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"Handscape" by Leslie Kaufman

The Handprint Identity Project: An Exchange Between Artists and Poets

A diverse group of poets and visual artists were selected to collaborate on an interdisciplinary project with a common theme for a period of seven months with an outcome of a unique traveling exhibition of poetry and art. Participants were selected based on recommendations from respected artists and poets, as well as considering gender, nationality and creating opportunity for younger artists and poets who might be less advanced in their careers, and those who might bring a unique perspective to the project. A primary objective for project participants is to create new works that might not otherwise be considered within their genre, and through an exchange respond and create new work based on other’s perspectives for the theme.

The following list of artists and poets were invited to participate in The Handprint Identity Project:

1. Shirley Ainoo, Gaithersburg, Maryland/Ghana
2. Scott Cairns, University of Missouri
3. Jennifer Foerster, San Francisco, California
4. Sandra Kohler, Boston, Massachusetts
5. Leslie Mcgrath, Stonington, Connecticut
6. Ethelbert Miller, Howard University
7. David Mura, Minneapolis, Minnesota
8. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, The Penn Sate University
9. Carmine Sarracino, Elizabethtown College
10. Ravi Shankar, Central Connecticut State University
11. Barbara Crooker, (Guest) Fogelsville, Pennsylvania

Visual Artists:
1. Stacey M. Carter, San Francisco, California
2. Bivas Chaudhuri, Brooklyn, NY/India
3. Carol Cole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
4. Donald Forsythe, Messiah College
5. Milt Friedly, Elizabethtown College
6. Carol Galligan, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
7. Fred Metz, Seattle, Washington
8. David Reif, the University of Wyoming (Retired)
9. Kebedech Tekleab, Savannah College of Art and Design
10. Leslie Kaufman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
11. Claire Giblin, (Guest) Franklin & Marshall College

The Handprint Identity Project
Collaboration Takes Art, Poetry to Greater Heights
From Lori Burke’s article The Handprint Identity Project: Collaboration Takes Art, Poetry to Greater Heights, which appeared in the Elizabethtown Magazine, winter 2009.

Sitting at the crossroads of human identity and artistic expression is an inspiring collection of work created by 22 respected poets and artists as part of the Handprint Identity Project. Lending an interesting twist to a timeless concept, the project introduces the complexity of collaboration into the intensely personal theme of human identity. Cross-genre pairings of artists and poets challenged the collective thinking of the participants, inspiring them to work harder, think differently, and explore more deeply the handprint theme. The resulting showcase begs observers to make a more personal introspection of their own thinking and a broader exploration of what it means to “be.”

According to Project Creator and Director Milt Friedly, the Handprint Identity Project found part of its genesis in the turmoil of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Friedly remembers being profoundly affected by media reports about the attacks. “After the twin towers collapsed, news reports began focusing on the process of identifying those lost,” he explains. “They spoke of discerning life through the smallest of remnants—mere fragments of the whole person.” The day after the attacks, Friedly took a piece of clay and pounded it with his hands to express his deepest feelings about the loss of life. The handprints in the clay planted the seeds that just a few years later would grow into this exhibition.

Friedly believes that the Handprint Identity Project addresses timeless questions typically assigned to the arts. “Given shared experience and broad diversities, can artist and poets create works that elucidate both common and individual identity? Can new works be created that are truthful to the artists’ experience, yet contain resonant meaning for all human beings?” he reflects. “These are old questions … lasting ones … that have been posed throughout the ages. These times of economic globalization, war, and the diminishment of environmental resources compel us again to examine the tension and balance between the individual and the broader human community. And the better we understand each other, the better we understand this idea of diversity.”

Friedly—together with literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller, of Howard University, and poet Leslie McGrath, of Stonington, Conn., who joined the project as co-directors—recruited 11 poets and 11 visual artists to join the effort.

In the first phase of the project, each participant worked independently, interpreting the theme within their genre and creating works that speak to the concept of identity, as both an individual experience and as part of the universal experience. In the second phase, artists and poets were paired. After exchanging some of the work created in the first phase, the collaborators reflected on and responded to, in his or her own genre, the work created by their partners. “We explored questions like how do collaborative artistic exchanges between artists and poets come into being? Are certain artistic genres more or less amenable to the expression of what it means to be, at once, deeply human and a unique individual?” Friedly explains. 

Among the participants were two recent Elizabethtown graduates, artist Thomas Yurkovic ’08 and poet Pierce Hibbs ’07. Comparatively new to their craft but no less gifted than the more experienced project participants, Yurkovic and Hibbs not only collaborated on their own pieces, but they also worked with Friedly and Miller to curate the art and poetry, respectively, for the exhibit.

During the fall 2008 semester, the Handprint Identity Project exhibit was displayed in Elizabethtown College’s Hess and Lyet Galleries. To bring the exhibit to life, interviews with the participating artists and poets were recorded and provided on iPods near the work. In addition, a full-color, glossy catalogue and a collection of poetry inspired by this project also were prepared. Designed by Pulse Direct, the catalogue includes high-quality photographs of the art collection, excerpts of the poetry, and reflections from the artists and poets about their participation in the project. The forward for the piece was written by Thomas Zummer, regular visiting professor in the Transmedia programme/post-graduate at the Hogeschool Sint-Lukas/Universite Leuven in Brussels and visiting professor at the Transart Institute in Linz, Austria. The poetry collection, titled “The Handprint Identity Project: Selected Poems,” was edited by Leslie McGrath, designed by Pulse Direct, and printed by Continental Press. Proceeds from the sale of the pieces are earmarked for the creation of an Elizabethtown College scholarship fund for students studying art or literature.

The project received support through a grant from Elizabethtown College’s Collaborative Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program, which is administered by the College’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and was created through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Also supporting the project were Amelia Alft ’10, web design; Caitlin Cain ’10, intern designer for the poster and mailer; Christina Darretta ’09, digital editing; Matthew Fischer ’05, web design; and Amanda Morgan ’09, director’s assistant. Amy Hammond was the exhibition designer, assisted by Jessica Hill ’09.

The Handprint Identity Project is scheduled for West Chester University from January 27 through February 26, 2010. The project at West Chester will feature 39 works of art, and poetry readings by select participants. In addition, Guest Artist, Claire Giblin and Guest Poet, Barbara Crooker will collaborate and present their work for this venue.

The Handprint Identity Project is available for art galleries, museums and writing centers. For more information please contact Milt Friedly, Director for the HIP at friedlmd@etown.edu.



Guest Contributors:
Elizabethtown College