence for Nativism” was published that summer.
“It is quite rare for an undergraduate student, even one as bright as Sam Fullhart, to have an article published in a top scholarly journal,” says Owen Ewald, associate professor of classics. Although professors advising honors projects stress that projects should be worthy of publication, seldom does one survive a rigorous double-blind peer review as Fullhart’s did.
Today, Fullhart is an associate in the Business Department of Tonkin Torp LLP, a large law firm in Portland, Oregon. In law school, he was an associate editor of the Journal of Law and Social Change and a student teacher for several middle schools in Philadelphia.
“Sam was a great philosophical conversation partner,” says Leland Saunders, assistant professor of philosophy and first reader on Fullhart’s thesis. “He was a curious and indefatigable researcher. An extremely clear and lucid writer, his thesis raised some new and interesting problems.”
Bright lights, big city, open doors
Junior Natalie Gress is in many respects a lot like anyone her age. She likes card games, video games, dirt-bike riding with her dad, and thrift-store shopping with her mom. No matter how busy this theatre major gets, she enjoys staying in touch with family and friends.
But there is no denying the magic of performing Shakespeare in parks for people who might not otherwise have access to quality theatre. “I truly believe that theatre, especially Shakespeare, is food for the soul and has a way of bringing communities together,” says Gress, who is passionate about her work with GreenStage, an outdoor nonprofit theatre company that publicly performs the bard’s works for free. This past summer she acted in The Merry Wives of Windsor, served as their technical director, and was a summer camp counselor for their youth programs.
And that’s just the beginning. “Seattle Pacific University is located in one of the top 10 theatre cities in the country,” says Gress. “Every week there are new shows to see with student discounts, productions and projects to audition for, and assorted other theatrical jobs and volunteer positions to involve yourself in beyond SPU. Seattle is rich in opportunities and everything is just a bus ride away!”
Not only has Gress appeared in three commercials for FreshMadeMedia, but thanks to her “Auditioning” course she was also able to help and observe Theatre Puget Sound’s professional general auditions and thereby gain experience on the other side of the casting table. The opportunity gave her insight into the dos and don’ts of auditioning as a professional and boosted her confidence to audition more regularly within the Seattle area.
Heavily involved in Seattle Pacific productions as well, Gress was Cordelia in King Lear, Ballet Girl in Elephant’s Graveyard, and Sally Talley in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly. Folly takes place over the course of one night and is 90 minutes long without intermission. Gress and her scene partner were on stage for the entire length of the show. Not only that, but she has worked production as an electrician and board operator, skills that have earned her designation as a master electrician.
Before she enrolled as a student, Gress attended an SPU show. “The attention to detail in the set and the costumes showed me this was a department dedicated to quality,” she says. Her goals include earning secondary education certification to teach high school theatre and English. She hopes, too, to continue acting and working in theatre. She wants to model for her students that they can surpass what is expected of them and shine in their own spotlights.
New MFA director a practitioner of words aptly chosen
A child in the faith long before he knew a thing about poetry, Scott Cairns settled on poetry for his primary written medium, much as a painter chooses oils or watercolors to express his finest art.
One could say that being a librettist, memoirist, translator, and author of eight poetry collections has provided Cairns with more than a few religious experiences. “It has been my discipline in writing poetry — the uncommon attention one learns to give to words — that finally enabled a satisfying prayer life.”
As the new director of Seattle Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, Cairns desires “to assist young writers of faith in developing their skills and their canniness about the world of American and international letters.”
His highest hope for his students, he says, is identical to his highest hope for himself. “I pray that we will all acquire sufficient skills and insight to understand how our creative writing … quite literally ‘comes to terms’ with our faith, find language to serve as (what I would call) a paraphrase of truth, and in so doing find in the act of doing our work a continuing calm, an awareness of our God’s nearness, his inexhaustible compassion.”
A regular blogger for the Religion Section of The Huffington Post, Cairns has published his writings in numerous periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, and The New Republic. His poetry and essays, written says one reviewer “with all the vigor of a freshly minted monk,” have appeared in Best Spiritual Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing. A teacher of American literature and poetics, Cairns has taught at Westminster College, the University of North Texas, and Old Dominion University, and most recently was professor of English at the University of Missouri.
When asked if all of life is poetry or if cold cereal and milk are just cold cereal and milk, Cairns responds, “All life partakes of life. That is to say that even my cold cereal and milk might, given due attention, yield an awareness of the enormity of Life. Actual poems can do the same, so long as they are sufficiently attending to that Life in which we live and move.”
Got scholarships? Why, yes, we do!
Can you sing? Act? Play an instrument? Paint or sculpt your inner vision? At Seattle Pacific University, more than $250,000 in fine and performing arts scholarships are available to incoming freshmen based on talent in music, theatre, or visual arts, and regardless of major.
For further details, visit spu.edu/finearts.
Knowing that your professors are at the top of their respective fields, current with their research, and engaged in professional pursuits beyond campus breeds confidence that you have chosen your university wisely. Keep on your toes with this sampling of accomplished SPU faculty members:
Associate Professor of English Yelena Bailey. A specialist in cultural studies, black feminist thought, and critical race and gender studies, Yelena has conducted field research in Cuba. Time in the island nation sparked her interest in the ways black women writers across the globe think about their identities and politics, and how they engage with nationalist and internationalist movements. As a woman of color, she has spent her life actively fighting racial, gender, and socioeconomic barriers.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Matt Benton. Matt comes to SPU after serving a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Notre Dame (Hope and Optimism Project) and as a junior research fellow and postdoctoral research fellow in the Faculty of Philosophy at Somerville College, Oxford. He earned his PhD at Rutgers University and is able to wrap his mind around his primary research specialties of epistemology (the theory of knowledge), philosophy of language, and philosophy of religion, with philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and early modern philosophy a close second. As he has found, good Seattle coffee helps with hard concepts.
Director of Bands Danny Helseth. When you’ve been a featured musical artist throughout China, Europe, Japan, and the United States, you bring a lot to the table. Call it a mix of innate ability and contagious enthusiasm. This Fulbright Scholar to Great Britain and master of the euphonium is a champion of new music. He has recorded with the United States Air Force Band and performed principal trombone with the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic. Danny is director of the SPU Symphonic Wind Ensemble and a founding member of Eufonix, the tuba-euphonium quartet considered one of the premiere low brass chamber ensembles in the world.
Associate Professor of Music Stephen Newby. Composer, conductor, gospel/jazz vocalist, and pianist, Stephen directs the SPU Gospel Choir and the Worship Arts Ensemble. In March of this year, he was contacted by the director of new works at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, Ian Eisendrath. The theatre needed a new musical composed for its educational touring program based on the novel Free Boy. The book tells of a teenage slave’s escape in 1860 from the Washington Territory to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Stephen applied for the commission and was selected. “I believe the musical can serve as a healing balm for our nation in a time of difficult race relationships,” he says. His music expresses notions of freedom through a variety of musical stylings including jazz, rap, gospel, and blues.