Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts in Art (MFA)

Degree Level





Kristin Musgnug

Committee Member

Sam King

Second Committee Member

Cindy Wiseman

Third Committee Member

Leo Mazow

Fourth Committee Member

Alissa Walls


Communication and the arts, American studies, Art, Installation art, Painting, Photography, Travel


This thesis documents the concept, process, installation, and specific pieces in my Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition, Marais des Cygnes. The Marais des Cygnes is a river in southeast Kansas and western Missouri, near a Bleeding Kansas-era massacre site of the same name. The river is notorious for flash flooding, was named by French explorers and translates to Marsh of the Swans. The work is about a fictional wandering car thief and alcoholic named Vernon, the bad guy in my novel. Vernon is obsessed with the distant past, particularly the time before the Louisiana Purchase and the Louisiana of his Cajun grandfather Gaspard. A fisherman, bird-watcher and alligator enthusiast with a phobia of cartoon penguins, Vernon moves from town to town, throughout the South and the West, stealing, drinking, gambling and conjuring up the history of an ever-changing American landscape.

Vernon functions as my alter-ego as well as my window into the past, an age of metal motel keys, fast American cars, paper gas station road maps, wooden fishing lures, service stations, windup clocks, glass motel ashtrays, postcards, obsolete casino poker chips, cards, dominoes, and typewriters. Although he can be seen as representative of a dark side, as he is a criminal, he also connects to my compulsive behavior, sense of humor and my travels and my wish to do so. He partially stems from my photography, but can be activated through this or via painting or collecting objects. It is the act of watching, looking at cars, at landscapes, which activates Vernon. I have attempted to examine him through these means. It is an attempt to suggest his presence through objects and to conjure him in a sense through a construction of materials related to him and to myself. These items may be actual objects, which are intended to be seen as evidence or just messages intended to suggest a mental state, such as paranoia or anxiety. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, photographs and installation work.