Brenau Collaborative showcases art, design and fashion work of students and alumni

With the spring semester winding down, the Brenau University community gathered virtually on Thursday, April 22, for the annual Brenau Collaborative, highlighting the art, design and fashion work of talented students and recent graduates.

This year’s event, hosted by Brenau’s Center for the Arts & Design in an online format after being postponed in 2020, included the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, Senior Projects and Portfolios Exhibition, and Brenau Fashion Show. The multidisciplinary showcase featured works by students and alumni of Brenau’s studio art, fashion merchandising and design, and interior design programs. The juried exhibition was also open to all Brenau undergraduate students, regardless of major.

Claudia Wilburn, Art & Design Department chair and CAD director, opened the event — a mix of pre-record videos and live commentary — with an introduction of this year’s Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, which included about 50 selections from more than 100 entries. Afterward, Wilburn announced the winners, with senior fashion merchandising major Stephanie Contreras taking best in show for her digital photograph “La Vaca Loca.”

“This was absolutely something that I was not expecting,” said Contreras, whose “SJC Pop-Up Shop” — named for her initials — was also included in the senior exhibition. “The photo was part of my inspiration for the senior show and is actually of a cow that my family owns in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was really special to me because I’m kind of like putting my little footprint somewhere.”

Assistant Gallery Director Allison Lauricella, who judged this year’s undergraduate exhibition, wrote in her comments that Contreras’ photograph “elevates a common farm animal to a regal creature” and that “Stephanie’s use of light in this photo is truly gorgeous — a cow’s neckline has never been so beautifully rendered.”

Contreras, who is slated to begin a marketing internship with Victoria’s Secret’s L-Brand next year, said while the past year has been tough at times for her and her classmates, the experience has also taught her to be more self-sufficient.

“I had to solve a lot of problems on my own, and I really took ownership of that,” she said.

Other juried exhibition winners included:

  • First place: Jaci Montalvo, interior design freshman, “Louis XV Chair,” graphite on paper
  • Second place: Angela Rocio Sanchez, interior design senior, “LaRoche Residential Project-Kitchen Model,” alcohol markers, color pencils, foam core
  • Third place: Sophia Gomez, undeclared freshman, “The Devil’s Girlfriend,” acrylic on canvas
  • Honorable mention: Danny Doyle, fashion design junior, “You Remind me of The Babe,” screen print on muslin
  • Honorable mention: Kelsey Gooch, interior design senior, “Travel Magazine,” digital graphic design,

“I’m so proud of everything our students have accomplished, especially given the challenges of the past year,” Wilburn said. “To all of our graduates, I wish you the best in your future endeavors, and to our returning students, I cannot wait to see what you have in store for next year. Hopefully, next spring, we can all gather on campus to celebrate your achievements at our next Brenau Collaborative.”

The Senior Projects and Portfolios Exhibition showcases capstone projects in the areas of studio art, fashion merchandising and fashion design, with each student’s body of work centered around a unifying concept. This year’s senior exhibition included fashion merchandising majors Contreras and Tori Johnson, fashion design graduate Kendy Manzano and studio art majors Diana Quinones, Mackenzie Callas, Malia Christian, Alexandria “Jade” Echols, Hope Vigil-Shuck and  Mirella Reily.

Reily was also the recipient of this year’s Presidential Purchase Award, a long-standing tradition in which Brenau’s president selects one graduating senior’s work to acquire and become part of the Brenau University Permanent Art Collection. This year, President Anne Skleder chose three oil paintings, including “The Red Shoes,” “Light Dances” and “Finding Balance,” in which Reily used a Brenau dance student as her model.

“It was an incredible honor for me to receive the Presidential Purchase Award,” Reily said. “There were so many brilliant works created by students this year, so the fact that the president of Brenau chose my paintings for the Permanent Collection still feels unreal. My last four years at Brenau have meant the world to me, and I feel as though my time here has taught me so much about myself and about life. … Brenau will always be my second home, and it is an honor and a privilege to leave a piece of myself behind for future students to see.”

This year’s Brenau Collaborative concluded with a pre-recorded video of the Brenau Fashion Show, which featured collections of garments fully designed and constructed by students and graduates of the university’s fashion design and fashion merchandising programs.

Fashion show participants and collections this year included:

  • Kendy Manzano, fashion design graduate, “Heaven”
  • Alexandria “Sheik” Nause, fashion design graduate, “Off the Edge of the Map”
  • Tamera Jeffery, fashion design sophomore, “Denim Illusion”
  • Juliana Cifuentes, fashion design sophomore, “Alana”
  • Dennisse Rodriguez, fashion design sophomore, “Tierra Mexicana”
  • Myriam Aguirre, fashion design sophomore, “Goddess Rule”
  • Anna Feng, fashion design sophomore, “Nostalgia Isn’t a Lie”
  • Kadaija James, fashion design junior, “Jump Into Comfort”
  • Abigail Robertson, fashion design junior, “Unity of Opposites”
Brenau fashion design sophomore Juliana Cifuentes’ “Salt and Pepper” cotton pants were part of this year’s Senior Projects and Portfolios Exhibition.

Cifuentes, the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design Award, said the process of creating an entire fashion collection was tough at times, but it was ultimately her desire to see the finished product that helped her see it through.

“It was very stressful. I’m not gonna lie about that,” said Cifuentes, who began designing and planning her collection in the fall before patterning, draping and constructing in the spring. “There were many times when I wanted to give up, when I had crying sessions with my mom on the phone. But the idea of seeing my work completed — that’s what really motivated me.”

Charity Armstead, director of fashion programs at Brenau, commended students for their hard work and dedication, as well as their willingness to put in extra effort, learn new techniques and embrace unique perspectives and innovative concepts.

“Over the past year, our students have done a lot of work without having faculty members being right there physically with them, and that’s required a lot of initiative and a lot of interest in learning,” Armstead said. “They’ve done a really great job, and I’m so proud of them.”

Cifuentes credited Armstead for encouraging and supporting students throughout the process.

“She was always willing to help, whether it was a phone call when we had problems or just needed someone to talk to,” Cifuentes said. “She was there for us, even if it wasn’t in person.”