Colorful large-scale oil paintings of strawberries, kiwis, lemons and blueberries— the brainchild of SUNY Potsdam senior Morgan Sychtysz ’20—are currently hanging on the walls of the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. The year-long exhibit features the work of 16 students and faculty from eight schools within the SUNY system, including SUNY Potsdam’s own Sychtysz, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a certificate in art education and minor in art history.
The beautifully detailed “fruit basket” paintings were initially created as the body of work for Sychtysz’s BFA thesis, which was showcased last spring at the annual BFA Exhibition in the Gibson Gallery. “I wanted to create environments within the paintings. I wrote in my artist statement about roaming over the hills of the strawberries,” Sychtysz said. “I look at painting a little differently. Instead of trying to figure out what my end result is, I just jump into it and try different techniques and then see where that leads me. It’s more about the process and how to apply to paint, rather than what the end result is.”
Sychtysz worked hard to complete her BFA portfolio by the end of her junior year, and painting Professor Amy Swartelé proved to be a source of inspiration along the way. “She really cares about how we’re improving, or if we’re not. I took four classes with her and in order to finish my BFA early, I took Painting 3 over the summer. I had a studio at my parent’s house, and I would bring my work to campus every two weeks to meet with Amy and discuss my work—even over the summer, she was able to help me. I really like working with all the professors in the Department of Art,” Sychtysz said.
One of those professors, Dr. Caroline Downing, the chair of the art department, has also been extremely supportive in Sychtysz’s growth as an art student. “Caroline actually bought two of my painting from the BFA Show. I really enjoy her as a person. I’m able to talk to her even outside of advising, and she’s very knowledgeable when it comes to her art history courses—I just really enjoyed all of her classes,” she said.
Years earlier, when Sychtysz was still a student at Brushton-Moira Central School, she first started to develop her passion for art and interest in art education as a career. “I took every single art class at my school and I got really close with my teacher, SUNY Potsdam alumna Christie Comstock ’09 & ’11. She helped me decide that this is what I want to do,” she said.
Comstock had matriculated through SUNY Potsdam’s art education program 10 years earlier, while pursuing the same art education certificate as Sychtysz. “She pushed me to learn new things. I had never used oil paint before her class, and I worked on a lot of one-on-one projects with her. My senior year, she knew that I wanted to go into teaching, and she saw that I was able to work with others, I guess, so she let me teach a couple of her drawing classes,” she said.
When Sychtysz arrived at SUNY Potsdam she was able to continue working on her teaching skills by leading a “Drawing for Beginners’” class through the SOAR program—teaching drawing techniques directly to local community members. “Teaching that class was eye-opening for me, because although I never thought teaching was easy, I saw how difficult it really is to maintain your classroom and try to be as effective as possible at all times,” she said.
Through an art history class with Dr. Mary Jo McNamara, Sychtysz got to visit the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. She also explored museums in Montreal, Canada, with SUNY Potsdam’s Student Art Association. “It was very interesting, because aside from the museums in Montreal, we were also able to go to artist studios and see what they were working on and see what it’s like to be a real-life artist,” she said.
Now in her final year at SUNY Potsdam, Sychtysz’s decision to fast track the challenging BFA program has allowed her to focus on completing her certificate in art education her senior year. The joint program with St. Lawrence University paves the way for students to teach art at any grade level from K through 12. This semester she is taking art education classes and she will be observing art classes at local schools. Then next semester, Sychtysz will have a fully immersive experience as a student teacher, taking what she’s learned from her art teachers and implementing them in the classroom. As part of her undergraduate success, Sychtysz was also awarded the Katya C. Greer Memorial Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to an accomplished student who is pursuing an Art Education certification.
After graduating next spring, she has plans to become an art teacher right away, while also pursuing a master’s degree at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. “I want to start my master’s right after I graduate from SUNY Potsdam. I’m also going to be looking for an opening for a K-12 art teacher in the area. The program that I’m looking at in Vermont would be low-residency, so I would only need to be there for two weeks in the summer, and then go back home and work on my art on my own time,” Sychtysz said.
The sky is the limit and her canvas is blank as Sychtysz grabs her paintbrushes and looks ahead to her future as an artist and art educator.
To learn more about the Department of Art, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/art
Article by Jason Hunter