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Austin Peay State University art student Rheanne Bouchard immersed in opportunity, discovery of Hazel Smith fellowship

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – In its second year, the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Hazel Smith Summer Research Fellowship again delivered “a wonderful opportunity” for a student to immerse herself in the university’s art collection.

But the fellowship delivered even more than that to this year’s recipient – Rheanne Bouchard, who is entering her senior year in pursuit of a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in studio art.

“It has helped me so much because I’m getting the experience for what I want to do later on,” the Palmer, Alaska, native said.
 
A recent endowment from Mark and Martha Em Raby helped to establish the summer fellowship, which provides an APSU Art + Design student the opportunity to work with Michael Dickins, Austin Peay State University’s director and curator of The New Gallery and University Art Collections.
 
The Raby gift provides funding for the position each year, and Austin Peay State University’s Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts provides a matching amount.
 
“Just being able to talk to Michael and ask him questions and getting his advice is invaluable,” Bouchard said. “It’s helping me to figure out what’s next after I graduate. Talking to somebody – and getting hands-on experience – who’s doing what I want to do in life is a really big help.”
 
Over the summer, Bouchard got hands-on experience documenting, researching and handling works of art in the university’s art collection. She also helped Dickins prepare for the first exhibition of the fall season – “Paula Kovarik: Herd” from August 17th-September 16th.
 
“It’s also about preserving the artwork and checking to make sure that it’s being properly taken care of,” said Bouchard, who estimated she and Dickins removed 100 art pieces from their frames to upgrade matting or backing.
 
The duo also continued to add to Austin Peay State University’s new art database – an online project that makes the university’s vast art collection more accessible to the public.



 
During one week during the summer, Bouchard said she added photographs of about 150 pieces to the database.

‘We have one of his pieces!’

The Si Lewen piece.
The Si Lewen piece.

Bouchard thrived working with the database, especially when she and Dickins discovered and solved the mysteries that exist in the collection.

“I like being able to find a piece and make sure that all the records about it are accurate,” she said. “We found a bunch of pieces this summer that we had no information on and once we took them out of their frames, we found all this information written on the back.

“We were like, ‘OK, who’s this artist?” she added. “When we looked them up, we’d find the actual piece that we had.”
 
One of their major finds was a mixed-media painting by Si Lewen, a Polish-American painter who served in the U.S. Army after he and his brother fled to France and then to the United States as Adolph Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. Art Spiegelman, author of the internationally renowned graphic novel “Maus,” published “Lewen’s Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey” in 2016, a book that celebrates the painter and republished his pieces that depict the horrors of war.
 
“It was in this frame and when we looked it up, everything was unknown,” Bouchard said. “We didn’t know who made it. We didn’t know the title. We didn’t know anything.
 
“But when we took it out of the frame, everything was written on the back, his name, the date and the title,” she added. “We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is insane. We have one of his pieces!’
 
Other discoveries include an Aaron Douglas portrait drawing and 10 prints taken by famed photographer Deborah Gould Hall.

‘Look at what we found, isn’t this crazy?’

Rheanne Bourchard photographs artwork for the database. (APSU)
Rheanne Bourchard photographs artwork for the database. (APSU)

When Bouchard graduates, she wants to do more of what she did during the summer fellowship.

“I would like to work in a museum or a gallery setting because I have experienced installing and de-installing, and I think I’m really good at the database work,” she said. “I’m really interested in continuing that kind of work because it’s super interesting to find these hidden gems and share them with other people and say, ‘Look what we found, isn’t this crazy?’”


Bouchard follows in the footsteps of graphic design student Katie Boyer, the inaugural Hazel Smith Summer Research Fellow.

“The Rabys’ support has been invaluable to the University’s Art Collection,” Dickins said. “It has provided the assistance needed for us to focus on the collection and collection database and to discover/re-discover important works of art in the collection.”

Expanding Collection Accessibility

The fellowship also allowed Bouchard and Dickins to install more than 115 works of art in three buildings on campus to increase the collection’s visibility and educational impact on students, faculty, and staff.

“This summer we installed works in the new counseling center on College Street, the third floor of Ellington, and throughout Trahern,” Dickins said. “This would not have been possible without Rheanne’s desire to learn and actively engage during this fellowship.

“Our plan is for her to continue this outreach this fall and get more of the collection into the daily lives of the Austin Peay State University community,” he added.


Endowments are permanently restricted funds managed by the Austin Peay State University Foundation. The amount of each scholarship award may vary and will be determined based on the value of the endowment and the foundation’s spending plan.

To support APSU fundraising initiatives, contact the Austin Peay State University Office of Alumni, Engagement and Philanthropy at 931.221.7127.

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