Liza Samuel

The summer after Liza Samuel (BFA ‘17) completed her BFA at PAFA she found herself traveling alone across the country gathering dirt, burnt wood, and rocks in the name of art.

“There’s a lot to be said for doing something like this in solitude,” she said. “Someone very smart once said, ‘I like going and driving across the country by myself because you don’t have to put all of the experiences you’re having into words to another person,’ That’s huge and it’s a very real thing.”

Samuel traveled to California, Arizona, Texas, and Arkansas with the help of the J. Henry Schiedt Memorial Travel Scholarship. The prize, awarded through the Annual Student Exhibition, gives exhibiting BFA students the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world. The Schiedt Scholarship was first award to PAFA students in 1949.

For Samuel, the scholarship allowed her to spend 30 days exploring the southwest and collecting materials to make her own paint. Associate Professor Jill Rupinski inspired Samuel to do this during her second year at PAFA.

“This is a skill that is so old, and I saw her doing it and thought I wanted to have this skill,” Samuel said. “I always liked those crystal making kits and those do it yourself sort of things.”

She liked the idea of transforming something into something else, and having control over the consistency and colors she was using. Initially, Samuel’s homemade paints were mixed from wholesale synthetic pigments, but she eventually started exploring more natural ways to create color.

Using schist, dirt, ground eggshells and other natural materials, Samuel dove deeper into her studio practice during her final year at PAFA.

“The primary focus in my studio now is the investigation of foraged materials and pigments and throwing them all together and seeing what happens,” she said.

Samuel has foraged for rocks as far away as Spain and as close as Wissahickon Park. With the Schiedt scholarship, she received $5,000 to explore natural materials in greater depth. She chose to stay in the country because she doesn’t like flying and wasn’t sure of the logistics of transporting foraged materials across international borders.

She’d been to Joshua Tree National Park in California once before and knew she wanted to return through the Schiedt scholarship.

“I just think the earth is magic and I think time is magic and I think the sun is magic,” she said. “The sun is my clock.”

Beginning in her home state of Kentucky, Samuel made her way west.

“Texas is where I really started picking up dirt and got a little more comfortable with the fact that I was driving by myself,” she said. “So I started to collect jars of dirt off the side of the road in Marfa, Texas.”

At the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Samuel synced her schedule to the sun and hiked miles into the forest to set up her camp.

“All of these places provide really, really magical feelings. They have a completely different energy,” she said. “When you’re getting up and going to sleep with the cycle of the sun, it’s a completely different feeling from day to day. “It was a really nice feeling to be alone and not have to talk to anyone about it.”

Now that the trip is behind her, Samuel is eager to share her experience with others. She recently spoke to a group of PAFA students about her travel scholarship and is working to incorporate the materials she collected into her work.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the United States’ first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers a world-class collection of American art, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and educational opportunities in the fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell America's diverse story through art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs, while classes educate artists and appreciators with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.