2012 Summer Teacher Institute - Visionary Landscapes: Willa Cather and the Search for Place in the West

Willa Cather Poster FrontThe 2012 teacher institute titled “Visionary Landscapes: Willa Cather and the Search for Place in the West,” was attended by 31 participating teachers on July 22-27, at the College of Idaho in Caldwell.  Participants received lodging and meals, texts, and the opportunity for optional college credit.

This interdisciplinary teacher institute explored three novels by Willa Cather (1873-1947)—My Ántonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and The Professor’s House.  The institute also explored the nonfiction classic about the West, The Land of Little Rain, by Cather-contemporary Mary Austin (1868-1934), and the western photography of Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) and Ansel Adams (1902-1984), and the inspired connections other writers, artists, musicians, and photographers made to the landscape in the early 20th century in their respective art forms. The institute explored Cather as one of America’s best-loved writers and Austin as perhaps a lesser known voice to many Idaho teachers in the perception of the West.  Their works were visionary in their exploration of regional imagery. Though they were referred to by many critics in their day as “regionalists,” Cather, Austin, and other artists elevated “regionalism” from an artform of perceived limited interest to the universal significance of cutting-edge modernist perspective.

Scholars involved included Jennifer Emery Davidson, Associate Professor of English and Director of the College of Southern Idaho Blaine County Center (Hailey); Martha (Max) Despain, Associate Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy (now stationed at the Pentagon); Karen Ramirez, English and Women and Gender Studies Departments, and the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and Steve Shively, Associate Professor of English at Utah State University. The keynote address by John Swift of Occidental College in Los Angeles, "Outside Man's Jurisdiction": Willa Cather and Western Inhumanism," was open to the public on Sunday, July 22.  Other public presentations included a musical presentation of a Libby Larsen composition - My Ántonia Song Cycle by Del Parkinson and Jennifer Black, Boise State University; and "An Encompassing View:  Photographs of Willa Cather's Southwest Landscape" presented by Jan Boles, College of Idaho. 

Willa Cather Seated

Participating teachers were enthusiastically positive in their wrap-ups and in their evaluations.  Some sample comments include:

"This week has been life changing for me.  The scholars were welcoming and gracious; participants were very well-prepared and added a great deal to my intellectual experience.  Thank you so much for this opportunity." – Teresa Kolsen, Ammon

"I finally figured out this year that the academic stimulation that always happens at this institute is not a given.  The IHC’s vision and experience carefully assembles a community of scholars and diversity of participants that exudes intellectual curiosity and community.  Thank you so much."

"I don’t know how this experience could have been any more rewarding.  As I internalize all of my learning this week, the ways it will impact my students – infinitively!"

"This week was a spa for my mind!" – Gail Kohntopp, Filer

"Inspiring!!  Totally exceeded my expectations!  This week totally took me outside my box and made me think in new ways.  What a great service you are providing to the teachers of Idaho.  What a rare treat!!" – Luke Waldron, Malad