Faculty in Focus: Kerry McAleer-Keeler & Casey Smith

October 23, 2012

Kerry McAleer-Keeler
Director, Art and the Book Graduate Program

Casey Smith
Assistant Professor, Arts & Humanities

During their collective 28 years of teaching book arts and literary studies at the Corcoran, Kerry McAleer-Keeler and Casey Smith have  both managed to sustain their careers as working artists—and in the process remain relatable mentors for their students.

The two faculty members collaborated on Language Survival Guide, a broadside in the Corcoran Gallery of Art's collection and now on view.  “I believe we christened our press with this piece,” recalls McAleer-Keeler, “Collaboration can lead to interesting things through the exchange of ideas.”

The broadside was written and printed in 2009 for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, a group formed in response to the March 2007 car bombing on Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic heart of the literary and intellectual community in Baghdad. Since the coalition's formation, hundreds of printmakers and book artists from Iraq, the United States, and many other countries have responded to its call for broadsides, honoring a community whose voice will not be silenced by violence. The work was displayed in the Corcoran’s Gallery 31 in July 2012.

Combining letterpress, printmaking, art, and poetry, Language Survival Guide “records the need for ongoing vigilance in protecting intellectual and literary freedoms,” says Smith. His 14-line poem is a kind of sonnet, composed of phonetically spelled Arabic phrases taken from an American G.I. phrasebook he found on the sidewalk outside of his Mt. Pleasant row house.

McAleer-Keeler decided the piece was about bridging different kinds of people together, and she included several typographic and illustrated elements in her contribution. “The hands were for bringing in the human element from both sides,” she explains of the printed handprints placed on the page, which could also be read as a reflection of the translated first line of the poem: “Stop”.

Smith and McAleer-Keeler will be collaborating again this winter, this time to lead a student trip to San Miguel, Mexico. How do they manage to sustain careers both creating and facilitating the study of art? “The students make all the difference,” says McAleer-Keeler.

Language Survival Guide

Language Survival Guide. Printed by Kerry McAleer-Keeler & Casey Smith. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Letterpress, ink and chine collé on paper. Edition of 15. 2009. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Casey Smith and Kerry McAleer-Keeler. 2011.012 © Casey Smith and Kerry McAleer-Keeler

Kerry and Casey

photo: Caroline Lacey