Kristen Neville Taylor’s “They Told Us Earth is Mother but it is in Fact The Sun”

by Michelle Sonsino

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and numerous other cultural institutions around the world are providing online access to exclusive collections, supporting continued education and reflection during our global quarantine. Germantown Friends School recently joined this virtual platform for artistic inspiration with their annual Abigail R. Cohen ‘91 Memorial Art Lecture—held online for the first time in seventeen years. Students had the opportunity to hear from Kristen Neville Taylor, a Philadelphia-based artist, educator, and curator, and reflect on her messages about environmental awareness, the importance of collaboration, and advocacy through art. The public can also access this lecture by visiting the GFS YouTube page.

The Cohen Art Lecture is named in memory of Abby Cohen, a beloved friend, sister, daughter, and classmate who graduated from GFS in 1991. Now a spring tradition, the lecture honors Abby’s passion for art and the pursuit of social and aesthetic concerns and reflects GFS’ Quaker philosophy that guides students to understand and appreciate their world through inquiry and artistic expression. It is made possible by the generous support of Abby’s brother, Jonathan Cohen, class of 1988, and his wife, Julia Pershan.

“GFS was so fortunate to have had Kristen Neville Taylor as our speaker this year, as her work speaks so closely to how we are being affected by current events right now,” said Megan Culp, head of the art department at GFS. “At this time of remote learning and deep reflection, we are especially grateful to the Cohen family for supporting this lecture as an opportunity to deepen our community’s appreciation of art as a tool to better understand and imagine our experiences as humans in this world.”

Taylor, whose diverse practice combines drawing, sculpture, and glass, has shown her work locally at Vox Populi, the Woodmere Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and nationally at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Richard Stockton College, Rowan University, and Expo Chicago. She has organized several exhibitions, including Landscape Techne at Little Berlin and The Usable Earth at the Esther Klein Gallery. She is a Recycled Artist in Residence (RAIR), a Vermont Studio Center fellow, and the recipient of the Laurie Wagman Prize in Glass.

During the lecture, Taylor discussed her artistic motivation and processes, which often connect to the systems that impact nature and the human experience. “Because I’m drawing from life and personal experience, I am often surprised by what I make my work about,” said Taylor. “I like materials and I like to experiment, and often I just want to try something new or play around, and that might manifest later and surprise me.” She noted she often needs help from others to make her large, multimedia pieces possible and to curate a meaningful show.

Students appreciated the lecture for different reasons.

“I thought her art was really unconventional and it was cool to see the many different media she works with,” said Laxmi McCulloch, GFS Class of 2022. “Since a lot of artists focus on just one type of art, this gave me a new perspective on what an artist can be.”

“I was so grateful to hear Kristen talk about her process as it really inspired me to think about art in a new way,” said Grace Busser, GFS Class of 2021. “It is always so refreshing to hear someone else’s perspective on art and the Cohen Art Lecture never ceases to amaze me.”

“My sister Abby valued art as a method to find her voice and share her perspective,” said Jonathan Cohen, who joined the GFS community in watching the lecture online this year. “The GFS art curriculum allowed and inspired her to pursue photography as a platform for social change. My family and I are so pleased that the GFS tradition and focus on art as expression continues. Current students have the opportunity to discover art through living artists in the community. We are excited for them and their futures.”

Michelle Sonsino is Director of Communications and Marketing at Germantown Friends School

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