Student Perspectives on the Art Collection


Permanent link for Herschell Turner's "Old Blues Singer" on August 6, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Old Blues Singer
Herschell Turner 
Oil on Canvas 
1980 - 1990

"Herschell Turner grew up in Grand Rapids, MI in the 1950s and 60s. He experienced first-hand the Jim Crow racism of pre-civil-rights America. In July 1967, riots broke out on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids in response to the poverty, high unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and strained police relations in the area. These followed similar protests happening across the United States in larger cities like Detroit. At the time, Turner was serving as Director of the Baxter Community Center and he opened the center to the community to meet with police and other officials to discuss shared solutions to those issues. 

Turner draws from his personal experiences and his dedication to social justice and universal human rights in his artwork by portraying Black culture and the experiences of Black people. He highlights how those experiences differ from more commonly portrayed white experiences. For example, in his painting “Old Blues Singer,” you may recognize the color scheme and subject of this painting as reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” In Turner’s painting however, a Black man is the main subject. The painting’s title, “Old Blues Singer'' focuses our attention on the idea of the blues rather than just the guitar. With this title, I think Turner wanted to not only share an element of the Black experience but also highlight another aspect of Black culture and history; blues music, a musical genre that originated in the Deep South from African musical traditions.

Turner's artwork causes me to reflect on the lack of representation of the Black community and experience in the visual arts. I’m interested in learning more about Black artists, history and culture as I continue to educate myself and become a better ally to the Black Lives Matter movement." - Megan Daniels


Permanent link for Douglas Gilbert's Photographs of Ivanhoe Donaldson on July 20, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

'Ivanhoe Donaldson (For Look Magazine)'
Douglas Gilbert
Photographic print
2018.48.1984 -- 2018.48.2036

In July 2020, Erin was asked to research Ivanhoe Donaldson, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement who championed voting rights for Black Americans and was involved in several high profile political campaigns in the 1960s and 70s. The GVSU Art Collection includes over 50 black and white documentary photographs of Donaldson taken by Douglas Gilbert. In 1965, on assignment for Look Magazine, Gilbert photographed Donaldson in Georgia leading up to the Georgia House of Representatives election as he lead the campaign for Julian Bond--one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who went on to serve 25 years in Georgia’s state legislature, and later served as chairman of the NAACP. 

This is Erin's reflection on Gilbert's photographs and Donaldson's legacy...

"With a national election right around the corner and primaries well underway, news outlets have been sharing footage of giant lines, stretching multiple blocks outside voting places in many states. Individual voters share that they've had to wait upwards of five hours just to get inside their polling place. Voter suppression has never been completely resolved in our country, decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Some states continue to make gradual progress through reforms that push for voting by mail (absentee ballots). Similar to Donaldson’s work, the Black Lives Matter movement used their platform to elevate Black candidates running for office. Most notably, Charles Booker in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in Kentucky currently held Republican Mitch McConnell. Booker's campaign gained unprecedented momentum in its final weeks due to his unabashed support of protests and calls for reform.

Throughout the past month, I’ve been walking in protests throughout our city of Grand Rapids with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has given me space to reflect and feel deeply with my community. In our current state of pandemic, there has been a tendency for writers to reach for the positive silver lining at the end of their articles; as if a line in black ink at the end of a New York Times article will be the quote that propels us through what feels like the longest year of our lives. The hard truth is that the reality and discomfort of this struggle has long preceded this moment. Others, more knowledgable than I, have fought for Civil Rights for Black Americans for a long time, in wave after wave of resurgence, voices begging to be heard as they crash against the immovable shore. If there would be a silver lining in this story, it would be that people keep marching. Stories like Ivanhoe Donaldson's continue to echo and inspire; more Charles Bookers will continue to run for office—and will eventually win. People who are committed to change continue to fight against evil and injustice and maybe this 'longest year ever' will actually produce growth and change. That idea feels hopeful to me." - Erin Harshberger


Permanent link for Contribute Your Perspective! on June 22, 2020

GVSU students are invited to submit their thoughts on an artwork (or series of artworks) from the Collection. Perhaps you've noticed a particularly compelling painting in your res hall? Or maybe you can't stop looking at the sculpture outside your classroom? Or you've browsed the online Art Collection and found a series of artworks that speak to you! Gather your thoughts, type up 200-300 words and submit your perspective to be published here, on the Student Perspectives on the Art Collection blog! 

Some prompts to get you started writing...

  • Does this artwork remind you of a story you read, a game you played, a moment from your childhood, or some other personal narrative?
  • What do you think this artwork is about? What is the artist trying to say?
  • Does this artwork connect to something you're learning in class?

Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: George Vihos on June 9, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Tribute To Oklahoma City Children
George Vihos
Oil Crayons and Photo Imaging on Canvas

"The thick black lines and white parrot silhouettes that pull your eye toward the center of the composition are what first drew me to George Viho’s mixed media drawing. I didn't know the historical importance of the subject matter until I read the title; 'Tribute to Oklahoma City Children.' After reading the title, my perspective and understanding of the work changed. Vihos’s reaction to the tragedy that took place on April 19th, 1995 is expressed in an abstract realist style that includes collaged images of the Alfred P. Murrah Building after the bomb was detonated and small faceless figures with outstretched arms. These images combined with Viho’s use of desaturated dark colors and surrounding red halo-like glow remind me of wounds and bloodshed, providing me with a heightened emotional understanding of and reaction to the Oklahoma City Bombing. 19 children who were in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building’s daycare center lost their lives that day. Vihos pays tribute to each child by including 19 white parrot silhouettes, with a subtle red outline. These parrots possibly symbolize angels or suggest the innocence and fragility of children. The background and thick black lines remind me of a city grid, and reach outward in all directions just like the damage caused by the bomb, which extended to more than 300 surrounding buildings. Having a creative outlet in times of crisis or tragedy can be an effective way to cope and share different human responses to life changing events. Tragedy is intertwined with the arts and can help both artists and viewers cope with and understand the impact of tragedy, just as this artwork did for me." Megan Daniels

You can see more artwork by George Vihos by visiting the GVSU Online Art Collection.

Permanent link for Thank You to GVSU Essential Workers on June 5, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Central Utilities Building
Perin Mahler
Oil on Linen

"Everyday spaces on GVSU’s campus that I used to see daily and not think twice about are now the places I miss most since leaving campus in March due to COVID-19. This oil painting by Perin Mahler is an inside look at GVSU’s Central Utilities Building and makes me think of all the essential workers who continue to go to campus each day to ensure Lakers’ second home continues to be safe, maintained, and clean. I think about the custodial staff in my freshman year dorm building (Holton Hooker Learning & Living Center) who would smile and say good morning to me everyday. A small gesture that made a big impact on me throughout my first year at GVSU. Thank you to all the GVSU faculty and staff who have worked endlessly over the past few months so students like me can continue to learn." - Megan Daniels

See GVSU essential workers in action and view the thank you video to GVSU essential workers.

Permanent link for Mathias Alten & the 1918 Spanish Flu on June 2, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Che Robinson
Major: Art History
Class of 2021

Twilight  and Forest Park
Mathias Alten
Oil on composition board
circa 1918
Private Collection

"While doing research on Mathias Alten for the Gallery I found that he was also semi-quarantined in Grand Rapids during the Influenza outbreak in 1918. The outbreak prevented him from traveling, so almost all of his paintings from this time are of local landscapes.

During the fall of 1918 public gatherings were discouraged in Grand Rapids and many people, including #Alten, went to the countryside to entertain themselves. For us, going on a walk or a hike is a great way to experience spring while also following social distancing guidelines." - Che Robinson

View more of Alten's work in his online catalogue raisonné.

Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: Germs and Kindergartners at Coit Creative Arts Academy on June 1, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

The Germ On My Hand
Evangelina F.
Crayon and Watercolor

"This work of art was created by a kindergarten student at the Coit Creative Arts Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is how the student imagines the germs on her hands to look. I vividly remember posters in my elementary school bathroom that gave illustrated instructions on how to wash the germs off my hands. Now, I am reliving those years of being taught how to wash my hands thoroughly as the USA continues to fight the spread of the Coronavirus. This kindergartener’s creative depiction of a germ resembles the COVID-19 illustrations I see all over the media today and I wonder how the pandemic has and will continue to impact kids.

Both my parents work in k-12 public education and as stay at home orders were put in place I immediately heard about the feared negative impact it would have on children and teens mental and educational well being. Abigail Gewirtz, a child psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, provides insight on how parents and caregivers can provide support and understanding of COVID-19 for children and teens in an NPR podcast "Loss, Grief, Stress: How The Pandemic is Affecting Kids. Gewirtz along with many other mental health researchers are sharing what is known about childhood trauma from crisis and tragedy however a world pandemic is uncharted territory." - Megan Daniels

To view more artwork by students from Coit Creative Arts Academy visit the GVSU Online Art Collection.
Visit for helpful information about how to support kids during quarantine.

Permanent link for Artist Responding to Crisis: Matthew Schenk on May 28, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Post Apocalyptic Airstream
Matthew Schenk
Oil on Panel

"What catches my attention in this painting is the red-orange glow on what looks to be a small airstream camper. My initial thought is that the glow is from a campfire but the glow seems to be coming from something much larger than a campfire. Matthew Schenk, a local Grand Rapids artist, painted this work and titled it ‘Post Apocalyptic Airstream’. With this title in mind, the narrative of Schenk’s painting changes for me completely. I realize that the camper is being used as a bunker and the glow is likely coming from a burning car or building. The excluded detail of what is causing the fiery glow contributes to the unsettling feeling I get from this painting. The textured grey shell, few windows and closed off metal door of the airstream camper, surrounded by an ominous grey to black gradient, also helps communicate the high intensity of Schenk’s oil painting. Before COVID-19, I never considered living in a bunker, shut off from the world, but as I dodge people at the post office with my latex gloves and fabric mask, a bunker doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Everyone has a different response to crisis or tragedy, and I am realizing this more than ever as Michigan goes on its 71st day of Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home. Stay Safe. executive order." - Megan Daniels

Read more about Matthew Schenk's work in the GVSU Online Art Collection.

Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: Linden Charter Academy Students and the Flint Water Crisis on May 14, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

"I occasionally heard things about the Flint water crisis growing up in Wisconsin but didn’t understand how or why it happened until I came to GVSU. A flier was taped to one of the paper towel dispensers in a Holton Hooker Living & Learning Center bathroom that read, “Flint water is so corrosive; GM won’t even use it on their motors.” I couldn’t believe that a city would subject their citizens to such danger, and I later learned about the unsafe lead levels found in children and babies. Vast amounts of information can be found on this issue including a first-person perspective from the children of Flint Michigan, a perspective that commonly goes unheard and unseen. GVSU acquired a collection of 113 artworks by student artists from 6th through 8th grade at Linden Charter Academy in Flint that express what it has been like growing up in the midst of the Flint water crisis." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: Clean Our Water
Zeporah B.
Marker and Colored Pencil
"In this drawing, a student repeatedly depicts an object commonly used in protest, the picket signs. These signs carry messages that I don’t think a child should have to face; “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Help our People,” “Fix the Pipes,” “Clean our Water,” “Flint Lives Matter,” “No more bottled water,” and lastly “Save.” These signs give me only a glimpse of what these kids have lived through; surrounded by a fear of water--a necessity for all life--that they can’t safely access." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: Save Us
Keiori L.
Paint and Marker
"What caught my attention in this artwork was not only the large words reading, “Save Us” but also the faint sign in the background reading, “I’m Thirsty.” As a former part-time babysitter, I heard this statement frequently. For the parents/guardians of Flint though, it isn’t as easy as filling a glass from the tap and giving it to the child. With limited supply of purified water, each family has to ration their water supply. “100% 810” is written on the shirt of the main figure; 810 is the area code for Flint, MI. The courage and pride in the community of Flint is shown through the addition of this shirt detail, and 810 can be seen in a variety of other works done by students in this collection." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: Help Us It’s Killing Us
Elisha J.
Paint and Marker
"'It’s killing us' is something I would never expect to hear from a child. Living in fear of harm or death is a concept I struggle with as a young adult; the children of Flint, MI however have no choice but to live with that fear at a young age. The courage the students show through sharing their experiences in these artworks is admirable and helps me understand what they are going through. The strength and resilience these students show through their artwork is something I can look to as commendable." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: “Purified”
Ayani J.
Paint and Marker
"Imagine going to the faucet, turning it on and seeing brownish yellow water. Then imagine being told by government officials that it is purified water and safe to drink. This artwork shows a plastic bottle filled with undrinkable water and the word “Purified” written across the front, alluding to the mistrust Flint residents have felt towards the government since the Flint water crisis began." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks
Jazmine L.
Paint and Marker
"In this work a student included a very important aspect of the #Flint water crisis; the pipes. Pipes surround the main figure, dripping and mangled. The broken, chaotic pipes surrounding the girl as she cries really drew emotion out of me. This work gives me a sense of hopelessness and I imagine a lot of these kids feel that hopelessness growing up in Flint, MI." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: Save The Water
Kaniyah W.
Paint and Marker
"'Save our Children,' reads a sign held by a mother who’s holding the hand of a child. As a kid and tween, the last worry on my mind was whether or not I could safely drink the water coming out of the faucet. I would come home from school, get a snack and a glass of water, and not think twice about it. This artwork clearly shows that is not the case for the families and children of Flint, MI. A seemingly mundane aspect of life has become something they need to fight for." - Megan Daniels

Young Flint Speaks: All About The Water
Teonnie G.
Paint and Marker
'We Love Water'
'Floods of water, Loving water, I have water, Nobody is safe, The water is here.'
'We love water, All people need water, The water matter, Everyone needs water, Read all about it.'
"The use of poetry in this painting provides another perspective about the importance of water as recognized by a child. The children of Flint are growing up in a reality much different from my own. This collection is an important addition to the GVSU Art Gallery and is a reminder to me of the privilege I had growing up with safe water." - Megan Daniels


Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: Hurricane katrina on April 27, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Mustang Drive, Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, LA
St. Claude Ave, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans
Forstall Street, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans
Steven L. Smith
Giclée Inkjet Prints

"When hurricane Katrina hit the United States in August of 2005, I was only 4 years old and unable to remember or understand the tragedy of this natural disaster. Ten years later in July of 2015, I went on a week-long mission trip to New Orleans, LA- specifically in the Lower 9th Ward where evidence of Katrina’s devastation on communities still remained.

While working for the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery, I came across a series of photographs in the collection titled 'The Katrina Landscape.' These photographs were created by GVSU Professor Steven L. Smith. The images immediately brought me back to what I witnessed in New Orleans during my mission trip. Reflecting on that experience and comparing it the COVID-19 pandemic we face today; I consider the different ways people respond to crisis. The Katrina Landscape photographs and the COVID-19 images we see on the news today evoke empathy, and give me an understanding of the tragedies people endure." - Megan Daniels

To view more artwork by Steven L. Smith visit the GVSU Online Art Collection. 

Page last modified August 6, 2020