Eight years in the making, SUNY Geneseo director of galleries Cynthia Hawkins can now add three more letters after her name: Ph.D.
On September 1, the University of Buffalo conferred upon her a doctor of philosophy degree in American Studies. With this achievement, Hawkins feels she's come "full circle," combining her first love of history with her passion for art.
Growing up in Flushing, NY, she enjoyed art and had a knack for figuring out perspective but chose to major in history at Queens College, City University of New York.
"But then I passed by the art department one day, and I felt the pull," she said. "I switched my major and graduated with a B.A. in studio arts."
"I love to learn, and I wanted my Ph.D.—but not in art." noted Hawkins, who also holds an M.F.A. from the Mt. Royal Graduate School of Painting at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and an M.A. in Museum Professions from Seton Hall University.
Hawkins joined Geneseo in 2007 with the aim to develop a strong, diverse, multicultural and interdisciplinary exhibition program at the College. She curates works of art for both the Lockhart Gallery and the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery.
"I've always had an interest in history," she added. "I want to know why things are the way they are, and while my Ph.D. in American studies is about history, it's also about thinking that art functions in its milieu. It cannot be what it is without considering its place in history. I think it's important when exhibiting artwork in the galleries to extend not just the meaning of the art object but to place it within its historical setting. For historical exhibits I curate objects of a particular period keeping in mind social and political events that were going on."
The research for her dissertation—"African American Agency and the Art Object, 1868-1917"—served as inspiration for a class that she's teaching this semester: "African Americans in New York City, 1868-1920."
"Chapter four discusses African American artist Charles Ethan Porter, who went to New York City in 1869 to attend the National Academy of Design," she explained. "He finished in 1872 and stayed there for another six years. In 1878, he returned to Connecticut, opened a studio and traveled back and forth to New York City until 1896. This left me questioning, 'What was life like for black people in New York City after the Civil War?'"
With her doctorate studies behind her, Hawkins has more to accomplish including book and writing projects based on her dissertation, new gallery lighting efforts, and a research project collaboration with museum studies students and assistant professor of art history Alla Myzelev.
Not to mention painting. An abstract painter, Hawkins' last body of work focused on stellar clusters; her next series will revolve around Afro-futurism, which is stellar science fiction.
"I'm interpreting it as science fiction of space and place and how to move between dimensions," she said. "It's about things being altered—a tree, for example, could be a portal to another world."
Hawkins has exhibited her work at galleries and museums including Rush Art Foundation (NY); Wilmer Jennings Gallery (Kenkeleba, NY); Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries (GA); Buffalo Science Museum (NY); Queens College Art Center (NY); Cinque Gallery (NY); Frances Wolfson Art Center, Miami-Dade Community College (FL); and The Bronx Museum of the Art.
~ Tony Hoppa