The West Virginia University School of Art & Design is launching its Global Positioning Studies (GPS) program, an interdisciplinary visual arts initiative that gives students a holistic understanding of their place in the world and how that relates to their art practice.

Through direct experience, the GPS program encourages students to engage the world as a fertile ground for art making and critical research.

“This unique series of course offerings really differentiates the School of Art and Design from our peer institutions, and has the potential to make us a true destination school for students interested in pursuing these ideas,” said art professor Erika Osborne, coordinator of the program.

“The courses are based in either studio practice or art historical research and are taught on our campus in Morgantown, around West Virginia, and in specific microenvironments across the United States and even internationally,” she said.

The courses, open to students from all different art backgrounds, are interdisciplinary.

For example, in Osborne’s “Art & Environment” and “Place: Appalachia” courses, she brings in experts from various disciplines, both inside and outside WVU, to work directly with the students so that they gain real-world knowledge about topics such as hydrology, astronomy, botany and agriculture that they can use to inform their art-making.

In the course “Medieval Painted Stained Glass in France,” art history professor Janet Snyder’s students will study several examples of stained glass windows in Paris and the surrounding vicinity. By looking closely at the various mediums used in the glass, they will learn to see the differences that occur, in part, because of the raw materials available in a given geographic region.

“In addition, many of the professors who teach the GPS courses have their students reading seminal books and articles addressing ecological, philosophical and anthropological issues,” Osborne said.

“For his multimedia course set in the northern desert region of Chile, art professor Jerry Habarth has his students reading and asking philosophical questions about perception and the role environment plays in understanding self and place.”

She said the ideas embedded in the GPS program extend beyond the confines of the specific GPS classes and are integrated into other courses.

The growing list of GPS courses includes the following:

Art & Environment (fall semester)—A graduate-level multidisciplinary studio/seminar course offered during the fall semester and designed to increase awareness of studio artists for the local environment and how they interact with it. Topics include earth and sky, contemporary environmental issues and sustainability. Art & Environment website

Art & Environment: Hawaii (spring semester)—A semester-long outdoor field program for artists that focuses on the notion of place as it pertains to the unique microenvironment of the Hawaiian Islands. Students will examine what it means to be influenced by geography and explore how that influences their artwork. The travel portion of the class will include hiking, backpacking and water travel.

Medieval Painted Stained Glass in France (spring semester)—An eight-day spring break research study trip to France to study examples of architectural stained glass windows, c. 1140-1400. To participate in this trip to Paris and regional churches to see stained glass in situ and in museums and studios, students must have completed a Medieval Art period survey course.

Jackson Hole Photography Workshop—(June 20-30) A ten-day intensive summer field course that explores the diverse and remote region of northwestern Wyoming. The workshop partners with the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts as its home base. Daily excursions exploring this stunning region are complemented by darkroom and digital work sessions, critiques, gallery visits and presentations. Jackson Hole website

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (summer semester)—A three-week summer course that offers a close look at Wright’s life and work, and his theory of organic architecture that has been so influential on today’s green designers. Students will pursue a research project taking advantage of the easy proximity of Wright’s masterwork, Fallingwater, and his late Usonian design, Kentuck Knob. This course is designed for students of all levels and both art and non-art majors. Frank Lloyd Wright website

Disegno Italia—(June 23-July 22) A four-week summer program focusing on the study of the Italian language, art history, experiential educational excursions, and a design connections project. The program begins at il Sillabo in San Giovanni Valdarno, located 20 minutes outside Florence in the Tuscan countryside, and concludes in Milan at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, where students absorb the professional design culture of contemporary Italy. Disegno Italia website

Place: Appalachia—(May 13-27) A two-week summer outdoor field program for artists to study the notion of place as it pertains to West Virginia. Students will do this by engaging water, coal, agriculture and recreational adventure as a means to explore the larger environmental and cultural issues that form and shape the area. Hiking and work sites include Smoke Hole Canyon, the South Branch of the Potomac, Kayford Mountain and Seneca Creek Wilderness Area. Place: Appalachia website

Place: Coastal Maine—(June 15-July 15) A four-week summer field program for undergraduate, graduate and nontraditional students that is being offered with the generous support of the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation. Students will study and discuss the notion of place as it pertains to the unique microenvironment of Coastal Maine, by engaging water, natural resources and recreational adventure. Coastal Maine website

Space: Atacama—(June 19-July 5) An intense two-week summer multimedia, adventure art course that takes students into the remote and magical desert region of Chile’s northern plateau to investigate themes of perception, space, multimedia art and the environment. Traveling by foot, bicycle and 4×4, equipped with camcorders, laptops, digital cameras and GPS units, students venture out in teams, recording and documenting their experiences. Space: Atacama website

Osborne said the School of Art & Design has also begun related GPS programming, such as design conferences and a project with school children.

“We are also hosting a year-long series of visiting artists and exhibitions in 2013-2014 that will consider GPS issues from a variety of perspectives,” she said.

The WVU School of Art & Design has National Association of Schools of Art and Design-accredited degrees in studio art, art history and art education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

For more information on the GPS program or any of the courses, contact Erika Osborne at or the School of Art & Design at 304-293-4077. See more information on the web at



CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts

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