Students in Writing Studies Create around Tweed Collections

WRIT 2506: Theories of Writing Studies


gallery view of the study room at Tweed Museum
Photo Courtesy of Steven "Tigg" Tiggemann

Students in Writing Studies Create around Tweed Collections

David E. Beard

Professor of Rhetoric, Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies, University of Minnesota Duluth

In spring 2021 students enrolled in the gateway course to the writing studies major explored ekphrastic writing (writing inspired by visual images) through the collections of the Tweed.

The students emulated the writings of award-winning Duluth poet Julie Gard, whose collection of poems around sculptor Louise Nevelson, called Scrap, they read. In that collection Gard researches the life of Nevelson, responds critically to her work, and creates poems that speak to the experience of artists, women, and mothers.

Following Gard’s example, Tweed staff assembled works by women in the Tweed collection from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—“ a stellar list,” I said. I was amazed, as I often am, by the diversity of medium, the diversity of subject, and the diversity of creators, nationally and internationally, in the Tweed’s collection.

The students were initially a bit overwhelmed. Students were given three weeks to review the list. Some immediately went to the subject of the work. Elie Wiesel by Sister Mary Charles McGough was an immediate favorite because the subject was familiar.

Jessica Chou’s Steve Aoki in Las Vegas was chosen not just because the student was interested in DJ culture, but also because we were all sentimental about the times when we could all get together and dance, pre-COVID-19.

Other works were selected because the artists were just as famous as the subject. Andy Warhol by Annie Leibovitz opens doors to reflecting on two of the greatest artists of the last century.

Closest to my own heart was the selection of Spinning Wheel by Wanda Gág, who is thoroughly Minnesotan (raised in New Ulm) and a storyteller as well as an artist. Millions of Cats is a picture book both written and illustrated by Gág in 1928. (The book won a Newbery Honor award in 1929.) We read a local author, and we ended by reflecting on a regional author, too.

Students chose between poem or prose-poem as a form, writing poems about the artist’s biography, the art style, and the subject of the work, some of which were shared with the campus community at a reading in the Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies.