GVSU professor showcases pen collection at ArtPrize Nine

GVL / Courtesy - Maria Landon

GVL / Courtesy – Maria Landon

Karina Lloyd

Grand Valley State University marketing professor Maria Landon utilized her signature collection of pens to create a work of art for this year’s ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids. 

GVSU senior Gabriella Mencotti recalls the class she had with Landon, Marketing 350, very fondly. Every day during the last fall semester, Landon walked into the room with a bright smile, an enthusiastic attitude, and a bright or decorative pen that matched her outfit. 

“Every time we came to class, she always had a different pen, and (the class) would always ask what the meaning behind it was or who it was from,” Mencotti said. “She’d explain to us how she loved to have pens that matched her outfit, that just expressed her feelings, anything like that. So, every day she’d spice (class) up with a new (pen), and I was just so amazed by how many ones she had. 

“I always thought she was kidding when she had that many, but she obviously wasn’t.”

When Landon first began her teaching career in 1985, she also began collecting pens. For 27 years Landon has gathered pens of all shapes, sizes and colors to bring to her classes at GVSU. With every pen Landon would bring to class, there would be a different story attached.

“I wouldn’t go looking (for pens),” Landon explained. “I would go into a store, see one and buy it. It was fun. I’d buy them different places I traveled, (such as) Ireland, England, Greece. That would be kind of like my souvenir.”

The pens served to connect Landon with her students. 

“Students got interested in it and would buy me pens,” Landon said. “Even after they graduated they would send it to me. It got to be a big thing in every single section. It’s all about my relationships with my students.”

Many of the students looked forward to seeing which pen she would bring to class. The pens became a conversational piece and sometimes worked as a segue into that day’s lesson. 

“For one of our first exams … we have to market something and use marketing terms on the exam,” said senior Sarah Lile, one of Landon’s former marketing students. “So the day before the exam, she held up the pen and told us to market the pen (as exam prep). It helped a lot.”

Landon’s students were able to get to know her through the pen collection, and in turn she was able to get to know them.

“I think it really gives the students a glimpse of who the professor is as a person,” Lile said. “I feel like I do better in classes where the teacher isn’t like ‘school work, school work, school work.’ I just like how open and honest she was about her personal life.”

It is this kind of honesty that has helped students form such strong relationships with Landon. Throughout her time as a professor, she has attended everything from weddings to baby showers of former students.

“She was just willing to help and had that great personality,” Mencotti said. “I clicked with her right away, and we stayed in touch ever since.”

Though Landon retired last August, she has since returned to GVSU to teach one section of Marketing 350 because she needs to “retire gently.” When she retired from teaching, she gave students pens to take with them before she left.

A few of her students from her winter semester last year suggested that she enter the pen collection into this year’s ArtPrize competition. After help from her students, she was able to come up with a title for the project.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I never thought of that,’” Landon said. “What would the title be? And one student said, ‘Every Pen Has a Story,’ and when he said it, I thought, ‘Wow, that is the title,’ because it’s all about relationships. Yes, for me, every pen has a story.”

Landon then worked with her husband to come up with the idea for the display. In the end, the couple decided to create a nine-foot pen out of the collection. Along the sides of the board, there are pens placed in categorized groups, such as animal or flower-themed pens. The tip of the pen meets in a handmade ink well. Stationed next to the piece is a brief summary of the meaning behind the pens.

“That’s not even all the pens in my collection,” Landon said with a chuckle.

What has been amazing for Landon has been seeing her students’ responses to the piece. 

“I have a lot of former students who are LinkedIn with me, which I love,” Landon said. “I sent all of them the news. There are hundreds, and I’ve been getting back responses, and that’s been really special.” 

“She is always giving, and I think dedicating (the work) to all her students is just another way for her to say ‘thank you’ for all the years,” Mencotti said. 

Landon’s creation is located at Kilwins at 146 Monroe Center St. NW. To vote, use the ArtPrize app and voting code #65425.