Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2011


Seth Stulen '07 served as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduation and is now a regional coordinator for the organization in Panama.

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'Art will help you get through life'

Connecticut College alums reflect on Maureen McCabe's lasting influence and inspiration

"Andrea, art will help to get you through life…"

I would have never majored in art if it wasn''t for Professor McCabe's constant encouragement and near insistence on my doing so. I had already decided to major in psychology, but managed to work everything out so I could pursue both passions equally. She was my unexpected wake-up call dressed in all black with bright green espadrilles!

Her dazzling personality and ageless joie de vivre made it impossible to avoid being drawn into her lessons. Her classes were like another world. She noticed meanings and connections in art that others so often missed. To this day I don''t know how she manages to give some critiques with a straight face, especially during life drawing when she would circle around the room making side-splitting comments like “Eric, have you ever drawn a breast before? You've gotta give it some weight!”

I remember going to New York City to see a show and Suki Boynton '07 and I were walking arm in arm on the way to the gallery when suddenly a cheeky bird swooped in and dropped a deuce on both of us! Much to our surprise, Professor McCabe was thrilled and exclaimed with fervor, “Girls, this will bring yeeears of good luck!!!” Such was the nature of this feisty woman.

Just a few weeks before graduation, a close friend of mine was hospitalized for a week. I was very shaken up during that time and Professor McCabe was one of the only people I told about the situation. She and I hung that friend's artwork together one afternoon before the show. Her genuine support meant so much to me.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to take several of her classes. It's hard to imagine the Connecticut College art department without Professor McCabe. I say someone commission her portrait already! For extra effect, maybe it could be hung in the gallery and wired with sound to say things like “Get on the clue bus!” to keep everyone on track.

Without a doubt her invaluable advice, friendship and support will be greatly missed. So thank you, Professor McCabe, for being such an inspiration and for making a difference in my life. I'm still painting and crimson''s still your color!

—Andrea Packard '07

No one knows more about glue, X-Acto knives, and the alchemy of layering a collage than Professor McCabe. The breath and depth of this knowledge, as well as her gift of articulating abstract concepts and complex theories in simple and lucid terms, marks her as a great teacher, not just a highly inventive artist. I am most thankful to Professor McCabe for the renewed passion, confidence, and enthusiasm she gave me when I took her mixed media and collage class during my junior year. When a group of artists from the Yunnan province in China visited our class, Professor McCabe's inspiring appreciation for their meticulous craftsmanship and dedication to centuries-old practices led us to a deeper understanding and experience of the work. She drew me to new places of originality in my own work and helped me explore questions of theme and content that were crucial to my evolution as an artist. Her enthusiasm — for her personal projects, as well as for her students'' work — was, and continues to be, contagious.

—Brouck Anderson '07


I'm excited to share with you these images of a competition entry (currently going on and not yet decided). It is for a wildlife crossing bridge in Vail, Colorado. I have hope you will find your influence in it. I know it is there.

Kindest regards,

—David Rubin '85

I never saw her wear any other color but black. (All the colors.) (In the subtractive color system.) Maybe an animal-print hat, once. I loved collage class. Every week there was something new, and the students were all so different, and all listened and wanted to be there. I use one of her bits of advice from collage class to this day: Find someone in the class who makes work that you respond to, and watch them all semester.

Another gem: “You can't love your art.”

She has this amazing network of suppliers for her work. Bat skeletons from here, curvy glass in a round frame there, whatever curious object strikes her fancy from whoever is around, they are all challenged and rise to it, and give her what she wants.

—Emily Luce '97

Dear Professor McCabe,

At the end of every class that you taught you would have us write “nutshell advice” about that class for your students the following semester. I always dreaded condensing your class into a couple of sentences and now you want all of us to fit our entire experience with you at Connecticut College into a “brief comment/memory/tidbit of wisdom” — perhaps your hardest assignment yet but a fitting way indeed to end a rather important year.

A couple of nutshells from my immense McCabe collection:

Nutshell 1: The sound of your high heels clickity clacking swiftly down the Cummings hallway, followed by your voice, then the stunning cloud of your somehow-always-perfect black curls, and a tiny rabbit or Virgin Mary brooch fastened to your consistently black attire.

Nutshell 2: Lectures on varieties of glue and electric erasures, and the appropriate usage of mothballs to preserve dead insects.

Nutshell 3: How excited you were when Spencer used a pencil darker than a 2B.

Nutshell 4: The many dirty looks directed my way as I dug up soil from gravesites in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery for one of your pieces while abroad in Paris. The pride I felt when I put the soil into little bags and labeled them “Gravesite Dirt for Maureen McCabe's Art.”

Nutshell 5: The passionate speech that you gave to me about the lost art of handwritten love letters. How you once said “Gwen, make sure you marry someone who you can talk with about your art.”

Nutshell 6: The time you gave me a sneaky look and snuck me a Madeleine biscuit from a French restaurant during a guided tour of women''s art in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Nutshell 7: How you would slowly and quietly walk down the row of our classes'' drawings hung on the wall in Cummings looking at each one intently before beginning some of the most interesting and informative critiques I have ever had in my life.

Nutshell 8: Your countless e-mails and hours spent talking with me on the couch in senior studio as I freaked myself out about art making. You told me that you were always anxious about your own work — how in graduate school they stuck you in the corner with a fire extinguisher because your art was so different and you were always burning things. You told me to just keep working, gave me a warm little hug and said, “You'll always have your Professor McCabe.”

Nutshell 9: The fact that every time I face a challenging artistic decision I actually do hear your voice in my head.

Nutshell 10: The meticulousness of your sight. The complexity of how you presented us with ideas of composition, volume, balance, mass, depth, expression, content and execution. How you changed the manner in which I see and the objects that I consider beautiful. How your love of life and art was felt and internalized by every single one of your students.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have given to us (your students) over your many years at Connecticut College. I cannot wait to see the work that you make in the years ahead.

Kindest regards and love,

—Gwen Shockey '10

I drove my mum crazy with my collections: the antique bits and pieces, the little junk-treasures, the assortments of rusty nails, the collaged clutter of layers upon layers of fabrics, framed images, hanging glass baubles, countless glass bottles, bones that filled my small room as a teenager. … My birth mum kept thinking I might “grow out of it.” While she always encouraged me to be who I wanted to be and follow my artistic side, I don''t think she could have done better than to accept my interest in pursuing art in college.

Then I found the college, especially the artist, I wanted to study with. Professor Maureen McCabe became my art mom. She was my evidence I didn''t have to “grow out of it”; with her encouragement, I decided to grow into it. Inspired by an art form I was to become deeply in-tune with, mixed media assemblage was a label and definition of my what I needed to pursue. McCabe showed me the way and suddenly, everything that I was, collected, lived, made sense. She glued together the elements of Jenn Collins the way she taught me how to use the appropriate adhesives, calculating archival appropriateness. In her I saw a reflection and she supported my growth creatively. I was given the gift of self-confidence and validation that only an amazing teacher and incredible artist can give to her student.

… Thanks, Professor McCabe. I'm still a work in progress and I'm still assembling art. You helped me find me by showing me you.

—Jenn Collins '98

In 2007 … my Collage & Mixed-Media class went on an outing to New York City. The decision was made to make this trip after a classmate revealed that she was a close friend of a famed box collage artist named Barton Benes. Barton lived in a building called Westbeth that provided affordable living and working space for artists. Westbeth had strict rules about visitors. Thus it was a surprise and privilege when he invited our entire group to his apartment. …

Barton Benes' apartment … was pristine with odd spiky spherical structures made of wood jutting into the air and little, relic-filled boxes piled high upon one another like an Advent calendar. The relics varied wildly from a piece of gum JFK had chewed to an unknown person''s severed fingertip. Next we descended to the floor below him. This apartment belonged to McCabe's friend, an artist who made all of his art out of toys. His apartment was a mess; debris was strewn all over the floor and a play-train ran on a track that wound around the perimeter of the space. Other artists we visited had even more exceptional interests. One was fascinated with WWII gear and showed off his collection of soldier helmets, diffused grenades, gas masks and the like while another had her studio space filled with standup Geisha cut-out dolls masked in eccentric face paint. As we snacked on complimentary sushi McCabe introduced us to an entrancing new world.

That day the city managed to be thrilling and inspiring and ultimately convinced me to be an artist. A day that to me seemed exceptional was for McCabe typical and yet when I expressed my wonderment she completely understood how I felt.

—Matthew Leers '07

Professor McCabe has always been an unforgettable force in my art life. Not only will her appearance with fabulous volumes of hair and unique black velvet dresses be always memorable, but also the things she taught me as an artist and a dreamer. I thoroughly enjoyed her passion for craziness, bizarreness, authentic cultures, and dream realities (as well as strictness on line in drawing). This helped me to embrace the unusual aspects of my culture and dreams, and utilize these to fuel my artworks. To this day, I continue to heavily use these elements in my work, and remember her exceptional character.

—Hale Ekinci '06

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