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Senior art majors’ shows opened this week. Hana Bernhardson | Courtesy

Just a dozen pieces of artwork. That’s all — give or take a few — that the senior art majors select from their portfolios of almost four years to display in their senior art show.

Two to four seniors share the shows, which typically begin with a reception and last a week. The first show, “Overly Caffeinated,” featuring the work of Katherine Frank and Sara Pezzella, began Monday, and the other three shows will follow in upcoming weeks. Though seniors consider their show a capstone project, it only conveys a glimpse into the long hours art majors spend in the Sage Center for the Arts.

“I think that as a human being you gain an appreciation for the daily beauty around you, but I also think you gain an appreciation for effort,” senior art major Hana Bernhardson said. “Once you’ve sat in a studio class for three hours and have come out shaking your head in frustration because the creativity’s not working or something’s not going right, you understand it. You understand the hard work that goes into it.”

A double major in exercise science and art, Bernhardson said she and many other art majors have had to balance time spent in the studio with time spent on other parts of campus. Bernhardson will be sharing a show with two like-minded seniors — Erin Holsinger and Eileen Thoma — beginning March 26. But others, such as senior art major Tori Swanson, prioritize art.

“I’ve really had to push myself to find the time outside the class,” Swanson said. “It’s really hard because we’re at Hillsdale and it’s the liberal arts so we have English classes and politics classes and stuff like that at the same time as art classes. You just gotta force yourself to do it and not wait for the inspiration or the motivation.”

Swanson’s show, beginning April 9, will be shared with three other seniors.

The best pieces, Swanson said, are those that are emotionally inspired. For Swanson, her best pieces are tied to home: a nostalgic painting of her grandparents’ house and farm where she used to spend part of the summer, and a vibrant landscape of the sunset from freshman year inspired by a homesickness that she remembers when she sees it.

Bernhardson said her favorite work  — a 2-foot sculpture depicting a weary boxer after a fight — displays the fusion of her two majors.

“It shows that I understand the muscles and the underpinning of a human body, but also an artistic interpretation of this fully-ripped guy. He’s so overcome with fatigue that he’s just sitting on this bench. It also ties into my athletic training; I see football players, volleyball players, anybody after a victory or a loss and you see those moments where you have these powerful figures at moment of weakness. That’s what I try to capture in the figure,” Bernhardson said.

Bernhardson will display primarily drawings and sculptures to show her growth as an artist. Holsinger, a student athlete herself, will show many more oil paintings, and Thoma, who’s worked in theater, may show off some of her costume designs.

In Swanson’s art show two weeks later, she’ll display many oil paintings and landscapes. A native Nebraskan, Swanson said she wants to convert others to loving Nebraska’s beauty through her paintings.

“I try to take that beauty I see and paint it … and show the beauty of places people might not typically think as beautiful,” Swanson said.

Seniors Grace DeSandro, Mikel Eatough, and Cecily Parell will share the show with Swanson. Together, the group identifies a possible theme and title as well as a branding strategy. Individually, they determine the order of their works, write the labels, frame the pictures, prepare food for the reception, and write an artist statement about why they do what they do.

Those who attend the shows in Sage catch a sample of the talent in Hillsdale’s art department and “get to feel like they’re cultured,” Swanson said. But for the senior art majors, this show represents their growth as artists and people through the art department.

In comparison to other majors in which students are already somewhat educated, many art majors have to start as beginners, according to Professor of Art Barbara Bushey.

“It’s intimidating because you haven’t been in that position of being a beginner for a long time. It’s frustrating because you think, ‘I should know how to do this,’ but you have to learn. And it is at once personal and impersonal, because you are actually making these marks or whatever, but you want to get to a point where you’ve created this object of beauty that others will enjoy,” Bushey said.

The quiet halls of Sage may separate art majors from the hustling busyness closer to Lane and Kendall Halls, but these art shows enable the rest of campus to briefly view and understand the creative process of visual arts.

“I feel like the act of creating something is in our human nature,” Swanson said. “People want to create and to make things, so it’s good for people to make things.”