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The Student Newspaper of Hopkins School

    • A self-portrait by Makaio Toft ‘21.

    • A lithograph by Elizabeth Roberge ‘09.

    • A painting by Jacqueline Dee Parker’80.

    • A print by Jenny Ibsen ‘14.

Women Alumni Share Their Art

Shriya Sakalkale ‘24 Arts Editor
Hopkins is home to a thriving arts community, with a diverse selection of art courses and organizations contributing to the education of countless young Hopkins students. In honor of Women’s History Month, The Razor had the unique opportunity to connect with alumnae who have gone on to work and study in art fields.
One such alumna is Makaio Toft ’21, who is currently studying Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Toft specializes in script-writing and directing, but also enjoys acting, film editing, painting, and sewing. For Toft, the arts have always served as a form of self- expression. Ever since she was a child, she felt that her life had been “determined by adults, and I didn’t feel like my thoughts held any value.” Through her art, Toft said she was able to “find my voice and build the confidence to make my own decisions based on my needs... I’ve started to use writing as an outlet to have a conversation about issues that I hold a lot of anger toward, like abusive power dynamics and sexual assault. I love using [writing] as a tool to speak and connect with people.”

Toft’s connection with Hopkins’ arts community runs deep, as she recalls her time in the Hopkins Drama Association (HDA): “ I fell in love with theater as a freshman when I saw Angels in America on Broadway and did the spring play Mike [Calderone] directed. HDA was a huge part of my
growth as an artist, specifically Student Production, which is how I met some of my best friends and collaborators.” Toft’s first time writing and producing a play was through HDA, which for her was one of the biggest challenges she faced as an artist on the Hill. Toft said, “It was the most anxiety-inducing experience of my life, but one of the most rewarding. Mike trusted me with a couple of big projects while I was at Hopkins, and his support allowed me to discover that I could really do this if I wanted to.”

Toft is currently a part of two NYU-affiliated sketch comedy groups, Free Beer and the Bechdel Test, the latter of which is an all-female identifying comedy group that performs improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy. From her own experiences, Toft has learned that “the women who I most admire, who have spent their lives working in the arts are determined, confident and kind people..., you need all of those qualities if you are going to survive in this industry and maintain friendships while doing so.”

Elizabeth Roberge ’09 reflected on her experience as a woman in the arts during her time at Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned her BFA in Printmaking. While she was in college, Roberge recalls the topic of femininity being brought into critiques of her work, with “many comments about how ‘delicate’ and ‘pretty’ my work was, and how certain works, especially some I made using fabric and embroidery, automatically called to mind the theme of ‘women’s work.’” These comments were frustrating as her goal was to use thread as a drawing material, or almost like paint, rather than to automatically make people think my work must have to do with feminine themes.” But Roberge acknowledged that those experiences have helped her grow, and that looking back, “I think I could have said a lot more about women in art and history rather than becoming discouraged by these comments. These days, I mostly weave functional pieces like scarves, tea towels, and placemats, and I wholly embrace the idea that I am perpetuating the historically feminine pursuit of weaving.”

Roberge has always been drawn to the arts: “I cannot remember a time where the arts weren’t my thing.” She said, “I went through the Studio Art track with Eric Mueller, Claudine Burns-Smith, and Peter Ziou. I was in Concert Choir during all four years with Joann Wich and was its co-head my senior year. I also participated in the One-Acts and Musicals with Hope Hartup and Mike Calderone during all four years.” Roberge spoke about the impact her teachers had on her: “Mrs. Wich, who is still a dear friend, helped me literally and figuratively find my voice, and Hope and Mike helped my self-confidence grow so much during those awkward teenage years. I truly can’t say enough good things about my time in the arts at Hopkins, and about my teachers.”

For Roberge, the experience with the arts at Hopkins was another stepping stone on her path to becoming the artist she is today. In her time at Hopkins, Roberge was the recipient of the 2009 Paul W. Schueler Prize for the Visual Arts, and since then she has gone on to win various accolades and has showcased her work in several exhibitions and publications. Her path as an artist wasn’t always clear to her, “It still sometimes isn’t [clear]. I have tried many different things, and it is possible I will try more.” But out of all the roles she has taken on, the one that she is most fond of is her role now as an art teacher at the Foote School. Working there has brought Roberge full circle. She reflected, “I have no doubt that [my past teachers’] influence is part of what led me to where I am.”

Like Roberge, Jacqueline Dee Parker ‘80 reflected on her childhood and her time at Hopkins: “I was raised in an artistic household—my father was an architect and my mother is a violinist who paints and draws—and early in life I learned to value creative expression. I was encouraged to draw, write, and play an instrument.” Parker recalled her old art teacher Lois Read, remembering her as “a generous and engaging instructor.” Parker spoke about the impact her literature teachers at Hopkins had on her personal growth as a student and an artist: “For an assignment in Toni Giamatti’s journalism class, I arranged to interview the painter William Bailey, whose work I loved. One of his statements has always stayed with me: ‘I live in painting.’”

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Parker spent a few years as a freelance artist, with her work involving “pre- digital graphic design so the elements were manipulated with hot wax, tweezers, and x-acto knives.” Parker believes that the early days of her career are what, “... inspired my love of collage... [as] I enjoyed employing my visual skills and working with my hands, but I felt driven to develop my own work.” Afterward, she returned to school for an MFA in creative writing with a secondary emphasis in painting and drawing. Now Parker makes geometrical collages, as she expressed her, “love [for] the tactile quality of mixed media work.” Parker described her work and artistic process, saying, “My materials include antique literature and music books and other ephemera..., these materials embody the history and have a life experience to share. I love the handwritten notes I encounter in old sheet music--“practice!” The fragments of text on my work table encourage sense memories and fuel my process. These collected bits of lived experience are the bricks and mortar I use to build, constructing new spaces informed by time’s passage.”

Parker also reflected on her experience in the arts as a mother. Her first child was born while she was working on her MFA thesis, a book of poems with corresponding mixed media paintings. Parker specifically thought back to her thesis exhibition, and how, “[my son] had his first birthday a few days [before].” Thinking of that moment, Parker acknowledged that, “Becoming a mother as I started to navigate professional life was both a joyful and challenging conjunction... For many teaching artists—and especially women--balancing creative energies between family, academic commitments, community engagement, and one’s own studio practice is a constant dance.”

Another former Hilltopper, Jenny Ibsen ’14, went on to explore art as a printmaker, storyteller, and restaurant worker. Ibsen’s work is intertwined with her experiences as a restaurant worker: “My work is centered around ideas of process, preservation, food, and labor, so my experience as a worker in the service industry is inextricably tied to the ideas I investigate in my art, along with my relationship to sourcing food, cooking for myself and others.” Her work is all about, “translating an idea to an image to a block to a print, or using an emotional process of translating an idea or story to a visual narrative that is legible to an audience. That’s always the most exciting part of my practice -- it’s a challenge that’s engaging emotionally, intellectually, and physically. I also love the physicality of making -- in relief printmaking, which is what I do, I am drawing and carving a block. It’s a really cathartic process to scrape away all these little pieces.”

During her time on the Hill, Ibsen created an independent studies project with her friend titled “Crossroads,” which depicted street photography from around New Haven. Ibsen recalled how formative and inspiring the experience was for her, saying, “Inspired by our impending freedom...we posed questions to others about life-impacting decisions they’ve made. It feels like those interviews were the building blocks for my interest in combining storytelling with a creative, visual component.”

Ibsen remembered her years in college as eye-opening as she found herself “overwhelmingly surrounded by a history of significant white men, who are obviously influential in the canon of art history, but not necessarily the best representation of the diverse folks who have been impactful in the history of arts.” Now, Ibsen feels lucky to be a part of a Maine-based group known as Tender Table, which “brings together female [and] non-binary people of color to share stories, art, and community surrounding food.” This group is incredibly important to Ibsen as she says, “being a female Chinese artist, [being a part of] a community of women [and] non-binary folks with similar interests has played an incredible role in my life here -- it’s facilitated a supportive, tender, and understanding community to be creative, vulnerable and collaborative with.”

Toft, Roberge, Parker, and Ibsen are just a few of the successful alumnae who have gone on to make careers for themselves in the arts. Though their journeys have differed, they agreed that their time at Hopkins was formative. Toft leaves some words of wisdom for girls on campus who are considering going to the arts someday, saying: “trust yourself, because you’re the only one who deserves a say over your life. Only talk to the people who truly listen to you. And become friends with failure, or you’ll never take risks. You don’t have to be the most ‘talented,’ you just have to be the most dedicated. And hey, you’ll get to laugh at the people who doubted you once you’ve done it.”
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