By Chelsea Lear-Ward, Staff Writer
As I opened my notebook, searching for a blank page, Katrazyna Randall (who goes by the name of Kate) leaned against the smooth black table surface with her chin propped in her left hand.
“So…” I began. She quickly interrupted.
“I really think you could find someone more interesting to interview,” Randall insisted, brows raised, dropping her hands to the table to fidget with an e-cigarette. She sighed. “But if you really want to, I guess we can give it a shot.”
Randall finds herself in the midst of her seventh year as an Associate Professor of Art here at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). She never pictured herself returning to New England after escaping a similar countryside in Tilton, NH at the age of 17. “I grew up in a very rural community with a population of 800 and I found it to be closed minded and intolerant and I did not want to be back in that kind of environment,” said Randall, her soft brown eyes dart around as she forms her thoughts, but command a firm glance as she makes her point.
Randall was raised by her mother, a single parent and social justice activist who was harassed and hassled by their surrounding community. “They would spray paint things like ‘nigger lover’ on our fence and I didn’t want to go back to a place like that, and it wasn’t that long ago. You hear about that stuff happening in the South 30 years ago- you don’t think about them happening in other places,” said Randall. Her eyes flickered with frustration as her brows buried together. “They happened in my lifetime. My mom was part of the March on Washington, and we had African American friends and family. They came and lived with us for extended periods of time and there was immense intolerance for that.”
Randall caught herself applying for a new media position at UMF after she had submitted a video for a fundraiser for Katrina victims to UMF for an auction the University was hosting. She later received a call from the college informing her partner, Dawn Nye, and herself that there was available employment.
Although New England was not her destination of choice, Randall has fallen in love with UMF and the surrounding community for a couple different reasons. The first being that UMF is a public liberal arts college. “I believe in everyone’s right to higher education and the public liberal arts is one of the few institutions that gives everyone that opportunity- for real education, not job related training,” said Randall,“We have a civic responsibility, as educators, to teach people how to be responsible and engaged citizens.” Randall’s eyes beamed with passion and excitement as she transitioned to the second reason; her love for the students.
“Looking at a ruler- when I was teaching at a private institution, for example, students would come in at nine inches in terms of their knowledge and here, I would say they come in at two inches but I am able to get them to 12 inches whereas the other institutions I would be able to get them to 12 but they would only move three or four inches, where here, you would get them to move almost an entire foot. That’s amazing! To be able to teach and to be in an environment where that kind of growth is possible… it’s mind blowing!,” said Randall.
Randall fully appreciates and celebrates these moments of growth with her students because she too has battled with finding herself as an artist. She explained her most eye-opening experience as an undergraduate while attending Southern Oregon University. She stood before a group of art professors with a piece she had done of her painting professor. “They ripped me to shreds,” said Randall, nodding her head, wide-eyed, thinking back to that fateful day. It was at that moment in her undergraduate career that Randall understood; there was no meaning behind her work. “It was so incredibly exciting for me,” Randall continued, her eyes smiling at the thought and her voice every so slightly racing to the finish line. “That day I changed my major. I realized the conversation was much bigger than this small thing that I knew how to do.”
Although excitement came from this brutal critique for the knowledge-hungry Randall, her journey wasn’t always as easy. Her voice became quiet and her eyes somewhat saddened. “It was a very long process and it was really difficult- it was incredibly difficult, and sometimes even painful. The more difficult it was the more engaged I was. I think that’s what it was all about,” said Randall.
Randall continues to leave a mark on the people around her. Kyle Mitchell, senior at UMF and recent transfer into the UMF Art Department from Community Health, currently has the quirky professor for Art on the Edge. “She’s a fire cracker, that’s for sure,” Mitchell ensured. That afternoon, Mitchell strolled into the woodshop room in dark jeans and a green sweatshirt. He took off his black flat brimmed hat.
“So what’s with the haircut?” Randall pressed without missing a beat. He shrugged.
“Just cause,” he replied. She paused and squinted her eyes.
“Yeah, but why?”
“She’s always doing that,” Mitchell later said. “She notices everything,” he shook his head and grinned, almost embarrassed by her forward manners. “One thing Kate has done for me is open my eyes to wanting criticism for my work…and not to look at it in a negative way, even if the criticism is negative,” said Mitchell. In the beginning of the semester, Mitchell confessed to struggling with any criticism he received, always looking for the instant gratification. “Also, she’s helped me be able to take that criticism and translate that into future work, pushing me to add more depth and not just make something beautiful.”
Randall admits that she has had some crazy adventures while traveling overseas. She grinned at the thought of which story to begin with. She set the scene by describing a mortifying experience while she was stuck on a dark ferry heading to the Zulu Islands in the Philippines. “This horrible ferry that had thousands and thousands of cockroaches. There was this little light above my head and I turned the light on, which kept the cockroaches off my face but the whole rest of my body was moving in cockroaches and the bathroom was full of these giant rats and cockroaches- it was incredibly horrible,” said Randall, who squirmed at the thought and continued to talk about her experiences while traveling over a 10 year period. Her adventures ranged from an excursion to Southeast Asia, to spending five months in the Australian Desert.
I later spoke with Nye, her soft-spoken and rather opposite personality-type partner, and mentioned how Randall had encouraged me to find someone more interesting. Nye let out a humorous snicker as she considered the statement and it’s ridiculousness. “I don’t think Kate likes to bring attention to herself, which is funny because she’s an artist and the stereotype is that we’re self-absorbed,” said Nye, who sighed and laughed a bit more. “She’s actually strangely shy in a way and it’s not the self that she wants to bring attention to, it’s the idea of life and the excitement about life and the sense of curiosity about life- that really get’s her excited about teaching…but I think when there’s a spotlight pointed at her she would do anything to get out of it.”