Headshot with three paintings in the background

Multiple Layers

May 1, 2014

For Rosalyn Richards, art is personal, political and ever kinetic.

By Terri Peterson • Photography by Bill Cardoni

"The practice of art,” says Professor of Art Rosalyn Richards, “is a constant process of searching, asking, ‘What can I try next?’” Richards has a profound interest in exploring the hidden mechanisms that make things tick. Her art has transformed from the representational landscape painting of her early undergraduate career to abstract printmaking that features a wide spectrum of scientific imagery, arranged to encourage reflection on the relationship between internal structure and the natural world. By its nature, printmaking demands that artists step outside their comfort zones; prints are made by first creating reverse-image templates, requiring makers to visualize their projects in different ways.

Richards has brought that spirit of inquiry to Bucknell, challenging herself and her students for three decades to find new means of creative self-expression. “It’s a lot of work to study art. Any skill — like music or athletics — needs practice, so my students have to accept they’re here to learn by doing. A majority of my students aren’t going to become professional artists but have a creative side they want to nurture outside their major.” Recently, Richards has seen increasing numbers of students try to balance their digital lives with hands-on art; they take drawing classes, make woodblock relief prints or create multifaceted book-arts projects. “The students learn to look at their world differently, and in doing so realize how little they’re actually seeing. Building observational skills and sensitivity to visual form enriches the whole person, feeding into whatever they do.”

During her tenure, Richards says she was similarly enriched by Bucknell’s commitment to faculty development. She received a tremendous amount of freedom to experiment artistically, thanks to resources like sabbaticals, generous studio space and collegial and administrative support. Inspired by Bucknell’s nurturing academic atmosphere, she became involved with the Arts Residential College and reached out to faculty she had never worked with before.

“I developed the course Printmaking as Social Commentary as a foundation seminar for the Residential Colleges,” she says. “The experience is interdisciplinary and exciting. It allows faculty to grow along with the students. You don’t feel like you’re stuck in a mold, and that’s perfect for a liberal arts setting.”

Richards says her role for the last 32 years has been to nurture talent, love and passion for the arts, and she hopes her students keep that passion alive once they’ve left Bucknell. Some have carried their love of art forward — her former students include designers, professors, collectors and museum board members. Recently, Richards sat with some former students from the early years of her professorship. They reminisced about their projects, their classes and their time working together. Richards says, “I was touched that they remember so much about the courses they took with me. In 32 years, I’ve taught a lot of students and hoped I reached most of them; it’s only when they come back and tell you that you can honestly know how deeply your teaching has made an impact.”

Terri Peterson is a freelance writer, blogger and social networking coordinator in Lewisburg, Pa.