“About Face” is About Face(s)

Mekdes Shiferaw

A&E Editor


The Ebert Art Center opened its new fall exhibit, “About Face,” on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The exhibition explores the ways artists depict the human face. The inspiration for the exhibition came from the museum’s curator, Dr. Marianne Wardle, who had been pondering how to utilize the College’s permanent collection and work with broader disciplines on campus. In a discussion with one of the student gallery attendants, Emma Saxton ’22, a Neuroscience major planning to do her Independent Study (IS) on the neuroscience of faces with Dr. Herzmann, the exhibit took off.

In her previous position at Duke University’s Nasher Museum, Dr. Wardle had a three-year research partnership with neuroscientists, “to explore art, vision, and the brain, where they spent a year working on faces.” “About Face” features the works of William Paul Thomas—a sensitive portraitist who proposes that the viewer examines the “essential and inner emotional lives” of his subjects. During the pandemic, faces, which are usually our fundamental way of communication and identification, became political. As a new member of the campus community, Dr. Wardle explained, “moving here in January, I realized I had only seen all the new people I was meeting on screens or masked. I had not seen a stranger’s uncovered face in person in a long time!”  This exhibition celebrates the ordinary faces and the ways they can be extraordinary—through artistic interpretations and scientific insights about faces’ significance to human interaction. 

The exhibition was designed in collaboration with Brianna Lyman ’23, biology major. By focusing on the scientific aspect, Lyman chose which works to be featured as well as how they should be arranged. Further, she contributed to writing the exhibition texts and developed an activity guide to engage younger audiences with the exhibition. Currently, she is working on a “Learn More” online aspect to be rolled out throughout the semester as a guide to help people examine the (neuro)scientific aspect of faces. Lyman detailed her experience, saying that, “under the guidance of Dr. Wardel and Dr. Hertzmann I gained new knowledge in how our brains process faces neurologically and how social forces come into play. I also acquired real-work experience in the development and creation of an exhibit and family and student programs.”

For students looking to get involved, the museum has summer research opportunities where students work on a variety of projects for the permanent collection, updating the database to be more accessible. Additionally, with the College’s Pathways Programs, students interested in museum studies can sign up for the Museum & Archival Studies Pathway. The museum is working towards establishing an interactive online portal database where faculty and students will be able to explore and learn more about the selection on their own.

In connection with “About Face,” the museum will be hosting a student activity: Making Halloween Faces on Saturday, Oct. 23, 1-4 p.m. Stay tuned for the second exhibition after fall break, where artist William Paul Thomas will have an independent show titled “Beholden” where the viewer is asked to “look… intently.”