The Female Gaze: Summer 2014

Oil on Canvas


Entwined, 2014. Oil on cradled panel. 40 in x 60 in.

The children in Jude Harzer’s ’87 paintings seem to stare boldly from the canvas, as if refusing to be objects of a viewer’s gaze. Through depictions of mothers, daughters, and sisters, Harzer explores the familial relationships that shape children. “I like the idea of children being strong and not vulnerable,” she says.

Raised by a single mother who was legally blind, Harzer was forced to grow up fast. She attended Mount Holyoke on a scholarship, and though she was a traditional student, she found she had a lot in common with the Frances Perkins scholars. She was inspired by many FP students. “I witnessed women my mom’s age who came back to [school] later in life,” she says. “I believe I sort of shelved that idea. . . . It’s never too late.”

After graduating from Mount Holyoke with a degree in art, Harzer devoted her time to raising her son, Robert, and daughter, Christina. She also worked as a high school art teacher in Brick, New Jersey, and didn’t seriously consider any other path. But in 2008, a few years after she had picked up her paintbrush again for the first time since leaving Mount Holyoke, her daughter inspired her to apply for a fellowship from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Harzer won the foundation’s Visual Art Educator Fellowship, which allowed her to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York City for the summer of 2009 as an artist in residence. The residency marked the start of her new career as an independent artist. Since then, she has received other fellowships, and her work has been exhibited in several shows. Last November, at age fifty, she received a master’s degree in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She spent the spring in residencies in Colorado and South Carolina before returning to SCAD to teach mixed-media art for the summer.

Reflecting on her journey, Harzer is brought back to the College and the Frances Perkins students who intrigued her. “It’s almost like this whole world opened up,” she says. “This is where I was when I left Mount Holyoke.”

—By Olivia Lammel ’14

FemGaze_WentworthNew and Selected Poems

University of South Carolina Press

This “best of” volume features more than fifty poems from three previous collections as well as twenty-eight new poems. In prose, poetry, sonnets, and elegies Wentworth explores themes including turning to nature as a site of reflection and healing and the power of familial bonds.

Marjory Wentworth ’80, South Carolina poet laureate and five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, teaches at the Art Institute of Charleston and is the president and cofounder of the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts.


FemGaze_DemasReturning to Shore


In this young-adult novel, fifteen-year-old Clare is forced to spend the summer with her father—a man she hasn’t seen since she was three and whom she soon learns is known as the town crazy person. As her father opens up to her and she spends more time in his small town on Cape Cod, Clare’s summer becomes less of an exile and more of a return.

Corinne Demas is the award-winning author of more than thirty books, including five novels, two story collections, a memoir, a poetry collection, and numerous books for children. She is an English professor at Mount Holyoke and fiction editor at The Massachusetts Review.


FemGaze_KupersmithThe Frangipani Hotel

Spiegel & Grau

In nine thematically linked stories—some written during her time as an undergraduate—Kupersmith expands on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories, updating them to reflect the contemporary ghosts of the Vietnam War.

Violet Kupersmith ’11 received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta. She grew up outside of Philadelphia, the daughter of an American father and Vietnamese mother. A recent MacDowell Colony fellow, she is working on her first novel.


FemGaze_ChaudhuriBeloved Strangers


A memoir of carving out one’s place in the world, Beloved Strangers is Chaudhuri’s account of growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh—where home was not an especially happy place—and then moving to the United States to attend Mount Holyoke at the age of eighteen. A meditation on why people leave their homes and why they sometimes find it difficult to return, Chaudhuri tells her story of straddling two cultures while trying to find a place to belong.

Maria Chaudhuri ’99 holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. Her essays and short stories have been published in various collections, journals, and literary magazines. She lives in Hong Kong. This is her first book.

Sharing Stories on Screen

An accomplished director and producer, Elizabeth (Bess) O’Brien ’81 has created award-winning documentaries, live musicals, and feature films through Kingdom County Productions—a nonprofit arts organization she founded with her husband, Jay Craven, in 1991. O’Brien’s works are deeply rooted in New England, but the issues covered—domestic violence, murder, foster care, and addiction—are universal. Her latest documentary, The Hungry Heart, provides an intimate look at the lives of people struggling with prescription pill addiction in a close-knit Vermont town. Touring hospitals, theaters, community centers, and correctional facilities along the East Coast, and garnering recognition in Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State address, the film has increased visibility of, and prompted thoughtful discussion about, opiate addiction.


Film still from The Hungry Heart

O’Brien takes a flexible, open-minded approach to documentary filmmaking, allowing people’s stories to dictate the direction and mood of her films. “I go into these interviews knowing a little about the subject but don’t want to know too much because I want the people I’m filming to reveal it to me,” she says. “Much of my job is just being a good listener.” During the editing process, she constructs a narrative that allows room for viewers to formulate their own opinions, as her aim is to facilitate an open dialogue on tough subjects.

An acting major at Mount Holyoke, O’Brien’s ties to the College are still strong. Last year, she and Craven invited three MHC film students —Alison Pugh ’15, Elodie Munezero ’15, and Lizzie Whitaker ’15—to work as crew members on the Nantucket set of their most recent feature film, Peter and John. The opportunity was part of O’Brien and Craven’s Movies from Marlboro project, a semester-long immersion program where students from ten colleges, including Wellesley, Dartmouth, Smith, and Sarah Lawrence, earn college credit, gain hands-on experience, and learn from film professionals and mentors. The second film produced by Movies from Marlboro, Peter and John, also features costumes donated by the MHC costume collection.

Fresh off the heels of The Hungry Heart, O’Brien is already thinking about her next documentary, which will explore Vermont women’s experiences with eating disorders. Learn more about O’Brien’s work.

—By Lauren Kodiak

This article appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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