STORIES FROM PAFA

After a Year Laying Groundwork, PAFA-Penn BFA Student River Hennick is Ready to Explore Design

River Hennick first came to PAFA for a visit in February 2020. She had recently submitted her application and was enthralled by the school’s Cast Hall and museum. “I feel so inspired by the city. I knew it was the right choice.” After she returned home to Overland Park, Kansas, the country shut down and she faced the prospect of experiencing a freshman year unlike any other. After two semesters—she was able to live in the PAFA dorms and take a mix of online and limited capacity classes—she is looking ahead to a new reality in Fall 2021. “One thing that's been difficult this year is that we don't have models, so it's been a lot of working from photos.” (Coincidentally she was recently commissioned to create a family portrait from photos.) “One full semester I just learned strictly about the skeleton anatomy of humans, rather than live models. That class took a complete 180, but still taught us so much really valuable information about portion and the structure of the human body … I think that was one of my favorite classes.”

With one year under her belt, the painting major is also looking forward to starting coursework at the University of Pennsylvania through the PAFA-Penn Coordinated BFA program. Her first course in Summer 2021 seemed like a logical choice: art history, which is a requirement for the curriculum. But she is also looking to expand her horizons. “Penn has so many options. I’ve been trying to work on narrowing down what kind of focus I want to have.” Industrial design has piqued her interest. “I really love constructing things … getting into different materials and how I can use sculpture, but in a more product-based way or in a more widespread, user-friendly way.” 

River has already started to apply these abstract ideas to real-life projects, which grew out of an Etsy shop she started during quarantine. A self-proclaimed animal lover, she had learned a little about creating large animal heads during a summer program at Interlochen and taught herself the rest, using experience with wire and tissue sculpture—and the vast resources of the internet. “Now I am working with a fabricator to create a mascot for a high school. It’s a full head-to-toe golden eagle. It's a lot of learning about materials and how they work together, things that would be necessary for the topic of industrial design.” Her Etsy shop contains art pieces created for individual users, “But a mascot has a lot more requirements for longevity.” She has learned about foam materials treated to be fire-retardant and which glues are going to melt in the sun—“No disasters yet,” she laughs.

Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, River was able to find her own footing as an independent adult, especially living alone for the first time. She truly found the silver lining in enforced distancing. “[The pandemic restrictions] really let me dive into organizing my life. I had my little bubble of classmates, but it really took out all of the extra excitement. It let me focus on ‘Where do I get food? How am I eating? I have this class so let’s see when does the teacher want this due?’ So it let me learn how to structure my lifestyle in college before really jumping into all the extra.”


 

River Hennick sits in coffee shop, smiles at camera
River Hennick
Dragon head in mixed media
Dragon head from mixed media
2020
Dragon head in mixed media
Dragon head from mixed media
2020
Pencil sketches of human figures
Original sketches from John Horn’s Figure Drawing class

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.