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Student artwork captures publisher’s interest

By Carolina Lumetta

12.6.19

Following a four-week trip to Spain, faculty in the Spanish department are readying a book of student work for possible publication.

The book, which is in the process of being submitted to InterVarsity Press, will feature a collection of devotionals and watercolors from six Wheaton students about their experience walking the historic Camino de Santiago, a medieval Catholic pilgrimage route in Spain that has recently been increasing in popularity.

Senior Lecturer of Spanish Sharenda Barlar, who led the trip, said that she was encouraged by her colleagues to connect with IVP earlier in the semester. Although the proposal has not yet been completed, she is optimistic that it will eventually be accepted and published.

“There are a lot of books about the Camino, but none like this,” Barlar said. “There are memoirs and guide books, but that’s not what we want to publish. We want to produce one of the only evangelical responses to the Camino using devotionals written by students and the watercolors they created along the way.”

The students wrote and painted for class with no expectation that their work would be published and were shocked at the news. “It was really out of the blue,” sophomore Colin Swanson said. “We had no idea this would happen.”

Some of the students said that their paintings grabbed the attention of the locals and other travellers as they walked. “People would just stop and watch us paint and talk with us about what we were doing,” said junior Peyton Melin.

Ben Boone, the associate director of the Center for Liberal Arts at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., saw the students painting in a monastery and suggested they bring the watercolors to William & Mary’s Annual Symposium for Pilgrimage Studies. The event welcomes academic professionals and select undergraduate students from across the country to present original research.

“We’ve never had any student art included in the symposium before, and it was really cool to see a different interpretation of work along the Camino,” Boone explained. “It gave people a perspective that you don’t just have to do ‘traditional research.’ You can engage students from a variety of disciplines and teach them a new skill while they’re walking.”

When asked about future symposiums, Boone said that the Wheaton students “raised the bar” for what to expect in the coming years. Swanson also attended the symposium and said it was an unexpected opportunity to reflect on his trip and share his experiences with a new community.

“It was really cool to hear the different stories and how people have studied the Camino,” Swanson said. “It was also good for me to share my experiences and how making art was an effective way of studying the pilgrimage.”

Associate Lecturer of Art Leah Samuelson also chaperStudent book from Page 1 oned the trip and decided to add a community art element to the curriculum. The trip itself only provides Spanish credits, but Samuelson added the art element to help students process their experiences and engage with the locals and Spanish culture.

“There’s something about presenting artwork to the public that invites a type of curiosity, a type of dialogue,” Samuelson said. “That’s what we’re looking for — getting a conversation started about something that we care about.”

Not all students were initially thrilled to be painting for Spanish credit. Swanson decided to travel to Spain to earn credit and experience a new country, not complete community art projects. He does not describe himself as an artist, but noted that he began to think artistically as he walked.

Melin also experienced a change in perspective. “There were times when we’d have a couple hours at the end of the day, and I’d find myself painting instead of taking a nap,” said Melin. “I learned that resting isn’t always sleeping or reading; it can be painting, too.”

Samuelson enjoyed seeing the students’ initial skepticism transform into a genuine appreciation of spontaneous painting and deepen their experience of the Camino.

“You’ve got opinions, you’re taking risks, you’re willing to change your mind, make decisions and consider new things because you have to do all that through painting,” Samuelson added. “I very firmly believe that you grow the most when you’re the one making the art. I was thrilled that this was happening with the students.”

Both Barlar and Samuelson want the book to present readers with a new way of understanding art and the famous pilgrimage through students’ eyes. “I’m excited to expand on the larger purpose of walking the Camino by integrating art, theology and language in a true liberal arts fashion,” Barlar said.

Barlar hopes to complete the proposal in the next month and plans on completing the book with Samuelson in the fall during her sabbatical next school year. In the meantime, the paintings have recently been displayed in the Fireside Room in Lower Beamer and will be sold in the Wheaton Public Library during the month of December.

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