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Barb Bondy retires after an unforgettable career at Auburn

Bondy recently retired but her research continues to inspire

Barb Bondy is a visual artist and recently retired professor of art in the Department of Art and Art History. Bondy has been teaching at Auburn University since 2003 and has taught drawing for almost 20 years before completing her final semester at Auburn in the fall of 2020. During her years at Auburn, Bondy completed many artistic drawing series and exhibitions as well as exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Over her career, she received a variety of awards including being inducted into the AU College of Liberal Arts Academy of Outstanding Teachers in 2017.

Bondy completed her undergraduate degree in Ontario, Canada, and graduate degree at Southern Illinois University. After completing her graduate degree, she applied and was accepted to a position at Auburn, where she remained until her retirement at the beginning of 2021. Bondy said, “I always believed that instead of looking for better things elsewhere, you make the place you are the place everyone else wants to be. Then all of a sudden you have the community you thought you were looking for somewhere else. You brought them to you.”

This was certainly what happened during the years Bondy spent at Auburn. During her time as faculty, she was involved in numerous research projects in collaboration with other faculty and taught countless courses.

One of Bondy’s first collaborative projects was creating a map of a bedsheet alongside Christopher Mixon, a cartographer at Auburn. Just before he started collaborating with Bondy, Mixon had decided he wanted to become further involved with the American Cartographic Society (NACIS), which he has been involved with since 1991. Then Bondy approached him asking if he could make a map of bedsheet. He responded, “Sure, you can make a map out of anything.” Shortly after, Barb convinced him that they should collaborate and present their findings to a future NACIS meeting.

Mixon speaks fondly of his time spent working with Bondy and especially enjoyed their brainstorming sessions. He said “In general, I just enjoy being around Barb. She really makes you think about things in a different way. Our conversations were never dull.”

Their collaboration was a creative research project that drew together the fields of art and cartography to explore the uncharted terrain of sleep. Bondy wanted to learn where the “self” goes when you are no longer aware. She explained, “In a way, I wanted to create a map to show the location for the self, to verify my location while I slept.”

In order to achieve her goal, Bondy carefully measured a certain bedsheet into a grid system and continued to sleep on this sheet each night. Each morning she would get up carefully to see the indentations left by her body. Then, after she photographed the sheet from above, Mixon would create a map.

This collection was featured at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, and a framed copy remains hanging in Mixon’s office.

Bondy’s research interests also have cumulated into a focus on the relationship of the eye within the brain and how we learn. This research interest developed into a recent study Bondy conducted with colleague Jeff Katz from the Department of Psychological Sciences surrounding the question of, “does learning to draw change the brain?” Over the years, Bondy and Katz have met to discuss this question, but it was not until they received support from the College of Liberal Arts and Auburn University were they able to fund their research and truly find an answer.

The funding allowed Bondy and Katz to get their research off the ground by pursuing external funding and enlisting students to be a part of their pilot study. Bondy’s drawing students volunteered to take part in the study, although at the time Bondy did not know which students were a part of the study and which were not. They planned to conduct MRI scans of students’ brains before they learned to draw (the first week of classes) and then again at the very end of the semester after all instruction was completed. The two hoped the scans would conclusively prove that learning to draw does indeed alter the brain.

These students were not necessarily visual art students. In fact, many came in with no skill set since the class was open to students of all majors. According to Bondy, “sometimes, out of the 18 students in the class, only one or two might be in the art programs.”

At the end of the semester, the researchers were able to conclusively determine that the students’ brains were functionally changed by learning to draw. Bondy describes it as one of the biggest accomplishments of her career.

Bondy explained that she believes the success of this project should be attributed to the differences in her and Katz’s expertise, and the interests they both had for drawing and science. Katz further explains, “Without our individual skills, there is no way the project could have worked. Our collaboration has truly been a quintessential example of interdisciplinary research.”

In addition to her research work and teaching, Bondy was involved with the Alabama Prison Art and Education Project where she taught drawing in prisons across Alabama. This commitment was inspired by a colleague, Barry Fleming, who showed her some of the drawings that his students had done while he was teaching in the program. When asked what exactly motivated her to continue teaching these courses throughout the years, Bondy responded, “the students want to learn so desperately. What more could you ask for as a teacher?”

Although Bondy has retired from her position at Auburn University, she plans to continue her research and work creating exhibitions to inspire the public. Over the years, Bondy has created countless fascinating exhibitions around the country. Further details and images of these exhibitions can be found on her website


Tags: Faculty Research Arts and Culture Art and Art History

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