my capstone experience

Elizabeth Ryan '09, a Graphic Design major from Westminster, Mass., discusses her Honors Capstone project, which combined her interest in Irish Art History with graphic design. The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience and part of the Liberal Education Program at Colby-Sawyer College.

While at Colby-Sawyer, Ryan was in th Wesson Honors Program, was a four-year member of the equestrian team, helped found the Graphic Design Students Alliance, was active in Alpha Chi and was a student coordinator in the Art Gallery. In fall 2009, she will begin a MFA program in Graphic Design at Boston University.

Describe your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

In addition to the standard Capstone for my BFA, for which I did a digital portfolio, I completed an Honors Capstone which combined my interest in Irish Art History with graphic design. I spent the semester researching Irish art from 1800 to the mid 20th century, and synthesized my findings into a few key points focused on influential Irish paintings. This research was then presented as a learning tool in a poster format. The 13 posters were designed to present the information, highlight the featured artwork, and be visually engaging. The integration of Irish art history with graphic design provided an interdisciplinary perspective, which met the requirements of the Honors Program.

What kinds of research did you conduct for this project?

The study of Irish art is relatively new in the field of art history and is not part of the standard survey of art taught at the college level. I was introduced to this area of art history while studying at the University of Limerick in Ireland during the summer of 2008. I was fascinated by the complex relationship Irish art had with the nature of the Irish national identity. The development of Ireland as a nation is complex, as is the Irish identity. To claim that something or someone is Irish implies a certain construction of history and identity that is wrapped up in Ireland's colonial relationship with England. This complex relationship is expressed in the visual representation of Ireland and 'Irishness.' From the reading lists provided by the lecturers in Limerick, I collected books and articles on art in Ireland. From these readings, I developed a list of influential artists and their key paintings, as well as the important ideas and historical circumstances reflected therein. This body of information formed the basis of my posters.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

I learned a great deal about Irish art in general, and the ways in which visual culture and national identity interact. The project was also a great opportunity to work independently and explore this subject according to my own interests and at my own pace.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

The most fun and rewarding part of my Capstone was seeing the finished posters on the wall for the exhibition. I didn't really know how it would come together in the end, but I am very happy with the way it all looks.

At the same time, that was the most stressful part. I didn't have a cohesive body of information is use, like a paper, just isolated ideas loosely connected through the common theme. The posters were the best solution I had. I wasn't sure that the whole thing would come together in time.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

For myself, these posters will become a strong part of my overall portfolio. For others, I hope that they will become the educational tools they were meant to be. I wanted to present this material to others in an interesting and engaging way, so that viewers could learn about Irish art and the relationship between visual culture and national identity.