It was a really cool opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. It’s very surreal to walk on campus and see my own work not just in a classroom but in the wild.
Sam Cushman, ’19, G’23, has quite the back-to-school tale for her Rockland elementary school art students: She spent her summer working with a giant bear.
Sam painted one of the fiberglass statues scattered across the Bridgewater State University campus.
“It was a really cool opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” said Sam, who earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and secondary education and is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in teaching visual arts. “It’s very surreal to walk on campus and see my own work not just in a classroom but in the wild.”
BSU selected Sam to repaint the bear by East Campus Commons after it was damaged. She drew inspiration from the array of native plants in Massachusetts and worked in black and white as an homage to printmaking, which is her artistic medium of choice.
“I wanted to highlight the biodiversity of Massachusetts, which correlates to the diversity we can find on the BSU campus,” she said.
Sam worked under the guidance of Jay Block, BSU’s associate director of collections and exhibitions. Block worked with Operations staff to repair damage to the bear and solicited proposals from students interested in repainting it.
“It’s tremendously important. It gives them real-life experience,” Block said of involving students in a project that prepares them to seek public art grants on their own. “It’s a really transferable experience in a controlled setting.”
Just like a professional artist, Sam worked within a budget and schedule. She is the second BSU student to paint a bear, following in the tracks of Kayla DaCosta, ’21.
Block is impressed with how Sam incorporates mature themes into her work and brought a new dimension to the bear statues by painting the first one in black and white.
She started by researching native plants and making drawings. After the bear was transported to her yard, Sam projected the drawings onto the statue to ensure that they fit. She painted as curious neighbors stopped by to see her unusual project.
Sam’s budding elementary school artists were amazed to learn their teacher makes art as well as instructs them. Sam told them her success shows how hard work and dedication to her craft pays off.
She hopes that same message rings true for BSU students who see the statue.
“Hopefully seeing a student paint a bear like that is cool,” Sam said. “They’ll realize students just like them can have opportunities like that.”
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