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Meet the 2023-2024 Emerging Artists


Photo: Emerging Artists poster outside of the Groot Gallery Ainsley Francis/The Olaf Messenger


Four Emerging Artists (EAs) began their art residencies with the Art and Art History department at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. The EA program, formerly known as the Fifth-Year Emerging Artists, is designed to give graduated students in the arts an opportunity to continue building their portfolio while using studio spaces in the Center for Art and Dance. The EA’s current show, “Work In Progress,” is open until Dec. 14. This year, the EAs are Sam Mendez ’23, Sophia Davies ’23, Seneca Norvell ’23, and Tamrat Hathaway ’23, who was not available for an interview. Let’s meet the artists. 


Sam Mendez ’23: 

Mendez is from the San Francisco area and started at St. Olaf with the intention of completing the pre-med track. However, after they took their first college-level art class, amidst being sent home due to COVID-19, they began pondering the art major. As Sophomore Major Declaration Day approached, Mendez decided to veer off the pre-med track and wholeheartedly dove into studio art. While working on the studio art major, Mendez fell in love with film photography and ceramics. 


Mendez is currently working on alternative forms of photography printmaking, such as cyanotypes. In the current “Work In Progress” show, Mendez’s plywood, wheat paste, and cyanotype work remains far from finished. The overall message of the piece illustrates the ever-present construction and gentrification taking place in San Francisco. Plywood is used to keep dust and people out of the construction zones. At the same time, the use of wheat paste echoes the activism of printmaking to mobilize the masses. Ultimately, their work culminates in processing memories of home as a form of self-portraiture and finding their place in the world. 


Throughout the year, Mendez is hoping to continue working on alternative print processes while experimenting with various materials. They’re also continuing to work on bridging the gap between functional and artistic ceramics. Mendez’s advice to students is to try and go to as many art openings as you can. It’s a great way to get to know people, even if you just want to stop by for a snack. A few artists that inspire Mendez are Theo Mattson ’22 and Ian Woods, among many others.


Sophia Davies ’23: 

Davies has always been drawing. At a young age, she consistently drew horses, because horseback riding was a big part of her life. Now she is bringing them back to her work in a much more speculative sense. Now that she is removed from the complicated world of horseboarding and riding, she recalls that a lot of ugly things happen related within the field, particularly the drugging of horses for performance. She’s working with her memory to tackle ethical questions such as, “Is riding horses even ethical anymore?” 

Alongside tackling these questions related to the horse industry, Davies is moving on from depicting vulnerable personal experiences. Now she is focused on depicting how animals and humans are interconnected as emotional and living beings while maintaining a sense of vulnerability.


Her paintings in the “Work In Progress” show illustrate animal skulls and busts of living cows and horses. One of her paintings has been added to throughout the course of the show, allowing viewers an intimate perspective of her creative process. Throughout the rest of the year, Davies is hoping to expand upon her photography skills and possibly use collage as a way to convey her ideas. She’s also going to continue hand-building ceramics. Lastly, her advice to students is not to limit yourself to artistic prompts, just be open and see where the art takes you. Some of her favorite artists are Leonora Carrington and Wangechi Mutu, among many others.


Seneca Norvell ’23: 

Norvell, like Mendez, didn’t come to St. Olaf to pursue the studio art major. Growing up, she was surrounded by her mother’s fiber arts, but she didn’t think she’d end up doing any artistic endeavors herself. However, when she took Foundation 2-D Media with Professor of Art John Saurer, she realized that she was much more interested in the arts than she originally thought. By her junior year, she found one of her favorite mediums, printmaking. 


In the “Work In Progress” show, Norvell displays some of her newest works, including handmade ink from natural materials like walnut hulls. Her drawings are inspired by the style of Irish legal manuscripts, as seen in her piece “Saint Bridget the Serpent and the Flying Geese.” This gestural work remains unfinished for the time being, but once the show is over, she’ll finish the piece by adding more symbolic drawings with her handmade walnut ink. 


Throughout the year, Norvell hopes to continue learning methods of clay processing; she and Assistant Professor of Art Courtney Leonard harvested clay near the library steps during construction last year. She’s also excited to learn how to use a letterpress in conjunction with Carleton’s fifth-year artist. Norvell’s advice to students is to take an art class, because you never know what will happen — there is a space for all. Norvell’s favorite artists are Alice Neel, the Cheese Bend Quilters, and Käthe Kollwitz.