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Olivet College recognizes that while classroom learning is important, experiences to learn outside of a classroom often result in the most beneficial growth as students leave their comfort zones and are exposed to new and different ideas. One group on campus, Art Alliance, a club that strives to help students bring art into the campus and community and spread awareness about its benefits, gave six students that exact opportunity last week. A scheduled tour of the American Museum of Magic turned into an opportunity to be part of the taping of an Oct. 29 CBS Sunday Morning segment.

Adjunct art instructor Don VanAuken, who focuses his teaching on printmaking, painting and art history, has always embraced opportunities for students to learn and grow beyond the walls of a classroom. Mentoring the Art Alliance group, Professor VanAuken recognized how tremendously beneficial it would be for students to check out the museum, but just what do magic and visual arts have in common? Advertising. The American Museum of Magic hosts a collection of items once used by renowned magicians Harry Houdini, Henry Thurston and even Michigan-based Harry Blackstone Sr., with a heavy focus on poster art from around the world, including advertisements of magic and stage shows from the mid-19th century to the present day.

The museum has been open for nearly 40 years and hosts the largest collection open to the public in the country. With a plethora of works created before the use of digital design, students were able to examine the changes made in graphic arts over the past 100 years and develop a deeper understanding of how visuals speak to an audience. Additionally, students were able to learn more about the preservation requirements for the collection from a museum and archive standpoint, something each one will be able to apply in their own work over the course their careers.

“The collection and tour were very enlightening to our students and was a great way to introduce them to the history of graphic arts and requirements for museum care,” Professor VanAuken explained. “It was truly a delightful experience for all. Near the end of the visit we were informed of a few student internship opportunities that will arise in the near future. Needless to say, this was of great interest to our students.”

In addition to touring the museum, the collections director invited students to be a part of a special audience for a taping of CBS Sunday Morning. CBS visited the museum to continue coverage on the history of magic following a feature on theory11, a community of 1,500 magicians globally and designer of specialty playing cards. Magician Ron Carnell of Colon performed for the audience and welcomed a discussion of the museum’s collection. OC students asked Carnell to dive deeper into the meaning of many pieces in the museum and reasons behind the role of women in traditional magic shows.

In case you’ve wondered why women are always the subjects to be sawed in half, it was because that’s who the audience preferred. Specifically, men, who dominated audiences, may have been keen to see women because of their beauty, and also because they didn’t approve of women’s suffrage in the time period. The historical perspective was exactly what CBS was looking for, and Olivet College students proved to be the perfect match. As aspiring artists studying to become global citizens, the group’s curious minds fostered questions and answers to help tell the story of how magic has evolved.

Returning to the classroom, students are anxious to put their new knowledge to use. “Our field trip to the American Museum of Magic was better than I could have imagined,” sophomore Tyler Thenikl exclaimed, a graphic design and visual arts double major. “While we were there, we had the unique opportunity to learn about magic, props, and the performers that we know as magicians. By far, my favorite part of the field trip was looking at all of the old posters. As a graphic design major, being able to look at the design and typographical elements of the posters was a great opportunity for me to learn about different design applications and a small portion of graphic design history. As a visual arts major, looking at the artwork was amazing. The surreal, fantastical scenes that are illustrated in these posters have inspired me as an artist. I am extremely grateful to professors like Don VanAuken who seek to enrich the learning of their students through unique experiences such as this one.”

Check out the program when it airs on Oct. 29 on CBS at 9 a.m. or read more about the segment by the Battle Creek Enquirer.

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