VCUarts professor Reni Gower will receive the College Art Association’s prestigious Distinguished Teaching of Art Award at its annual conference in Chicago on Feb. 12.
The peer-nominated award brings national attention to a professor who has dedicated her career to art and art education, an accomplishment she refuses to take full credit for.
“I believe in being generous,” Gower said. “I was fortunate to have great mentors as a young student, and I feel like I try to emulate that for another generation.”
Richard Roth, former chairperson of the Painting and Printmaking department, understands why Gower deserves the national recognition as well as her modest reaction to the praise.
“Professor Gower is a selfless teacher who puts students and their artistic life and development first,” Roth said. “She has inspired and mentored countless art students.”
In addition to her work at VCU, Roth said Gower has also served as a professional mentor for many years at the College Art Association Career Development Workshops.
When Reni Gower moved to Richmond in 1981 to begin her teaching career at VCU, she set out on a mission to empower her students as artists. One way Gower has accomplished this is through her professional practice senior seminar course, now a graduation requirement for the department.
“The class teaches the student how to function in the real world after graduation,” Gower said. “The course didn’t exist when I was in school, you know, it’s just all trial and error.”
Ruth Bolduan, an associate professor in the Painting and Printmaking department, said the seminar is invaluable to students who pass through the program.
“It’s (the course) that the alums look back on and really remember as an important class for them,” Bolduan said. “It’s the one that, once they graduate, they’re going to keep using.”
This kind of lasting impression is important for the students and the department, Gower said.
“I do stay in touch with a lot of them,” Gower said. “You can’t be the mentor to every student, but that’s what is great about our department, there’s enough of us and we all come at it from really unique places that they’re going to find their mentor with one of us.”
Jorge Benitez, a communication arts professor at VCU and former student of Gower’s, said that her tailored approach is only part of why her teaching is worthy of the award.
“I think the most important thing that she imparts is honesty,” Benitez said. “Be honest with yourself, be honest with your work, and if you do both of those things you’ll have an honest relationship with the audience.”
In addition to her work with students at VCU, Gower also spends a lot of time traveling with her own projects and most recently with an exhibition, “Paper Cuts,” which she curated.