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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

A new page of memory and history

Students admire books on display in the Print Study Room. Photo by Chris Lee
Students admire books on display in the Print Study Room. Photo by Chris Lee
Students admire books on display in the Print Study Room.
Photo by Chris Lee

Reading a book is like having a conversation with its author. Such dialogues are unique in their ability to transcend time and space but can be limited by religious, historical and national boundaries. But Faulconer Gallery intern Sarah Henderson ’16 shows a way to engage in collective memory through various books in her exhibition, “Between These Pages: A Study of Collective Memory in Art.”

“From the beginning I knew, in some basic way, I wanted to combine what I was learning in anthropology and my love, art history,” Henderson said.

It is the responsibility of each Faulconer Gallery intern to produce an exhibition. Henderson’s original plan was to present a selection of African art as a representation of both aspects of anthropology and art history until she took an anthropology class on collective memory with Professor Brigittine French, Anthropology.

Sarah took theoretical concepts from the class and brought them to life through concrete visual representations, particularly where memory intersects with identity,” French wrote in an email to the S&B.

Collective memory refers to a shared pool of information held in the memories of more than two people, which often works on varying scales. During the talk, Henderson gave some examples. If several people think back on the events of September 11, they would be engaged in a collective memory of terror, and if some students remember scenes from the traditional campus party of 10/10, they would also touch on a collective memory. Henderson says that organizing the event presented challenges by requiring her to make specific selections.

“It was [difficult] choosing, first, because when you start looking at collective memory art, you realize that it’s almost everywhere,” Henderson said.

Each of six books exhibited represents a wide range of events, from global warfare to regional cultures. Covered in distinctive materials such as metal and leather, these literary artifacts allow the reader to discover raw memory rather than refined information. 

“Sarah’s work helped me to think about the Burling print collection in new ways. I may well use [it] for an assignment in an upcoming tutorial,” French wrote.

The seventh book in her curated collection, which Henderson herself composed, is named “We’re All Dreamers” and embodies the collective memory of Grinnell College.

“I would say the next hardest part was that I decided not only to do the research and curate the exhibition, but to do a huge outreach project and engage the students,” Henderson said.

After preparing 27 different prompts, she asked students about the images of Grinnell and matched photos to their answers. Through her work, she found that it was difficult to completely represent the diverse perspectives of the student body, but this interactive process is also one theory of museum studies that fascinates her.

“When you have the audience participate in the exhibition and have them contribute to something, it means more to them and they want to go see their work,” Henderson said.

The book consists of transparent sheets and pieces of thin paper. Henderson devised this method in order to express the different layers of individual opinions about Grinnell. When the reader goes through the entire book, they attain collective memory, something which is larger than personal viewpoints.

Her presentation inspired faculty as well as students.

“Synthesizing different perspectives is as the heart of a Grinnell liberal arts education. I think the way she did it, meaning the medium and mode of her work, was quite unique and innovative,” French wrote.

Henderson will continue to pursue her career with museums with the same creativity and passion. Her commitment to art has frequently overlapped with history. She volunteered at several institutions in Iowa, such as the Museum of Natural History and The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. This summer, she is excited to set foot inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Doing that double major was to avoid all the hard paper writing of the history major … and to keep myself open for a variety of opportunities,” Henderson said with a laugh. 

Henderson lamented that the art resources at Grinnell have been under-utilized and encouraged students to take advantage of them.

“You could literally just walk [into the print study room] and say, ‘I wanna see blank,’ and you’ll see it. And it will be priceless,” Henderson said.

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