Breaking the Ice: Rutgers Students Ignite Creativity and Share Camaraderie on Inspiring Iceland Trip


As Margery Amdur explains, art is a product of the culture in which it exists – and making art requires dedication and commitment to a rigorous practice where outcomes are often unknown.

“Much art comes from knowing oneself and one’s relationship to others, the environment, and location,” says the associate professor of art at Rutgers University–Camden.

Opening the doors to inspiration and creativity, Amdur led an international study course for Rutgers undergraduate and graduate students, from both the Camden and Newark campuses, in the unique and awe-inspiring country of Iceland.

According to the successful artist, known for her inspired, mixed-media constructions, the trip to Iceland from May 29 to June 10 – the second consecutive year that she has led one – was a rare opportunity for the students to focus completely on their work, the extraordinary landscape, and the community.

icelandtrip-copy2“In the process of creating, they are gaining a greater understanding of their relationship to the land – and to themselves,” says Amdur. “Students ponder how we, as artists, can search our personal interior landscapes, yet, at the same time, stay present to the immediacy of the beauty of the outdoors.”

Upon landing at Keflavik Airport, the group was immediately whisked away to the Blue Lagoon, named by National Geographic as one of the wonders of the world.

Visiting the Blue Lagoon – a sparkling turquoise geothermal steam bath, heated from volcanic magma below the surface – is an experience like no other, says Michelle Rossi, a Mount Laurel resident and 2015 graduate of Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“It was an amazing sight to see – relaxing, rejuvenating, and complete with natural silica mud masks,” she recalls.

After visiting several villages in the south of Iceland, where they were further introduced to the country’s rich and diverse culture, people, and landscape, the group settled in Laugarvatn, where they worked – and bonded – side-by-side in outdoor and indoor artists’ studio spaces.

“Working in the studio together and bonding through exploration and conversation added to the overall satisfaction that I walked away with,” recalls Laura Cain, a Mantua resident and senior art major at Rutgers–Camden, who is working towards her teacher certification. “I learned so much about myself on this the trip, connected with the world and people around me, and gained an overall appreciation for life.”

icelandtrip-copy4From their base in Laugarvatn, the group ventured out to investigate the varied terrain, taking in massive waterfalls, erupting boiling 200-degree water springs, majestic glaciers, lava fields, black sand beaches, eco-thermal hot springs, sheep farms, bird sanctuaries, and more.

Iceland was a shock to the psyche!” exclaims Wanda Knox, a Westhampton resident and 2015 graduate of Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. “I was given the opportunity to see a country where the mountains collide with the sky. The air was clear, silent, and so peaceful. I learned the joy of peace, trust, and art. The beauty of the mountains and how the majestic water that flowed through them made you understand the Icelandic connection. Iceland frees the mind of clutter for creativity.”

In addition to their daily creative assignments, students were asked to read an Icelandic saga over the course of the trip, and to write a fairytale inspired by these iconic stories. They were also introduced to a series of creative encounters – both individual and group-oriented – intended to invite, challenge, encourage, and enable new notions of what it means to be creative to rise to the surface.

For Rossi, not only did the trip reignite her creativity, it rekindled the inspiration that had long been missing from her work. This experience challenged her to explore new media, she says, as well as further her understanding about what it means to be a practicing artist today.

In the end, says Rossi, “It’s the way to actively get lost in your mind and just go wherever it takes you.”

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