Stories from Summer Vacation: Natalie Zelt’s Refreshing Break

Here’s a note from Natalie Zelt about spending her summer enjoying Austin’s pools and some time away from the city, too:

After surviving the first year of graduate school, I have spent my summer away from campus in a state of rebellious delight. Beginning in May, I devoted hours looking at images of and about food while curating an exhibition for the Houston Center for Photography titled See Food: Contemporary Photography and the Ways We Eat which opens this November. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with an array of photographers, including one who spends the summer months salmon fishing, another who runs a farm featured in Portlandia.

I also swam as often as I could, making the most of Austin’s free public pools.  Swimming early in the morning was a great way to get to know some real characters in Austin. The rhythm of swimming laps proved soothing and revitalizing, as I compared the tiled bottom of my beloved Dottie Jordan pool to the shockingly large fish and underwater plants in Barton Springs.  This may not come as a much of a surprise to anyone else, but it turns out that swimming is an unbelievable way to decompress and stay cool in Austin.

Another way to beat the heat is to get out of town. I just got back from a whirlwind research trip to Chicago.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of radical initiatives that link art and community, Chicago turns out to be an incredible town to check out. While there, I visited the Jane Addams Hull House where the staff literally opened their desks to share their working files on the settlement house’s art lending library and the Butler Art Gallery.


I also explored the history of the Chicago Society for Art in Public Schools and the Art Resources in Teaching programs at the University of Illinois Chicago. In the Ryerson Archives at the Art Institute, I learned about some pretty formidable efforts to bring art to the farming communities around Chicago in the 1920s. And I also heard about a number of current programs, such as CSA’s (or Community Supported Art), that connect contemporary artists and the community.  Prior to my trip to Chicago, I ventured up to Boston where I managed to coerce my younger brother into crashing a bridal shower dressed in full Colonial-era garb and to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Much to my unabashed glee, the bride was mortified and the crowd loved it!

The rest of the summer was spent with my puppy Scout as she recovered from two leg surgeries.


Aside from becoming acquainted with puppy orthopedics and the wonders of Austin, this summer allowed me to explore a many of the interests born out of first-year seminars at my own pace. My work on See Food and my research in Chicago were both great ways to allow my first-year of graduate study to grow and have gotten me pretty pumped about the fall.