By Nora Ibrahim, Staff Writer
A study room in the library of the Gorham campus was transformed into an artistic space to celebrate the bicentennial of the famous essayist, Henry David Thoreau. A pop-up course called Thoreau 200, taught by Professor Lisa Giles, celebrated the opening ceremony of the new study space by students reciting works of Thoreau.
Giles articulated what went into this short course, “students attended a day long symposium with Thoreau scholars, creative writers and journalists and experts on rural economics. Also required were two class meetings and time spent on the final project–design and creation of the Thoreau Room in the Gorham library.”
The renovation of this study room is not new; rooms one and two have already undergone this change. Emma Cost, a sophomore majoring in environmental planning and policy, stated that the students of the environmental department in 2016 designed the first room. In this room, there is a large mural of a vibrant green forest with water coupled with a wooden bench handmade by the students. Cost added, “The room is open for anyone to use.” The second room has followed the environmental theme, titled, “The Gorham Forest.” This project was different from rooms one and three, an installation created by a student for their Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA).
The project of changing the study rooms began by two environmental professors who said to Ed Moore, the Coordinator of the Gorham Learning Commons, “the rooms are boring.” Moore explained that the process of proposing a design change for the study rooms had a few guidelines a student must follow. Then, the students and Moore would work to create a proposal to send to David Nutty, the Director of Libraries and University Librarian. Lastly, he emphasized that it is good to have a faculty guiding them. Moore elaborated further onto announcing the benefits of having such projects:
“The students strengthen their connection to USM. The Library gains some very cool and lively rooms. I enjoy working with students and am pleased to facilitate these projects. It has been personally rewarding to me. The designs are permanent so the students leave a special legacy to USM.”
Giles added that it took a lot of time to create the room ‘Thoreau 200.’ The students, who have read works of Thoreau in the opening ceremony, also have been part of the craftsmanship of the renovation. Ginny Majka, a junior majoring in environmental planning and policy, said that she helped with designing the symbolic tree of paper mache of colorful paper, patterned paper and Thoreau’s pages of his work. Majka communicated why she prefers to use the decorated rooms instead of the plainer one because “they feel less institutionalized.”
Majka spoke of why she selected the work in which Thoreau talked about his experience on Mount Katahdin. She said that reading his book, “was like being guided through the woods.” Furthermore, she analyzed his experience as being “out of his element and an accurate description of how it feels to get to the summit.”
Brie Williams, a freshman majoring in history and geo-anthropology, had recited the first quote in the opening of Thoreau’s essay, Walking: “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,–to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.” Williams stated that this quote inspired her to look further into his works.
Williams noted her role in the construction of this project as a photographer of the four images hung in the room. She added that the pictures are of the Gorham woods surrounding the campus. This element, as she explained it, is similar to the concept of bringing the outside, inside. Williams was asked why a tree has been selected to be the iconic visual of the room; she said that the colors of the trees symbolize fall; she added, “A lot of his writing is based in fall.”
Moore has emphasized the idea that he is open to new ideas of how the rooms can be redecorated in artistic ways to encourage and aid students’ learning. He said that if a student is interested in making a change in the Group study rooms located in the Gorham Library of USM, “all they need to do is to talk to me, and we will go from there.”