Exploring history through art

Artist Stephen Marc will return to Lycoming College to speak about his work in an exhibition called “The Confluence of a Relocated Past.” The exhibit begins today and the artwork will hang through Feb. 16. Marc’s Gallery talk, which will be held Jan. 30, will not be the artist’s only speaking engagement during his visit to the area; during the course of the week Marc will both teach and lecture at the college.

Though modest and hesitant to refer to himself as a historian, Marc spends a considerable amount of time researching the history and significance specific locations played in one of his primary areas of interest: the collective Freedom Movement (Civil Rights and Black Power).

“Black history shouldn’t just be ‘Black history,'” Marc said in a phone interview, adding, “it’s American history, and it deserves more than a month.”

It is with a historian’s attention to detail that Marc then turns his camera on the homes, landscapes, intersections, hidden passageways and formerly segregated entrances that have acted as the backdrop of this facet of our country’s history. The final work is manifested in either untouched photographs or digital collages of his own photographs and 19th and early 20th century Black Americana stereotypical representations from postcards, illustrated newspapers, magazines and trade card advertisements.

Some of Marc’s source material comes directly from a Williamsport-based company: Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. All of Marc’s interaction with the company to date has been phone- or Web-based.

“They’re wonderful folks,” Marc said. “I’ve never met them in person but I’ve been dealing with them for years. On this visit I’m counting on the chance to actually meet them in person.”

Marc’s work bridges documentary photography and digital imaging, with an emphasis on the black experience within American history and culture. His collaged pieces blend landscape, handwriting, portraiture, and turn-of-the-20th-Century illustration and caricature into panoramic compositions that link present and not-too-distant past.

His project, “Passage on the Underground Railroad,” is registered by the National Park Service as a Network to Freedom Program and was published as a book in 2009. The travelling exhibition, organized by the University at Buffalo Art Galleries, was shown at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, The Phoenix Art Museum and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. In 2007, Marc completed two largescale public art commissions in Chicago at the Avalon Public Library and the 79th Street Dan Ryan Train Station. He has published two other photographic books: “Urban Notions” and “The Black Trans-Atlantic Experience: Street Life and Culture in Ghana, Jamaica, England and the United States.” Marc is a professor of art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

When Marc first came to Williamsport and Lycoming College for his 2003 residency, he collaborated with Lynn Estomin, professor of art, and local historian Mamie Sweeting Diggs on the “Freedom Bound” Public Art Project.

“My first visit to Lycoming College was very significant,” Marc said. “I visited something like six Underground Railroad sites … It was an incredible visit.”

Marc isn’t the only one who remembers his first experience at Lycoming College fondly. In an email interview, Estomin recounted her experience working with Marc more than a decade ago:

“In February of 2003, Stephen Marc, 12 senior art majors and I documented seven local Underground Railroad sites; (shot) over 2,500 digital images and designed the banners. Stephen Marc is the most energetic and inspiring teacher I know; his enthusiasm is contagious. He clearly enjoys teaching, patiently showing students technical processes while simultaneously explaining the history behind both the subject matter and the development of photography as an art.

“The day after Stephen arrived at Lycoming College in 2003, the biggest snowstorm of the season hit. The governor closed the state; the president closed the college; but my class met and worked. The class ate together and carried on an ongoing work-in-progress critique during meals and while working together for long hours in the computer lab. My students were so excited about the project that they showed up at the computer lab at 8 a.m. after working till midnight. I learned as much about teaching as I did about the Underground Railroad working with him and I am excited to continue our collaboration this year,” she said.