With her sketchbook, pencils and markers tucked under her pillow, Marie Amell ’21 waited for silence to fall on her childhood home, and for her parents to fall asleep, before clicking on her flashlight and beginning her art projects within the cave created by her sheets. Her studio expanded when she enrolled at SUNY Potsdam, working within the walls of Brainerd Hall as she pursued a degree in studio art.
Amell started drawing when she was just three years old and her natural ability, coupled with hard work, set her on a path of success—receiving the unwavering support from her mother along the way. “My mom had a lot of students over her 20 years as an art and English teacher, and she noticed that my skill level was pretty advanced for a kid,” Amell recalled. “She got me a lot of art books, and art supplies. That was fantastic! I didn't grow up with cable, so I would always study these books, and try to recreate the characters.”
Born in Canada, Amell moved to Indiana when she was very young, and then relocated to Potsdam when she was nine years old. She attended Potsdam High School, and when it was time to choose a college, her search brought her right back home. “There were several factors that made me choose SUNY Potsdam. I grew up in the area, so I knew there were a lot of people who really valued education up here. I really liked the campus and the people here, so there were a lot of incentives,” she said. “I had anxiety, and I still have anxiety, so I wanted a place that was close to home. Another thing is that universities are very expensive, some charging 70K a year for tuition, and I had many friends who were graduating with a ton of debt. I wanted to make a decision where I genuinely liked the college and wasn’t putting myself in a huge amount of debt.”
“ I have really enjoyed my time at Potsdam. I have met some of my closest friends here. I love the variety of classes. you can take ice climbing, you can take ballet, you can take sculpture—there's so much here. There's a planetarium underneath one of the buildings, we have a boa constrictor in the biology department, and many live performances. There's a lot going on, so it's pretty cool.” -Marie Amell '21
Amell excelled as an art student during her four years at SUNY Potsdam. One of her pieces, a charcoal drawing of four figures representing mother earth, fire, wind, and water, titled “Elements of Nature,” was featured in the 120 Degree Intercollegiate Art Regional in Troy, N.Y. As an honors student, she was also accepted into the Presidential Scholars Program at SUNY Potsdam, designed for exceptional students to launch independent projects in their field of study, which gave Amell the opportunity to explore her interests in storytelling and animation.
“It was definitely a learning process. I researched how to animate, create backgrounds, create character designs, create movement. It was very time-consuming but I really enjoyed it,” Amell said. “The film was about a forest fairy who is born in spring and then the wind carries her throughout the Adirondacks, and through the seasons. She experienced summer, fall and winter, and eventually she passes away in winter as she ages."
To supplement her film production, Amell hired Jered White ’21, a student at The Crane School of Music, who created an original song to accompany her animation. At the end of her final semester, she shared her work with faculty and staff during a 20-minute presentation where she discussed the process of creating the film and her efforts to learn about animation.
From painting, ceramics, and graphic design, to photography and art history, Amell dabbled in numerous art forms under the mentorship of her art professors like Laura Fair-Schulz, Roxanne Locy, and Chair of the Department of Art Dr. Caroline Downing. “There were a lot of fantastic teachers and the classes were really cool. The professors were my favorite thing about SUNY Potsdam,” she said. “I took some art history courses, like ‘Impressionism.’ It was just amazing how much the art history teachers knew, and how they remembered so much detail about the paintings and artists.”
When she graduated, Amell moved to the Midwest to pursue a career as an artist to create fine art, animated stories, and graphic novels. Amell has her sights set on becoming an art teacher later in life. “Down the road maybe in my 40s, 50s, or 60s I'll go into art teaching. I think that would be a blast,” she said. “But for now, I want to be a storyteller and try to make that happen—why not, you only have one life!”
Article and photos by Jason Hunter