Artist Motivates Students, Preserves Culture, Humanizes Addiction
The College of Southern Maryland has presented the annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty to Dr. Margaret Dowell from the Communications, Arts and Humanities Division. Presented annually since 2007, the Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty recognizes contributions to teaching, professional development, the college’s mission and the community at-large.
“Margaret Dowell is an excellent artist. Her work inspired my own studio practice,” said Professor Andrew Wodzianski who nominated Dowell for the award. “I was first introduced to Margaret and her paintings during a mutual group exhibit. [She is] technically accomplished and thematically evocative and when I learned that she lived in the Southern Maryland region, I knew she needed to teach at CSM.”
Dowell grew up working with her family in the tobacco fields of Calvert County. “That was our life; farming tobacco, getting firewood and taking care of a vegetable garden.” She always knew that she would be an artist and when she wasn’t working in the fields, she was drawing in the dirt with a stick, she said.
Dowell graduated in 1969 from Calvert High School, the only high school in the county at the time. Her parents, Leroy and Margaret Dowell, were supportive of her decision to pursue art in college, as long as she had a backup plan, Dowell said. She earned bachelor’s degrees in studio art and in art education from Frostburg State University, and a Master in Fine Art, Sculpture, and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland College Park.
Throughout her career she transitioned between studio work and education. Following college she worked as a commercial artist before working as an art teacher with Frederick County Public Schools. She took a sabbatical to pursue her Ph.D. and then worked for Mount Saint Mary’s University (MSMU) and Carroll County Community College.
Dowell believes in the power of visualization both in her art and in her approach to teaching students. “I am a visual artist. I understand that when I am able to visualize an image I am able to create it. I directly apply this understanding to teaching when visualizing success for my students,” she said.
She also feels that engaging and motivating students is essential. As an art educator and supervisor of college interns at MSMU, Dowell honed the instructional skills she uses with students at CSM.
“I always share lesson objectives up front orally and up front—literally—on the dry erase board. Always. I lecture about instructional practices/concepts and when appropriate, I model skills. Guided practices follow, often timed. The timing I adapted from watching an Olympian track coach train athletes,” said Dowell.
She ends each class with a final critique of student work.
“Critiquing is a powerful tool,” said Dowell. “The process provides insight and closure, helping students to summarize key points learned and how this new knowledge will benefit their own art work and their understanding of the work of others. A good critique doesn’t just happen. I first must establish a classroom environment that feels ‘safe,’ an environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning and self-motivation.”
In 2009, Dowell’s artwork examining addiction gained the notice of two Johns Hopkins University professors who were working on the topic of innovations in combating substance abuse for an international conference. “They saw my work and asked me to be co-editor for their book,” said Dowell.
In 2010, “Addiction and Art” provided a unique study into the practice of art as a dialogue tool for drug addiction recovery. In the year of publication it also won an award from the British Medical Association, which was significant as it was an art book, not a medical book, said Dowell.
She followed up the book’s success with a website which provided access to ‘people in the trenches’ who are not connected with the medical establishment. The website provides a guide to curriculum developed by the University of Florida and a how-to guide on curating an art show on the topic of addiction.
The website puts a human face on addiction through the creative work of individuals who have been touched by it. The site’s download gallery features addiction and recovery artworks accompanied by written statements from artists around the world.
“Addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is one of the major public health issues of our time,” said Dowell. “It accounts for one of every five deaths in the United States and costs approximately one-half trillion dollars per year in health care expenditures and lost productivity. Its human costs are untold and perhaps uncountable.” Dowell points to the growing number of drug overdose deaths in her home county of Calvert as another reason for her involvement in the issue of addiction. “How can you not do everything you can to help when these deaths are happening right in our community? It is ‘all hands on deck’ time to help people suffering from addiction,” she said.
Another passion for Dowell is to champion the history and culture of tobacco farmers. “Even though I don’t have to work as hard as I did on our farm, I still value the lifestyle and the culture that went with farming tobacco. Tobacco farmers worked through blood, sweat and tears, it was a cycle of life in place for hundreds of years where the concept of community thrived because the work was labor intense and we needed each other,” Dowell said. “The tobacco buy-out wiped out that culture in a few years—it should have been allowed to die out gradually. I grow a little tobacco as a nod to those who created this home for my family.”
Through her paintings and collection of tobacco farming photos, Dowell is hoping to preserve some of her family’s heritage. She still lives on a farm that has been in her family for almost 300 years and it is where she has a private studio. Her collection of paintings and photographs related to raising tobacco has been exhibited at the Calvert County Fair.
Although she lived a chunk of her life outside of Calvert County, she never felt she had moved away. She spent nearly every weekend for 10 years traveling from Frederick County to Calvert County to help her father. She returned to live on the farm in 2011 and was hired by CSM as an adjunct faculty member.
Outside of the classroom, Dowell promoted and carried out the idea of CSM’s student art exhibitions with student receptions at the professional CalvART Gallery in Prince Frederick. To date there have been three student art shows with a fourth scheduled for June.
By using her talents to shed light on her community’s heritage and on important social issues, Dowell hopes to show students the impact their creativity and voice can have in making a difference in people’s lives.
“I believe honestly committing to the diversity, dignity and equality of each student to be the foundation of any teaching career. It is mine,” said Dowell.
For a link to Dowell’s Addiction and Art website, visit www.addictionandart.org. For listings of faculty members who have received the Faculty Excellence Award since 1989 and of adjunct faculty recipients since 2007, visit http://www.csmd.edu/about/faculty-excellence-awards/index.html. For information on CSM, visit www.csmd.edu.