Cotton Estes and Nikolai von Keller Awarded Watson Fellowships

Story posted May 02, 2007

Bowdoin College seniors Cotton Estes and Nikolai von Keller have both been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to pursue an independent research project outside the United States for one year after graduation.

Estes, of Jamestown, R.I., plans to travel to Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Turkey for a project she’s titled, "'Only That Endures Which Changes:' Adaptive Reuse of Industrial Sites." Estes calls it her version of the "Grand Tour" that was common practice among aspiring architects of the 18th and 19th centuries. They would spend years investigating foreign architecture and, once home, use their newfound international perspectives to inform and advance their work.

Estes says the Watson Fellowship will give her the opportunity to address a longstanding, personal inquiry about the social role of architecture. She hopes to examine how recent social changes have granted a new lease on life to abandoned mills and factories across Europe.

Cotton Estes.jpg
Cotton Estes '07

"Mills and factories in particular, which have been abandoned in relocation of industry, are now becoming places for cultural and artistic expression," says Estes. "The vast spaces, light, and typical proximity to rivers make factories and mills apt for creative revitalization.

"I am also interested in the positive environmental implications of recycling industrial spaces, which have been historically connoted with pollution and consumption cycles. Adapted factories and mills constitute palimpsests of meaning, each a unique reflection of its historical and contemporary context, as well its converter’s imagination."

Estes says a visual journal of drawings will serve as her main tool for observing, understanding and documenting these spaces. "Drawing involves criticality and time, and enhances the relationship between environment and inhabitant," she notes.

At the end of her fellowship year, Estes hopes to exhibit the drawings as a way to share what she’s learned and inspire others to imagine the potential behind oft-overlooked spaces.

Nikolai von Keller, of Winchester, Va., plans to travel to Chile, Peru, Japan, and Trinidad and Tobago to study the effect of place upon poetry.

Nick von Keller.jpg
Nikolai von Keller '07.

"The Spanish poets Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, the Japanese poets Basho, Buson and Issa, and the Caribbean poet Derek Wolcott all write in styles uniquely disconnected from the Western poetic tradition," says von Keller. "I think these differences are rooted in their upbringing -- histories, cultures, even climate and landscape."

Von Keller’s project, "The Birthplace of Poetry: Tracing the Roots of Non-Western Tradition," involves emulating the lives of famous poets in order to find the root of their creativity. "I think it's a cop-out to write off the distinctiveness of their poetry to a language barrier," he says. "I think the best way to truly understand the origins of their writing is to immerse myself in their lives.

"Thanks to my parents I have loved poetry since an early age, and at Bowdoin I have taken numerous courses on the subject. For me it seemed a natural extension of my passion for the art form to study these non-Western poets, especially after I fell in love with the American poets like Robert Hass and James Wright, who brought aspects of these poets' styles to English poetry."

As interesting as the projects are, "The awards are long-term investments in people, not research," says Rosemary Macedo, the executive director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. The year of travel provides fellows an opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities and develop a more informed sense of international concern.

"We look for people likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence in pursuing their interests," says Macedo. "They must have passion, creativity, and a feasible plan. The Watson Fellowship affords an unequaled opportunity for global experiential learning."

Estes and von Keller are among 50 college seniors nationally who have received a 2007 Watson Fellowship. Nearly 1,000 students from 47 selective private liberal arts colleges and universities applied for the awards. This year, 179 students competed on the national level, after their institutions nominated them in the autumn. Each fellow receives $25,000 for the year of travel and exploration.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.

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