The opportunity to put aside the worries of everyday life and solely focus on creative work is something many young artists can only dream about. Longtime Vassar College English professor W.K. Rose was committed to changing that. A new exhibit at the Thompson Memorial Library celebrates Rose and the fellowship that bears his name, and an October 9 event will provide a further spotlight on this revered faculty member.
Shortly before Rose’s untimely death in 1968 (at only 44 years old), he established the W.K. Rose Fellowship in the Creative Arts with a simple intention: “I only want to emphasize my notion that any recipient should receive a stipend that will support him or her adequately for a year. The idea is to free this young person from financial worries so that he or she can get on with his or her creative work.” The recipient would decide how to use the funds, whether they might travel to far-flung regions and explore, or just “look out windows, read, and wait for ideas to coalesce, all the while knowing [that they’ll] be able to pay the rent.” Rose also hoped “that this fellowship will attract to Vassar in greater number the kind of student that it proposes to aid.”
Rose Fellows have gone on to great success since the program was established in 1969. In a special program on Wednesday, October 9 at 5:30 pm in the Thompson Library, college historian and Professor Emeritus of English Colton Johnson will discuss W.K. Rose’s legacy as a scholar, advisor, and philanthropist. Music professor Michael Pisani, immediate past chair of the Rose Fellowship selection committee, will also provide remarks at the program, which a variety of the overall fifty Rose Fellows will attend. This event is free and open to the public, as is the exhibit, W.K. Rose and the Rose Fellowship, which runs through December in the Thompson Library.
The Rose exhibit includes the Vassar scholar’s correspondence with famous authors such as T.S. Eliot and Eudora Welty, photographs and works by past Rose Fellowship recipients.
Previous Rose Fellowship winners include artist Nancy Graves (1939 – 1995), the first woman to receive a solo retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Poet Elizabeth Spires, a 1976 winner, went on to publish numerous books and also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her most recent book, The Wave-Maker, was published in 2010.
The fellowship is awarded for writing, visual arts (expanded to include filmmaking and videography), and music composition. Applicants must be graduating seniors or alumnae/i of Vassar and under the age of 36 at the time of the deadline. Fellowships, originally yielding $6,500, are now in the $50,000 range, and, remarkably, nearly three-quarters of the first fifty Rose Fellows have entered and remained active in the fields they set out to master, validating Rose’s plan and his vision.
“It is thrilling to see what an impact the Rose Fellowship has had and continues to have,” said Lisa Kooperman, director of the Office for Fellowships. “The college has been able to support many artists through this award, in some cases launching careers in a way that might otherwise have not been possible.”
Interviews with four past Rose Fellows -- Daphne Kalotay, Katherine Mangiardi, Carole Maso, and Jane O’Leary -- have been videotaped and made available through a special website created in conjunction with the exhibit (http://specialcollections.vassar.edu/exhibit-highlights/rose/).
A common thought expressed among them, as well as by other past recipients, is that the Rose Fellowship provided the opportunity to see what they were capable of with instant and unprecedented artistic freedom. For many, this has meant the ability to leave a day job without courting financial ruin.
Writer Daphne Kalotay, the 2005 recipient, used her fellowship to work on a historical novel, Russian Winter, which required extensive research. With the fellowship, she was able to take a leave of absence from teaching. “When I say this fellowship changed my life, it’s not only that it gave me a year to really forge ahead on the project,” Kalotay explains. “It also taught me what I could accomplish if I tried to do nothing but write.”
The 2009 winner, artist Katherine Mangiardi, tells of being burdened with student loan debt and about to file for bankruptcy when she was awarded her fellowship. “I won and it changed everything,” says Mangiardi in her interview “I was able to get rid of one of the loans that was just stifling me. [The fellowship] allowed me to get on my feet again. I still have some of the money and was able to take time off work this past winter to create a body of work for a gallery show.”
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Vassar is located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, and directions to the campus can be found at http://www.vassar.edu/directions.Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.