By Silas Allen
STILLWATER, Okla. —
On an acre and a half of land in northern New Mexico sit two century-old adobe homes. Although they aren’t habitable yet, the buildings will soon house one of Oklahoma State University’s newest programs.
The Doel Reed Center for the Arts, in Taos, N.M., was established as a part of OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009 to offer summer programs in a number of fields. It includes land and facilities donated to the university by Martha Reed, the daughter of Doel Reed, an acclaimed artist and the first head of the OSU department of art.
Earlier this month, English professor Ed Walkiewicz was named the center’s new director. Walkiewicz, a professor and the editor of the literary journal “Cimarron Review,” officially assumes the post Friday and will retire from his position as an English professor in September.
The center was established as a part of OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009 to offer summer programs in a number of fields.
Peter M.A. Sherwood, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a release that Walkiewicz’s experience as an educator made him a good fit for the position.
“His teaching and research experience, combined with OSU’s programs in the arts, will continue to help generate the artists and scholars of the future and elevate awareness of the Doel Reed Center while creating more opportunities for our students and faculty,” Sherwood said.
Over the summer, Walkiewicz is teaching a course at the center in the Modernist movement in New Mexico. During the course, students are reading and discussing a number of pieces of New Mexico literature, including Willa Cather’s 1927 novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” They’re also discussing poetry and essays by New Mexico writers in the 1920s and ’30s and taking excursions to sites around the area associated with those works.
In the coming years, Walkiewicz said he hopes to expand the program’s reach. The center has a collaborative program with the Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House, and Walkiewicz said he hopes to build on that relationship. He also hopes to establish partnerships with the University of New Mexico and other schools in the area, he said.
Walkiewicz said he also hopes to see the program include more academic disciplines. Right now, he said, the program includes art and English courses. Eventually, he’d like to see courses offered in other areas, such as architecture and history. He’s also interested in offering courses that include the study of the Native American and Hispanic cultures of the Southwest.
“Right now, there are almost limitless possibilities,” he said.
To expand the scope of the program, Walkiewicz said, the first step is simply making the building habitable. At the moment, he explained, the building itself is something of a construction site. Crews are working on the roof, the plumbing, and other areas, he said.
“The first phase is really just to kind of stabilize the structure,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
In the meantime, Walkiewicz said, the program is using facilities owned by Southern Methodist University’s Taos campus. Students are housed there over the summer, he said, and the program is using SMU’s classroom space.
Although the program is still in its infancy, Walkiewicz said it’s already providing a valuable experience for its students. The majority of the students enrolled in the summer program are graduate students, he said, and all of them have said they plan to return.
Part of the value in it is simply exposing the students to a culture that, despite only being one state away, is vastly different from that of Oklahoma, Walkiewicz said,. Although Oklahoma students are exposed to Native American culture, the culture among the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico differs considerably from any of the tribes found in Oklahoma.
“It’s eye- and mind-opening,” Walkiewicz said. “It has at least the same value as a study-abroad program does.”
The biggest benefit comes from simply being in New Mexico, he said. Students get the opportunity to see firsthand the structures, landscapes and environment that informed the works they’re discussing in class. Seeing those factors allows for a more in-depth discussion about the works, he said.
The center offers faculty and students the opportunity to talk about a particular branch of the American experience that is often left out of academic discussions, Walkiewicz said. Whereas American studies programs tend to focus heavily on the eastern United States, the program’s courses tend to focus more on the Southwest, he said. Oklahoma lies on the easternmost edge of the Southwest, he added, but New Mexico sits squarely in the middle.
For example, Walkiewicz’s students took a trip to Taos Pueblo last week after reading essays about the pueblo by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and English novelist D.H. Lawrence. After the visit, the class talked about the two writers’ observations on the pueblo and its significance.
“It led to a much larger discussion about culture and the interaction of European culture with Native American culture,” Walkiewicz said.
As the program develops, he said, more students will have the opportunity to study at the center over the summer. The experience they will gain there will be a powerful one, he said.
As the center expands, Walkiewicz said he expects it will benefit both the university and its students alike.
“It’s really broadening in a lot of ways,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful thing for OSU as it develops.”