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Alumni Profile: Jessi Hardesty '11, Art + Design

Jessi Hardesty ‘11

Major/Concentration: Art + Design, studio art - printmaking, psychology minor

What is your current role? What are you responsible for day to day?

I lead the visual arts department at Carroll Community College in Westminster, MD - a short drive north of Baltimore, MD. Officially, I am the director of visual arts and the curator of collections and exhibitions, as well as a professor currently at the assistant professor rank.

In my curatorial role, I maintain a permanent collection of art on campus that includes a major body of work by the late painter Hiram Williams as well as a wide variety of works from regional artists and former students. I curate and lead installation in one major gallery and two alternative gallery spaces on campus. Our main gallery and larger alternative space focus on nationally and regionally recognized artists and our smallest space showcases students and local groups. I started an internship program to train gallery assistants who work alongside me in these endeavors. I also teach courses in drawing and printmaking.

As the director, I am responsible for assigning instructors to courses, curriculum development and assessment, departmental promotion, and committee membership, amongst various other tasks. I act as a representative on an advisory board and I represent my division at various conferences and events. It is really important that I always be looking ahead in my directorial role; I need to anticipate what is coming in the worlds of academia and arts education so that I can keep my programming contemporary and fresh for current students, and enticing for potential students.

Some semesters, I also supervise graduate students in K-12 teaching placements for McDaniel College, also in Westminster, MD.

In my private Baltimore studio, Pumpkinhead Printshop, I have my own press that I use to make woodcut editions. My studio practice these days is primarily woodcut printmaking and wood carving with some interdisciplinary exploration in taxidermy, dry media, and installation.  

What encouraged you to pursue this career? 

I always wanted to be involved with art. Both of my parents have advanced degrees, so there was an appreciation and drive for higher education embedded in me early on. I knew pretty quickly upon entering college that it was a place I could see myself having an impact beyond my own college experience. I had wonderful mentors at Salem State who provided inspiration in that regard. 

How did you find your way to Maryland? 

I actually grew up in Maryland. I moved to Salem [Massachusetts] for Salem State because I loved the area and wanted to attend a state college. I toured the campus with my dad, and we both felt it was a good fit for me. Inclined as I am towards macabre aesthetics and dark history, New England had always been attractive to me. I ended up taking a year off after graduation, to breathe and build a portfolio to apply to graduate school with. I got accepted to Cranbrook Academy of Art and moved to metro Detroit in 2012. I earned my MFA in Print Media there in 2014. After Cranbrook, I got an adjunct opportunity in the Baltimore area, so I found myself back in Maryland. That opportunity led me to my current full-time position a year down the road. 

Did you always know that you wanted to study art in college or was there some sort of "ah ha" moment that put you on this path? 

I was accepted to Salem State as an art major with an undeclared concentration. I knew I wanted to make art, but I was not sure what kind. I had primarily been drawing as a teen, so I hadn’t branched out much until I got to Salem State. I started taking printmaking classes and got hooked. 

What's one of the most exciting professional opportunities you've had since graduating? 

It is hard to narrow it down to just one opportunity… I obviously love my job; that goes without saying. In the summer of 2017, I was invited by woodcut artist Tom Huck to do a residency at Evil Prints in St. Louis, MO. That was an incredible experience, and I was able to make a large scale woodcut I am very proud of with the help of a great team of printing assistants and Huck himself.

This summer, I was invited to be a visiting artist at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA, which was deeply rewarding. I am still receiving messages on Instagram from students there asking me to come back, and it melts my heart each time. 

Was there a particular faculty member or class that had a lasting impact on you?

Two words: Haig Demarjian. 

I would not be who I am today if I had not been so fortunate as to have Haig as a mentor. He pushed me when I needed to be pushed, supported me when I need to be supported, scolded me when I needed to be scolded. He regularly encouraged me to be better, helped me seek out opportunities to show my work, and generously imparted his wisdom on me in numerous drawing and printmaking courses. He took me on as a gallery assistant in the Winfisky [Gallery], and I am now carrying on that tradition with my interns in the Scott Gallery at Carroll.

As if that wasn’t enough, I was also the student assistant in his studio classrooms. Haig trusted me enough to allow me to help him edition his own professional work, which was a massive compliment and really made me raise the bar for my own projects. At his urging and with his help, I successfully applied for a Summer Development Grant and got to go to Woodcut Boot Camp at Evil Prints in summer of 2010, which of course led to many professional friendships within the printmaking community and my recent summer 2017 residency.

Haig was truly one of the most integral parts of my college experience and remains an important mentor, friend, resource, and confidant to this day. 

In what ways did the faculty and curriculum in the art + design program help you get to where you are today?

I already talked a bit about this in the previous question, but I do feel it important that I also mention Benjamin Gross. He was my advisor as well as my professor for a number of courses. His honest, valuable input helped guide me as far as signing up for courses and realistically considering my future. He did something for me that was rare and important; he spoke frankly to me. He pulled me aside and warned me that pursuing art wasn’t going to be easy, and that it was, in fact, going to be pretty miserable sometimes and that I needed to really want it for it to work at all. 

That advice stuck with me, and he was right. It is hard, and it is sometimes miserable, but I absolutely want it, and I do work hard for it. You know what else Ben did? He took me out for a burrito and advised me on applying to graduate schools months after I had graduated. I ended up going to his alma mater; Cranbrook. 

If that isn’t a faculty member going above and beyond for a student, I don’t know what is. 

Did you have a specific out-of-classroom learning opportunity that benefited you? 

All of the work I got to do in the Winfisky alongside Haig was extremely valuable. It sparked my interest in curation and art installation. Working at the gallery openings also taught me a great deal about how to engage socially with other artists and talk about artwork outside of a classroom critique. 

I also made my very first art sale from one of the student exhibitions there. It was a large linocut of a ram-horned girl that professor Mark Malloy accidentally named for me when he said in passing, “Hey, Jessi, is this your self-portrait as a mythological beast?”, and I decided that would work quite nicely as a title. 

What advice would you give to incoming art + design students?

Keep your eyes and ears open. Everything you encounter in your life is viable fuel for your art. Nothing is off limits in art; that is what is so great about it. Use college to build a really strong tool kit of basics and use that toolkit to springboard you. Listen to your professors when they make you draw another still life; I promise you, it will make you better at drawing what you actually want to draw later on. 

Show up for class–even if you feel like garbage and your boyfriend is a jerk, and you worked a double yesterday…show up to class. College is an experience; you miss out on so many integral interactions and ephemeral moments when you phone it in. If you miss class, you will never know if that was the day that your professor imparted some sort of earth-shattering wisdom that would have stuck with you forever or if that was the day that you could have really made a breakthrough on that painting. Art requires hard work, time, and dedication; get into good work habits now, so you don’t have to break bad habits later. 

What was the best part of your Salem State experience?

There were hiccups here and there, as is to be expected with the college experience (I was hospitalized with a horrible virus one semester during finals week, lucky me!) but my memories of Salem State are overwhelmingly positive.

What really stands out most to me, though, are the late nights spent in the studio. Having 24-hour access to the printmaking studio, and being encouraged to spend my free time in said studio...that really shaped my work ethic and empowered me to prioritize making art. The Iron Maiden albums Haig left in the studio stereo didn’t hurt my motivation, either.

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