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NKU to celebrate Emily Dickinson with arts fest on Valentine's weekend

For immediate release…
Tuesday – Jan. 27, 2015

Northern Kentucky University will celebrate Emily Dickinson and the artwork her poetry has inspired with a three-day festival on Valentine’s weekend. It will be the first Dickinson festival of its kind in Greater Cincinnati.

The Emily Dickinson Arts Fest will begin with a public lecture by Claire Illouz and Kathleen Piercefield at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb.  12, in the Eva G. Farris Reading Room on the second floor of NKU’s Steely Library. Part of the Friends of Steely Library Literary Series, the event is co-sponsored by the NKU Art Department and the Cincinnati Book Arts Society. Ms. Illouz and Ms. Piercefield will each present new Dickinson artwork.

Ms. Illouz is from Chérence, France, and has solo exhibitions throughout Paris. She has created 25 artist’s books, which are held in various private and public collections in Europe and the United States. Ms. Illouz will present her new artist’s book, Summer Boughs. A select exhibition of her prints will also be on display in the Steely Library Archive on Feb. 12.

Ms. Piercefield studied studio arts at Murray State University and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking from NKU. She also studied watercolor at the Baker-Hunt Foundation in Covington. Her work has been shown in local and regional venues and is in a number of private and public collections. She will be presenting a collection of new mixed-media Dickinson prints.

The festival will feature an exhibition of 40 art works by 39 NKU students. The exhibition will run from Feb. 6 through May 1 in the Farris Reading Room and third floor entrance of Steely Library. Curated by NKU Regents Professor Robert Wallace and art history major Emma Rose Thompson, the exhibition is titled “I Took My Power in My Hand: NKU Students Create Emily Dickinson Art.”

The festival will also feature a marathon reading of Dickinson’s 1,775 poems on Friday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each day, in the Eva G. Farris Reading Room (Steely Library, second floor). 

At the conclusion of the Feb. 13 marathon reading, NKU will host an exhibition walk with the curators and student artists from 4:30-6 p.m. followed by a reception for student artists at 6 p.m. The evening will conclude with a recital of songs inspired by Dickinson poetry by Kimberly Gelbwasser (soprano) and Ingrid Keller (piano), music by Aaron Copland, Jake Heggie, and Kurt Sander, at 7:30 p.m., in Greaves Concert Hall. Tickets to the recital are $10 for adults and $7 for students.

The marathon reading will conclude on Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m., immediately followed by a panel discussion among student artists and an Emily Dickinson tea party at 6 p.m.

Dr. Wallace said he’s been giving students the option of creating original Dickinson artwork instead of writing a research paper since 1997. Through the years, students have made quilts and dresses, painted portraits and landscapes, assembled collages, created films and artist books, and taken Dickinson to a wider audiences through public art projects and class websites.

He said what makes the experience even more special is that most of the students aren’t even art majors. “If a literature student chooses to make a piece of artwork, there is something inside of them they want to express,” he said. “It’s something fresh.” He said seeing so many new pieces each semester helps to ensure that his own perspective on the topics he teaches is fresh as well. “I just turned 70 and this is part of the reason I’ve not retired yet.”

Senior art history major Emma Rose Thompson introduced a new idea when she took Wallace’s Moby-Dick and the Arts course in 2013. “I didn’t want to write a research paper – I do that so much in art history,” she said. “And I didn’t want to create a piece of art.” Ms. Thompson wants to be a curator, so she asked if she could help curate an exhibit. Over the past two years, she has been helping to curate two – in addition to the Emily Dickinson Arts Fest, she and Wallace are curating a festival in April centered on Moby-Dick.

Ms. Thompson said the experience has opened her eyes to the different aspects of curating an exhibit, such as working with so many artists and applying for gallery space a year in advance. She even took an intro graphic design course so that she could lay out the exhibit catalogs. “These are experiences not traditionally offered to art history majors,” she said. “I’ll be really happy to have these books and be able to say, ‘I’ve done this!’”

For more information about Emily Dickinson Arts Fest and a complete schedule, visit dickinson. You may also email Professor Wallace at


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