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Fletcher School graduate Hilary Scott discusses his evolution from academic to artist.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.20.09] It may take a few passes over the threshold of Hilary Scott's (F'87, '92) Somerville home to convince yourself that you are, in fact, still in Massachusetts, and the year is still 2009. Take a right past the wide-mouthed human head that doubles as a slot for visitor parking permits, walk beneath the triceratops and swimming hamburgers and through the back door. You have now officially entered his fantastical world.
"Professor Bell was the curator of curiosities at the Higgins Museum who went missing years ago," says Scott, explaining the premise of his exhibit, which attempts to trace, through mysterious crates of objects, the whereabouts of the imaginary professor who traveled the world in search of the stuff of legend and mythology.
Opening in June of this year, the exhibit contains 100 different items created by Scott, including a gargoyle skeleton "found in Notre Dame Cathedral," baby dragons and a shrunken head, and will evolve over the next two years as "new crates" arrive.
"Coming up on the agenda is a giant squid for the ceiling of the professor's office and the hand of a frost giant [giants from Norse mythology] may also be in the cards," Scott says.
An Untapped Resource
When you ask Scott how he went from being an academic to an artist, he will tell you that the two things are not as different as one might think.
"I suppose the idea of how one communicates or tries to control the perception of an audience-something I studied at Fletcher-is still what I am interested in, just in a different way."
Scott came to Fletcher in the mid-1980s because of a "fascination with the methodology of international relations," which quickly led into both a master's and a Ph.D. from the school and a lecturing position there, teaching international relations and American foreign policy.
Along with the growth of his academic life, Fletcher also became a catalyst for his personal life, introducing him to his wife, Gretchen (F'86), and the beginning of life as a family man.
"When my daughter Hannah ceased being a turnip, the way little people do, I started making toys for her, much like my dad did for me," Scott says. "Growing up, my house was filled with pictures my father had taken and I just found them to be wonderful and evocative, so I grew up feeling it was natural to surround yourself, almost in a bastion, with things you've created. I think I do funny and whimsical because of my children. "
Following in his father's footsteps, Scott had done photography for years, eventually taking over his father's position as photographer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra at their summer venue, Tanglewood, Stockbridge, Mass., but he wasn't recognized for his sculpture work until 1999, when Somerville held its first "open studios."
"I was certainly not an artist, but I opened my doors and people came in," says Scott who has been an annual participant since its inaugural year "It was amazing because I was getting that wonderful positive reinforcement that comes from teaching students, but this time it was from people looking at things that I had made."
Continuing to teach, Scott says his personal world began to change at the same time as the nation did-Sept. 11, 2001. His two lives as academic and artist began to collide when Somerville asked him to design a Sept. 11 memorial for Davis Square.
"It all seemed to dovetail," Scott says. "I was stopping teaching, but here I was being asked to do something that required using a Fletcher degree and an understanding of history and politics combined with art."
As his newfound career path developed, Scott divided his time between his commissioned pieces, various exhibits and community work, including leadership of Somerville Open Studios' educational partnerships, designing and implementing curriculum-based arts program for Somerville schools and working on projects through the Somerville Arts Council.
As the Higgins exhibit evolves, Scott is constantly seeking new and creative pieces that will help tell the story of the different myths.
"I wanted to do something in relation to the tale of Sisyphus, which is the Greek myth of a man who has been condemned to push a rock up a hill," Scott says. "I didn't want to put a rock on display, so I started thinking about what kind of sandals a man would need to push a rock up a hill for all of eternity."
To create such items Scott tends to use a lot of different everyday materials that the untrained eye may only see for what it is-pine needles for the fur of a beast, pinecones for the scales of a sea monster and even art store googly eyes as rivets on a machine.
"I find myself getting into trouble when I go to Home Depot," Scott says with a laugh. "I say, 'Do you have anything that does this?' and they will say, 'Well, what are you going to use it for?' and I will say, 'Well, that wasn't my question.'"
From birds hanging on a ceiling painted like the sky to a taxidermy-style mounting of a three-headed dragon, Scott says all of his art tends to have a humorous edge to it.
Thanks to the exhibit at the Higgins, Scott says he has been opened up to a whole new world of creating art that can be accessible to both adults and children at the same time.
"This show is a suspension of disbelief," says Scott. "I don't want to say that any of these things are true, but how marvelous would it be if they were."
He adds, "It's been a wonderful ride so far, and I seem to be getting better at what I do. It's always great when people ask 'what's the best piece that you've made?' and I can say 'well, luckily, it's the piece that I've just finished!'"
Want to see more of Scott's recent exhibit? Be sure to check out the Winter issue of Tufts Magazine for pictorial from the Higgins Museum.
Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications Video by Joanie Tobin, University Photography