Two JMU Artists Win Fellowships in Photography

School of Art Design and Art History

HARRISONBURG, Va. – The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has bestowed 2019-20 Visual Arts Fellowships to two artists in photography at James Madison University’s School of Art, Design and Art History. This is the first time JMU has received two VMFA fellowships in the same year, in the same area (photography), by different jurors.

Professor of art Rebecca Silberman received $8,000 as a Professional Fellow, and graduate student Sarah Phillips received $6,000 as a Graduate Fellow. Silberman and Phillips and 26 other artists were selected from 753 applicants.

VMFA will hold the VMFA Fellowship awards reception next week. Recipients will find out whether they will be featured in one of three VMFA Fellowship Exhibitions via private notification in the next few weeks.

Invisible Birds 3, tintype, expired materials, 4"x5", 2018

Silberman has been teaching photography at JMU since 2005. Her project, “Invisible Birds,” explores the ideas of destruction and loss of habitat, imagining a species of birds that has evolved to escape exploitation. Expired tintype plates carry her images, creating an almost mystical feel to the series; some of the plates are mirrored and solarized with iridescent patches that resemble an oil slick on water.

Silberman created this project in 2018, the 100th anniversary of the death of the last Carolina Parakeet in 1918– North America’s only indigenous parrot – in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“This was not the project I set out to do initially,” says Silberman. “But having the time to read and think and plan during my sabbatical opened up the opportunity to make work more consistent with the conservationist topic I was hoping to explore.”

With the funds, Silberman hopes to organize exhibitions and produce a book or catalog for the Metal Shed CoLab, a group she founded with JMU art professors Corinne Diop and Dymph de Wild, where artists and students exchange ideas, skills and experience through photography. 

Silberman says, “I would like to explore what other issues women artists are thinking about locally. I am also interested in work that is very personal and perhaps might not be shown otherwise. I suspect there is a lot very intimate work out there addressing important topics that never makes it into galleries because it is not a commercial endeavor. Nonetheless, it might be the work that has the potential to connect us on a deeper level.” 

Phillips’ project, “Remnants,” is an abstract and visual curation of the objects we keep as memorials and what they represent, how they accrue and why. The objects we surround ourselves with then become beacons of self-identity.

Skirt, cyanotype, creek water, 22”x30”, 2018.

Phillips says she plans to use the award to continue her studio work in alternative process and sculptural media, but plans to expand to explore more community-centered and engaged practice, and is hoping to find an intersection between art-making, community and relationships. 

Phillips is working on her M.F.A in intermedia at JMU, graduating in 2021 while completing a year-long Certificate of Advanced Studies in Arts in Fragile Contexts (post-war zones and conflict borders/exceptional circumstances) through the Zurich University of the Arts.  She completed her B.F.A. in studio art, a B.A. in theater and dance and an art education licensure in 2017 at JMU.

VMFA awards fellowships every year anonymously through a juried, merit-based competition.  VMFA has disbursed nearly $5.8 million to more than 1,350 Virginia artists over the past 79 years.

JMU’s School of Art, Design and Art History turns students’ creative passions into meaningful, rewarding careers. SADAH’s vision is to radically transform ourselves and our communities through creative and scholarly work.


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Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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