Finding Inspiration in Art and Coffee

In her short story “How to Become a Writer,” Lorrie Moore narrates: “at home I drink a lot of coffee.” Moore offers tips on how to become a writer while recounting her own struggle with the process. In my high school English class, we read Moore’s story and discussed the common association between creatives and coffee. However, the purpose of the artwork in Coffee Grounds is not to give in to a stereotype, but rather to create an environment that is comforting and inspirational, like home. Paintings and photographs hang along the walls of this coffee shop in Katherine Blunt, and each one is unique, bringing diversity to the room.

One afternoon I walked into Coffee Grounds for the first time, having investigated other food spots on campus since arriving. I immediately felt a sense of warmth from the cozy couches and delicious aroma of coffee and sweets. My eyes wandered to the strings of photographs—all of which were submitted by members of Cadenza Magazine. Sophia Angele-Kuehn ’20, a member of Cadenza and an Arts editor for the Voice, has two photos hanging up in CG: one of a father carrying his son in the Arbo and another of an orange rose which although dead, is still beautiful. In addition, there are three large paintings in CG: the Crying Elvis, a little boy playing baseball, and an abstract piece with vibrant colors. The Crying Elvis is quite literally a portrait of the famous singer crying. The current and past managers with whom I spoke do not know when the art pieces were put up, giving CG a mysterious background. Rebecca Seidemann, the current marketing manager at Coffee Grounds, said that “we have a lot of artwork here at Coffee Grounds, some of which was put up last year, a lot of which has been here since forever.” One of the most notorious pieces in the cafe is the Crying Elvis, which was most likely bought at a thrift store according to Alicia Toldi ’12, a Conn alumna. Elizabeth de Lise, who worked at CG for four years as a barista and two years as the booking manager, even refers to the Crying Elvis as the “guardian of CG” since “he’s been there since the beginning of Coffee Grounds, it seems.” The art collection at CG continues to grow, as sketchbooks are always available for customers.

Coffee Grounds acts as an open space for artists to show their artwork and for students to enjoy this creative atmosphere. Stephanie Jackvony ’18, a barista at CG, explained that she and her co-workers think that CG has a “come-as-you-are culture” which is emphasized by the fact that “people feel comfortable displaying their art” knowing that “we display it and celebrate it with them,” according to Jackvony. Seidemann added that the artwork helps build “a space where everyone can feel comfortable.” De Lise agrees with Seidemann; in an email, she said that “it [is] a place where you [can] be cozy, slip into a meaningful conversation with students, professors and staff, and experience some of the original art being made on campus.” For example, Toldi’s piece “At Last, The Mountains Silenced Us,” a series of black and white nature drawings, still hangs in the coffee shop almost five years after her graduation. As an artist, Toldi thinks CG is a way to share her work, and she said that from a customer perspective, “it’s great to have something visually pleasing and compelling to rest your eyes on while taking a break from studying or work.” Grace Neale ’21 elaborated on the customer side by noting that the artwork, colors, and furniture in CG make it “a really warm, comforting, space.” The artwork in Coffee Grounds builds an inviting atmosphere, emphasizing Conn’s welcoming and friendly community, as well as showcases unique pieces that allow students to think about art in a different setting.

Art is a critical part of a liberal arts education, and Coffee Grounds works to embed this field into their customer’s experience at Conn. From student work to intriguing pieces that add an aura of mystery to the shop, the artwork in CG makes it distinct from the other coffee shops on campus. As I edit this article now, I sit in CG and cannot help but feel a sense of inspiration and comfort from the art pieces which surround my table. Maybe in my years at Conn I will add a piece of my own, but for now I revel in the unique culture of CG that invites everyone to enjoy a drink while surrounded by artwork, and feel like they are hom