Making your way in the visual art world is notoriously challenging. Throw in a pandemic and it can be downright overwhelming. However, art + design alumna Morgan Petitpas ‘20 has been training her entire life in seeing opportunity in the unlikeliest of places. Despite completing her degree just three months before the world shut down, Morgan has found her stride in the art world, with shows in both New York and on the North Shore and a new studio to continue developing her craft.
Her recent sculpture work has been featured at Artoberfest at Salem Arts Association, Threads that Bind at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Gallery, the Outdoor Sculpture at Maudslay State Park, the Naimo Gallery, the annual Ipswich town art show, and “Minds Divine” at Hall-Haskell House. You can see her work at the Porter Mill Open Studios in Beverly on December 4.
How it Started
Morgan specializes in combining everyday, discarded objects in unique ways to create something extraordinary. She developed this skill early on while accompanying her mom, also an artist who attended Salem State, on the hunt for unusual art materials.
“(My mom) helped me to see things for what they could be, not just what they are,” she said.
From the banks of the Ipswich River to antique shops and thrift stores, Morgan often allows the objects themselves to guide her work, rather than starting with an idea and seeking out the perfect item.
Finding Her Path at Salem State
Like so many students, Morgan arrived at Salem State undeclared and explored a number of academic offerings before deciding on art + design with an economics minor. Faculty from across the department played a key role in developing both the creative eye and the work ethic that guides her today.
“John Volpacchio and Ken Reker in the 3-D department had different styles but together they made me so well-rounded as an artist,” she recalled. “John’s approach was more skills-based. He taught me humility and how you need hard work to become a great artist. Ken really expanded my vocabulary in how I think of art.”
While classes in her 3-D concentration shaped her the most as an artist, Morgan found valuable perspectives in other art + design coursework and her on-campus job.
“Photography classes and my job in the darkroom helped me learn to experiment and explore all the ways that truth and illusion can come from a camera,” she noted. “Art history was also crucial. Without it, you’re starting at square one. When you have a better sense of what came before you, you can discover places to pick up where others left off.”
Even in courses in which she felt less confident, like drawing and painting or computer design, the faculty’s skill and enthusiasm helped her develop new knowledge she wouldn’t have ordinarily sought out.
Post-Graduation Life and Advice for Aspiring Artists
While it took a bit to find her rhythm without the pressure of class deadlines, Morgan eventually developed a routine to balance her creative work, logistical work and the demands of everyday life. During the pandemic, she used the extra time and solitude to create and collect materials in the great outdoors. Today, she’s enjoying a dedicated studio space in downtown Beverly to help keep both her time and materials organized.
Morgan would encourage aspiring art students to consistently seek out new opportunities. “Keep your artist brain on all the time and be open to what’s available to you,” she said. “Go to exhibitions, galleries and artist talks. Understand your own ebb and flow and the time for thinking, creating, analyzing and resting.”
Discover more about Morgan’s work and upcoming events at https://morganpetitpas.weebly.com/.