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Studio Art in the South Pacific: After over a decade, Prof. Fred Hagstrom reflects on final run

In the Boliou Gallery, frames containing colorful drawings and detailed prints of a foreign landscape line the walls. Under the glass cases lie sketchbooks that provide a bigger glimpse into the picturesque setting the artists were in at the time. 

Last Tuesday, April 9, a reception was held in the gallery where students, faculty and visitors gathered to admire and celebrate these pieces. The artwork was created by students that have just returned from the winter-term Studio Art South Pacific Off-Campus Studies (OCS) program led by Professor of Art Fred Hagstrom. The bi-annual program has been run by Hagstrom 12 times, but this year’s marked Hagstrom’s final time leading the trip. 

Hagstrom founded the program in 1996 with the help of a colleague in the Biology department who was also running an off campus-studies program in Australia at the time. When Hagstrom designed the program, he sought to initiate a curriculum that focused on drawing from nature. 

“When I started working at Carleton, not very much was being done with landscape. I don’t think field drawing even existed then. I also wanted to have a drawing class, especially in the winter, that involved drawing very interesting subjects. I think drawing from nature is a very significant experience, and during the South Pacific program we drew at some very beautiful sights,” said Hagstrom.  

He was also interested in the cultural issues of the region. In addition to art classes, Hagstrom also taught a course on the legacy of colonialism and the history of the indigenous people of the region. “Being a studio art and political science major, I was excited about the South Pacific program because of the way that it combined drawing and art with social issues ranging from environmental conservation to indigenous rights and activism,” said Justine Szafran ’19, a student who participated in the 2019 South Pacific trip. 

Some of Hagstrom’s fondest memories were made in the Marae, the home of the Māori tribe with whom he has had an over twenty-year-long relationship with. He and his students lived in the Marae for a few days, where they met the Māori family and learned about the the tribe’s history, connection to the land and the effects of colonization on their lives. They also discovered how artists in the area created art within Māori tradition.

 “The last program did feel different for me, but I didn’t want that to change the experience for the students,” said Hagstrom. He expressed how difficult it was to say goodbye to the many friends and contacts from the area he has developed. “Running the program has been a very important part of my teaching and I really liked being with students in that way—it’s a different environment. I’ve done it 12 times, and it’s a big responsibility. Each time I learned a lot about the region and about indigenous issues, and that made the experience even better.” 

Hagstrom strongly encourages studying abroad for any discipline and any student. “I tell my advisees right away to start thinking about doing an OCS. I think an off-campus experience is a very significant thing, and it’s why we have a high percentage of participation at Carleton.” Students who went on the last South Pacific program were deeply shaped by the experience. “I gained a new appreciation for the ways that art can intersect with the outdoors and social issues, and I grew in ways I could never have imagined as a student and person,” said Szafran. 

She also emphasized Hagstrom’s large role on making the trip a life-changing experience. “Fred never stopped working to make sure every individual on the trip was getting as much as possible out of their time. From guiding us in sunrise snorkels in the Great Barrier Reef to critiquing our recent sketchbook work late at night, Fred not only played a significant role in our experience; he made the experience.”

The next South Pacific program is tentatively scheduled to be run by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Eleanor Jensen ’01 and Dylan Welch. Artwork by Hagstrom and his students are still on view in the Boliou Gallery and at the Weitz Center for Creativity. 

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