Collaboration with Artworks Places Student Representations of Harriet Tubman in Big Rapids Downtown

Ferris State University
Seventeen silhouette images depicting the life and work of abolitionist Harriet Tubman are on display in the windows of downtown Big Rapids businesses. These student-produced works came from a Ferris State University Spring 2020 Arts 101 class, taught by Adjunct Professor of Arts and Humanities Lynette Vought.

Images depicting the trials and life of 19th-century abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman are on display in windows throughout Big Rapids’ downtown. The displays are a repurposing of works created by Ferris State University students.

Adjunct Professor of Art and Humanities Lynette Vought said students in her Art 101 class were asked to produce silhouette prints after learning about Tubman’s legacy during the Spring 2020 semester.

“These students were generally not inclined as artists, for many of them, it was their first art class,” Vought said. “These images represent a great accomplishment on their part.”

Vought said former Big Rapids High School English teacher Cathy Johnson came to speak to students about Tubman, which spurred them to produce these impressive pieces.

“Cathy’s outreach was a significant element in these students’ learning,” Vought said. “It really brought out significant discussion and introspection, which greatly impacted their works.”

The silhouettes were initially intended for display while local a capella group Voca Lyrica performed in a day-long celebration at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center earlier this year. Johnson and Vought are both members of the women’s singing troupe. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of that concert.

“We would have surely enjoyed the collaborative offering with Voca Lyrica, as it showed great potential as an educational event,” Vought said. “It is my hope that our students can take in the downtown exhibit when they return for classes later this month.”

Artworks, the nonprofit organization based in Big Rapids, has placed the silhouettes on posters. The 17 pieces are on display at their building and 11 others in the downtown business district, through Friday, Sept. 25.

“Carrie Weis, of the Ferris Art Gallery, is planning a virtual presentation with these images, for later this year,” Vought said. “She has procured some items from a Grand Rapids museum, which will make for a most informational display that will take this presentation and message of ‘She Persisted’ further. In these works, we are carrying the theme that applied to the centenary celebration of women’s suffrage in the United States, since Tubman risked the freedom she had gained, in escape, to guide others along the Underground Railroad.”

“We are pleased to continue the collaboration with Artworks,” Weis said. “’ She Persisted’ will be an offering of items curated from the Grand Rapids Public Museum that show the strength of women in this region. Some of them had factory jobs, others labored in their homes, and there were those who thrived as entrepreneurs. We hope people will view this curation on the gallery’s website when preparations are completed.”