The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Commonwealth Honors Students Showcase Springfield Renaissance Art

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Commonwealth Honors professor John Simpson opened an art exhibition in December 2020 at the newly constructed The Mill District in North Amherst, featuring students’ work from his class, “The Springfield Renaissance: Art and the City.” The exhibit showcases a myriad of student work tying the historical importance of Springfield, Massachusetts, to the idea of how art contributes to society.

“Students and their minds are living in a completely new dimension,” Simpson said of the class and its themes. “For me to understand it at all, I have to have a conversation with people living in that dimension and that place.” 

The broad curriculum of Simpson’s class focuses on themes and historical figures of Springfield, including children's author Dr. Seuss, engineer Charles Duryea, and basketball inventor James Naismith. The class also touches on the historical relevance of Leonardo Da Vinci and his contributions to the original Renaissance, as well as the spirit of invention in Springfield. Class topics are first introduced in a philosophical light aimed at providing students a framework for the physical art they will make. The artwork hopes to inspire a “world of the mind” atmosphere to surrounding communities. 

Professor Simpson’s class is open to all majors and artistic skill levels, and no experience is necessary. 

“Some students think they can’t do it,” Simpson said of making art in his class. “But then they do it better than anyone. I think people who are strong thinkers are inclined to be really interesting painters.”

The art exhibit, including numerous student art and ten of Simpson’s own paintings, will be open at The Mill District until February 13.

(Featured art by: Amanda Mok '22, Antonio Romano '24, Cameron Keith '23, Carlie Mannai '21, Graham Sampou '22, Jolie Bua '22, Kara Chuang '22, Neal Shah '24, Nikos Casivant '23, and Tejash Sikka '22)