Past Incubator Award Recipients Share Advice for New Applicants

Fall is here and so are the Incubator Awards! If you haven’t heard, the Incubator Awards are an annual library program which provides student artists at all levels with funding to explore research questions and produce creative projects using any of our special collections. Each participant’s work culminates in a project which can take any form, including but not limited to film, visual art, artist books, writing, music, and performance. This paid opportunity gives students from all artistic disciplines the chance to work intimately with library materials that spark their creativity and produce something they can share with the UNC community at the Incubator Showcase.

We asked some former Incubator Award recipients to tell us about their experience in the program and offer advice to potential participants. Read their responses below to get inspired for your own Incubator project and learn more about what our special collections have to offer.

The 2017 Incubator Award recipients, standing in a horizontal line inside a library. From left to right, the students are Ayla Gizlice, Anne Bennett, Karly Smith, Margaret Maurer, and Joel Hopler. Recipient Emily Yue is not pictured.
The 2017-18 Incubator Award recipients. From left to right: Ayla Gizlice, Anne Bennett, Karly Smith, Margaret Maurer, and Joel Hopler. Not pictured: Emily Yue.

Joel Hopler,
2017-18 recipient
At the time of the Incubator Awards, Joel was in his last year of earning an MFA in Studio Art. His work at Wilson Library supported his Master’s thesis show. He has since graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Joel’s project
My research moving into getting the Incubator Award was to focus on a cross-historical, cross-cultural, collaborative environment between etchings from like 17th, 18th century Europe, Edo Japanese ink wash drawings, and then tying it into post-abstract expressionist art. At the time I was looking for sort of like metaphors of contemporary American fatherhood.

Which libraries did Joel use?
Definitely the Wilson Rare Book Collection. We looked into the cage at the Sloane Art library at some Jackson Pollock facsimiles… the Sloane Art library a lot. And I interacted actually a good bit with the Ackland.

Joel’s advice to potential applicants
I think the more you talk to people, the quicker you figure things out. And so, while it is, like, very important to understand how the digital catalogs work and how to search and find things, asking human beings questions is exponentially faster so the more I got to talk to people and meet with them in person, I think the faster my research started going in a productive direction.

Emily Yue
, 2017-18 recipient
At the time of her award, Emily was a senior double majoring in Studio Art and Media & Journalism. She has since graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Emily’s project
So what began as my capstone project for my Photojournalism major was the “Queer Bodies, Tender Hearts” series of portrait photography that I was doing of queer people of color and queer activists in the South. What I ended up doing was sort of blending my fine art background with the photography and making a deck of tarot cards and matching these people with the symbolism and iconography of tarot and making a book that accompanies it that sort of explains the cards and includes excerpts from the interviews I did with the subjects who sat.

Which libraries did Emily use?
I read a lot of the artists’ books that were in the Sloane Art Library and the Hanes Art Center.

Emily’s advice to potential applicants
I think no matter what your field or discipline is, it’s worth applying and I’d say to come into it with a lot of open-ended questions. And make sure that whoever you’re working with, if it’s your faculty advisor… I think it’s good to have good personal stuff on top of professional and like scholarly stuff as well. And to not worry so much about having something finished, but about being able to explore something a lot more thoroughly than you have before. It’d be really cool to see like a stem-centered Incubator performance art piece, or more photography, or some film, but it’s very cool. Libraries are great. That’s my advice.

Applications for the 2019-2020 Incubator Awards will be accepted October 1-31, 2019. To learn more about the program or submit your own proposal, click here.

Portrait of a Black Intellectual: The Life and Letters of Ignatius Sancho

One of the Rare Book Collection’s most interesting chronicles of the African diasporic experience exists not as an autobiography, but as a collection of letters. Originally published in 1782, our two-volume first edition of the Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho highlights the unique societal influence of a black public intellectual in 18th century England.

The marbled cover of the first volume of "Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho," 1782 first edition.
Marbled front cover of the first volume, originally published in 1782. CT788.S168 A32 v.1.

When these letters were published by an editor two years after his death, Ignatius Sancho posthumously became the first black Briton to publish correspondence. This was the last in a lifelong record of firsts: Sancho had been the first black Briton to vote in parliament, patronize a white artist, critique art, literature, & poetry, and have an obituary in the British press. He wrote plays, music, essays, and a book, and was well-published in popular serials. Known for his taste level, his creative opinion was sought after by the likes of Laurence Sterne, Matthew and Mary Darly, John Ireland, Daniel Gardner, John Hamilton Mortimer, Joseph Nollekens, and John James Barralet. Much of this status was afforded to him by his high station under the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, as well as his later ownership of a grocery (which afforded him his voting rights). These achievements were especially significant for a former slave, so much so that Abolitionists widely held him as a symbol of the high capacity of the black intellect. A master writer and rhetorician, he used his talents as a tool to gain respect and penetrate social circles previously inaccessible to black men.

The book's frontispiece, Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Sancho engraved by Bartolozzi. subject Ignatius Sancho sits erect and eyes the distance with a right hand tucked into the bosom of an elaborately trimmed waistcoat.
The frontispiece, Gainsborough’s famed portrait of Sancho, engraved by Bartolozzi. In the painting the waistcoat is a warm vermilion, edged with a delicate gold.

We know that the public held him in high regard because it is indicated in the narrative framing of his Letters. The book begins with a disclaimer that was common in the publications of well-established white figures, but largely absent in those of black writers. The publisher’s note declares, “The editor of these letters [Frances Crewe Phillips] thinks proper to obviate an objection, which she finds has already been suggested, that they were originally written with a view to publication.” University of Maryland professor Vincent Carretta identifies this as an example of “the frequent and usually disingenuous disclaimer by editors of posthumously published correspondence that the letters had not been written with an eye toward publication.” These statements were intended to assert an authenticity of sentiment, countering public suspicions of self-censored and intentionally impressive writing. The fact that Sancho’s letters included such an opening, while equally significant publications by other black writers such as Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass did not, offers us proof of a status and high regard that may otherwise be difficult to fully understand today. It is evidence of an established reputation for wit and artistry that preceded him even in death.

Sancho’s book of letters and other autobiographic black narratives are available in the Rare Book Collection. If you are interested in black experiences in the United States, check out our new exhibit “On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility,” on display until January 19th, 2020 in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibition Room.