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Art professor receives Fulbright for research on German artist

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel College assistant professor of art, has become the second Bethel faculty member in the past five years to be awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant.

Epp Buller, an art historian, writer and printmaker, will spend five months in the spring and summer of 2011 in Berlin at Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) researching the work of political artist Alice Lex. Epp Buller graduated from Bethel in 1996 with a triple major in fine arts, history and German and earned her M.A. and her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Kansas.

Epp Buller spent time at Akademie der Künste in 2002 when she was working on her doctoral dissertation, which focused on the work of three women artists in Weimar (post-World War I) Germany, including Lex.

“Lex was a Communist and she was censored in the early ’30s by the Nazis,” Epp Buller says. “After [World War II], she settled in East Berlin and kept working but she kind of fell off the map and not much has been done with her. She worked with photo montage before the war and prints and drawings after.”

Lex, along with Marianne Brandt and Hannah Höch, the subjects of Epp Buller’s dissertation, worked in the medium of photomontage – “pretty much the only German women of the time period doing that,” Epp Buller says. Both photography and montage or collage were then relatively new media.

“The vast majority of Brandt’s and Lex’s work hasn’t been reproduced [and] is displayed mostly in Berlin in some museums and galleries,” with a few pieces in museums in Dresden and Dessau, Epp Buller says.

Eight years ago, Epp Buller spent most of her time looking through archives, “hunting and pecking to find catalogs and any other evidence that [Brandt and Lex] had been there at all.” One interesting find was a scrapbook that Lex kept of newspaper and magazine clippings about her work and that of her husband, artist Oskar Nerlinger. While all three of the women were capable photographers, Lex worked more with her own negatives, layering two or more of them to create her images.

Epp Buller has also been able to contact – so far through letters only – Lex’s daughter-in-law, Sigrid Nerlinger (Lex’s son, Peter Nerlinger, died in 2004) and hopes to meet her in person during the months in Germany. Epp Buller’s husband, Tim Buller, director of Information and Media Services at Bethel, and their three children, Daniel, Daisy and Lucy, will go with her to Berlin.

Epp Buller hopes to finish her research on Alice Lex, with the ultimate goal of writing “a book that covers the whole spectrum, looks at the broader span, of her career.” She already has a publisher interested: Ashgate Publishing in the UK, where Epp Buller currently has a book in process that she edited and contributed to, the anthology Reconciling Art and Motherhood, essays by contemporary artists and art historians.

Most recently, Epp Buller was successful in writing a grant that, in conjunction with another written independently by Barbara Burns from USD 373, made Newton the Mid-America Arts Alliance’s Kansas Mural Project Community. The two-month Kansas Mural Project begins in July 2010 and will engage Newton residents of all ages and backgrounds in the development, design and production of a permanent public art piece.

Newton was chosen out of 11 Kansas applicants as the mural project host community, due in part to strong support from Bethel College and the Newton Area Arts Council, and to its efforts to highlight the community’s economy and related need for community-building activities. “Newton has made great strides in the past 10 years in terms of downtown redevelopment, so part of my desire in applying for the project was to help further this progress,” Epp Buller said. “Additionally, Newton has a variety of distinct communities that do not always intersect or overlap very easily, so I saw this project as an opportunity to address that issue as well.”

Epp Buller is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad in 2010-11 through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange program, which is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has provided approximately 286,500 people – 108,160 Americans who have studied, taught or researched abroad and 178,340 students, scholars and teachers from other countries who have engaged in similar activities in the United States – with the opportunity to observe each other’s political, economic, educational and cultural institutions, to exchange ideas and to embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world's inhabitants. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. Kathryn Kasper, Bethel professor emeritus of music, received a Fulbright Scholar grant in 2006.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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