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Arts Con students learn artistry and craft of soapmaking

Arts Con students learn artistry and craft of soapmaking

The Choate Rosemary Hall Arts Concentration (Arts Con) program gives students with exceptional talent in the visual or performing arts the opportunity to develop their abilities through an academic schedule that allows for significant time and space to hone their craft, with community and mentorship. A substantial portion of each week is devoted to practice, rehearsal, or studio work. The program culminates with a recital, project, or portfolio presentation. While students focus much of their time on individual artistic pursuits, the curriculum also includes an artist-in-residence each year to expand students’ artistic knowledge in a group setting.

This fall, the visual arts concentration students worked with visiting artist Normandy Alden, on a creative design project making soap and soap dishes, as well as discussing the history of the soap-making process.

Alden is a studio potter and fiber artist who lives and works with her family at Cairncrest Farm in West Winfield, New York, a 200-acre cattle, pork, and lamb operation. Alden teaches ceramics at Hartwick College and exhibits her work locally and nationally.

On the first day of her three-day visit, Alden facilitated the group in a workshop creating cold processed soap from lye and vegetable oils. The students learned about saponification and the history of soap as material culture and customized the soap with dried flowers from gardens at Cairncrest Farm.

Yujin Kim ’23 remarked, “I truly appreciated having this time to fully devote myself to a new project that did not have to be tailored to my portfolio. I was able to step out of the realm of painting and use my creativity for fresh ideas that bloomed from new sources of inspiration. This project allowed me to take a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of the thrill of risk-taking without the fear of failing.”

The following day, students dove into making their own soap dishes. Rocky Wan ’24 saw artmaking in a new way: “All my life I have lived in the city, with high-rise buildings, and have been very modernized in my artistic mindset. This project helped me realize that art isn't simply created but is found all around us, and inspiration can be taken by parts of our environment and nature itself.”

On the final day of Alden’s visit, Arts Con students had the opportunity to meet with her in their studios and talk one-on-one about their work. She shared, “I could see that many of these students are using their artwork to contemplate issues that are both personal to them, but also relevant to the larger world.”

The Artist-in-Residence program gives Choate students access to contemporary artists which allows them to broaden perspectives on their own art and learn new processes and techniques through side-by-side work with professional artists.

Yujin ’23 noted that Alden’s visit deepened her understanding of the artistic process: “Normandy’s visit gave me insight into how art is a direct product of the artist's life experiences. Even though the product may be something as simple as a soap dish that is mainly used for functional purposes, all art contains a hidden story. Normandy's visit allowed me to understand this truth.”