Self-Designed Major Takes Art Apprenticeship

You never know where a job lead could come from. For Rachel Cheston ’20, it was an ad on Craigslist that her roommate noticed. A year later, she is enjoying her apprenticeship with welding sculpture artist Matthew J. Leavell.

“Matthew had recently secured an 8,600 square-foot studio in Lititz, so was looking for local artists interested in helping build up the studio,” said Cheston.

Cheston spent her first day building and installing walls, and after several visits, talked with Leavell about working with him full time. She splits her responsibilities between carpentry and welding and is learning how to create small- and large-scale flower sculptures.

“Along with large-scale renovation to the studio, I built my workspace, including installing decorative wood paneling on the ceiling and walls; designing, fabricating, and installing tables and shelves; and hooking up all lighting and electrical outlets,” she said.

Cheston and Leavell will exhibit at the annual Long’s Park Art Festival in Lancaster in September.

Cheston developed her art style and worked with mediums as part of her self-designed LVC major. She didn’t have a specific major in mind when she first visited colleges but had several areas of interest.

“I had an idea about the academic disciplines I wanted to look into at each campus I visited, including the music, art, and science departments,” said Cheston. “Though there wasn’t one thing that attracted me to LVC, I was assured through my visits that there were many solid programs with faculty willing to help me narrow down my interests and path.”

Early in her first year, one of Cheston’s professors suggested a self-designed major. After discussions with faculty advisors, she narrowed her focus to a combination of audio & music production, cello performance, and studio art. With the help of Michael Pittari, professor of art & visual culture, her experiential performance design major was approved.

“The most important parts of creating a self-designed major are choosing a good advisor willing to invest in your educational goals and meeting regularly with many faculty members who can help guide you in the right direction,” said Cheston. “Professor Pittari guided me through the application process and fine-tuned the details to best match my goals while maintaining a well-rounded course load.” 

Cheston’s application process to have her self-designed major took about two years from start to finish, but she registered for courses with confidence they would be approved, which helped her stay on track and complete her degree in four years.

“I would not have been as confident to do this if I did not have faculty guiding every step of the process.”