2/23/2021 Alicia Morrissey

“Magnetic” Museum Inspires Student Poets

Discover how Franklin & Marshall College’s Phillips Museum of Art adds a unique element to students’ courses.

“There’s something incredibly magnetic about the art in the Phillips, I think, that inspires great creativity in story and character building, as well as poetic crafting.”

This magnetism described by senior Skylar Rella draws patrons across Franklin & Marshall College and the surrounding Lancaster community to explore the College’s Phillips Museum of Art. But the museum’s educational, cultural, and historical exhibitions and programs also inspire faculty to collaborate with the museum when building courses.

This past fall, Professor Meg Day brought their English 382: Writing Poetry course to the Phillips Museum’s Nissley Gallery to explore an exercise in ekphrastic poetry, or poetry written about works of art. The students were instructed to write a poem inspired by a piece in the museum to which they felt a connection.

“I was intrigued but nervous when I first learned about the project,” said junior Jeremy Mauser. “I was intimidated by the prospect of my work deriving from someone else’s already fantastic artwork.”

Rella, on the other hand, was excited to tackle the project, which was to be their second collaboration with the museum. The first was with Professor Brian Silberman’s Theatre 383: Playwriting II, which inspired Rella to not only write a single scene as assigned, but complete a full-length play.

“I ended up writing three acts, just under 80 pages—all sprouted from this incredible piece I saw in the Phillips Museum,” they said. “I was excited to go back to the Phillips Museum again with Professor Day’s class and to do a completely different kind of writing.”

Poetry at the Phillips Museum of Art

For some students of Day’s class, it was their first adventure into poetry—not just the ekphrastic form.

“I admittedly didn’t have much experience with poetry before taking Professor Day’s class,” Mauser said.

Senior Connor Doak agreed, noting it was his first experience writing ekphrastic poetry, and one of his early attempts at poetry in general.

Both students embraced the challenge. Doak, who described himself as “not really a natural poet,” thought it was an enjoyable creative exercise to use his talents in fiction to lean into narrative and characters in his poem.

  • Photograph of the Nissley Gallery re-installed Photograph of the Nissley Gallery re-installed
  • Photograph of the Gibson Curriculum Gallery during the exhibition "Käthe Kollwitz: Bauernkrieg / Peasant War" on loan from the Trout Gallery at Dickinson College, Photograph by Deb Grove Photograph of the Gibson Curriculum Gallery during the exhibition "Käthe Kollwitz: Bauernkrieg / Peasant War" on loan from the Trout Gallery at Dickinson College, Photograph by Deb Grove
  • Rothman Gallery, Phillips Museum of Art Rothman Gallery, Phillips Museum of Art
  • Photograph of the Dana Gallery during the exhibition "Colette Fu: We Are Tiger Dragon People", Photograph taken by Deb Grove, Art courtesy of the Artist Photograph of the Dana Gallery during the exhibition "Colette Fu: We Are Tiger Dragon People", Photograph taken by Deb Grove, Art courtesy of the Artist

The museum takes pride in enriching the experiences of the F&M community and this English 382: Writing Poetry project was no exception.

“I really enjoy the collaborations between the museum and creative writing classes,” Rella said. 

Doak said the assignment helped him grow as a writer. “This poem was the most fun I’d had writing for a couple of months and helped me get some confidence to where I’m writing much more purposefully in multiple different genres.”

Mauser felt a boost in confidence, too. The project taught him to trust his gut, he said.

“I hope other professors and students are taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities that come with such an awesome staff and so many intriguing pieces,” he said.

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