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Alumnus creates sculptures from plant forms, teaches aspiring artists

Photo of Caitlyn Bishop sewing

Caitlyn Bishop ’08 has always been fascinated with the plant world. That’s not surprising, as both of her parents are horticulturists and she spent her younger years living in Kennett Square, PA, near Longwood Gardens. 

Bishop has also loved making things since she was young, including drawing and painting. She pursued that passion by studying Fine Arts at York College of Pennsylvania, where she began exploring the idea of combining these two passions by creating sculptures inspired by plant forms.  

“I spent lots of time outside and have always been fascinated with objects, particularly the way things work,” she said. “As I started developing my work, the concept started to build through seeing the similarities in my pieces. That’s when I became more focused on the natural world and the fascination I had with it.”

Learning and growing at YCP and in graduate school

Bishop came to York College as a transfer student during the spring semester of her first year. There were a number of things that brought her to campus as a commuter, including her older sister, Megan Pope ’05.

“I liked the class sizes, and I was interested in the idea of a liberal arts education,” she said. “I spent lots of one-on-one time with my professors, and I got to ask questions and have deeper discussions. I also got to explore a lot of different classes, including Philosophy courses, that helped in my artwork.”

Beyond the classroom, the visiting artist lectures and exhibitions and student art exhibitions were meaningful to Bishop. “I spent every spare minute outside of work and class in the studio,” she said, “especially preparing for my senior exhibition.”

Bishop’s part-time work at Lowe’s provided not only financial support for her education but also inspiration. “It was a great place for getting materials,” she said. “Working there really opened my eyes to all the materials that could be used. I did a very large installation in the foyer of Wolf Hall, an inflatable tree of life. I used insulation that you use to wrap pipes to wrap the extension cord so it wouldn’t show. I wouldn’t have thought of that had I not spent my breaks walking around and exploring.”

Her interest in creating art inspired by plant forms, like her tree of life, grew during her time at York College. During her coursework for an MFA, which she earned in 2012, that interest changed a bit.

“Throughout my graduate studies, I narrowed my interest to slime molds and types of mushrooms and fungi,” she said. “From there, I became interested in their animalistic traits, movements, and physical texture. This, in addition to the playful use of titles for my work, makes the subject matter a little bit more inviting for the viewer.

“My inspiration comes from mushrooms, fungi, slime, but then it becomes about material and process. Materials and process are so important to me, which allows for me to make the work I make. I play explorer, which keeps the art-making process interesting.”

A new body of work

Bishop is currently building a new body of work. She is expanding into mixed media pieces that tie into her more sculptural pieces and can be hung on the wall. “Once I finish that, I’m going to see how it all comes together,” she said. “Then I might try to exhibit that body of work. Normally, my focus is just getting the ideas out of my head and into a physical space. I really think it’s important to continue to make and maintain a studio practice.”

With her tendency toward larger work, exhibiting can be challenging. “Shipping is a problem with my larger work,” she said. “I am trying to make it smaller so that I can ship it. I do, however, like to exhibit in shows where I can drive my work.”

Teaching her own students

In addition to practicing her art, Bishop has been teaching students in foundation and fine art courses at Pennsylvania College of Arts and Design (PCAD) and Franklin and Marshall College, both located in Lancaster, PA, as a part-time faculty member. At PCAD, she also serves as the 3D Lab Tech and Maker Space Coordinator.

“When I was in grad school, my assistantship was in the wood shop, where I learned how to maintain tools and provide for their safe use,” she said. “The maker space is a new project and is still in the works. It’s becoming very popular in a lot of different schools to provide students access to things like 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC [computer numerical controls, a manufacturing method that automates the control, movement, and precision of machine tools through the use of preprogrammed computer software that is embedded inside the tools]. Having this space will open up a lot of possibilities for all majors.”

She enjoys teaching and finds it very gratifying to see the accomplishments of her students. “Working sculpturally is difficult; it’s really tough in the ideation stage,” she said. “So, to see the result is particularly rewarding for a student. I try to make the environment fun, because I have so much fun working and playing in the studio. I try to bring that to the classroom setting, because that’s where ideas come from–play and experimentation.”