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Estefania Puerta, visiting assistant professor of studio art, has been awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, a highly selective fellowship granted to less than 4 percent of applicants. The award provides a stipend, workspace, and room and board at the academy’s campus on the Janiculum Hill in Rome, starting in September 2023. 

Photo of artist Estefania Puerta holding a sculpture.
Artist Estefania Puerta has won the Rome Prize.

“This is a gift of time and place and I feel really honored that I get to be part of this history,” said Puerta. “This is a major marker in my life and I can’t help but think of where I come from, my ancestors, my teachers—of all forms—my friends and family, and my artwork as a reflection of a powerful force that got me here. I am immensely excited to bring who I am to this place.”

A Burlington, Vermont-based artist, Puerta came to Middlebury in 2019 and has supervised senior independent study and advanced studio, and has taught drawing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in community and international development from the University of Vermont and her MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University. Puerta is a past recipient of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, which provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants.

One of 36 American artists and scholars to receive the award this year, Puerta will work on a project titled “Embodied Excess: Feeling the Ruins.” During her fellowship, Puerta plans to examine the ancient relief sculptures and architectural details in Rome to expand upon her practice and research of haptic language and what she describes as the subversive nature of the decorative.

“I am interested in how these ancient works are embedded with systems of value and language that have morphed into ruins and relics of an old world while simultaneously being grafted onto a contemporary urban space,” said Puerta. “This kind of multiworld shapeshifting greatly fascinates me when thinking of how immigrants carry other worlds within us into new lands, and I am excited to study these parallels more with my time in Rome.”

Puerta said she’ll use what she discovers to expand upon her existing sculptural work and reliefs on panels that will then be embedded with different materials. She said the materials she incorporates typically hold a medicinal or folkloric/mythic meaning and are also gathered through walks and explorations of her surroundings.

Rome Prize winners are selected annually by independent juries of distinguished artists and scholars through a competitive national competition. The 11 disciplines supported by the Academy are ancient studies, architecture, design, historic preservation and conservation, landscape architecture, literature, medieval studies, modern Italian studies, music composition, Renaissance and early modern studies, and visual arts.

Puerta is the second Middlebury faculty member to receive the Rome Prize in recent years. In 2022, film professor Ioana Uricaru was awarded the prize for developing her feature film Ursa Major.