Dallas Artist Found Her “Authentic Self” at the College

Erika Jaeggli
Erika Moravec Jaeggli ’99 is an artist based in Dallas; she is an M.F.A. candidate and teaching assistant at the University of North Texas. She earned an M.A. from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Interactive Telecommunications Program. Jaeggli was a 2021 recipient of The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Travel Grant from the Dallas Museum of Art, which funded her research into Texas cave systems; she also received a grant from The Arts Community Alliance for her on-site work at the Boedeker Building, a 100-year-old former ice cream factory in Dallas.

Jaeggli’s work has been shown in Texas, California, Maryland, Arkansas and Missouri and featured in Studio Visit magazine; she has two upcoming solo exhibitions in Denton and Fort Worth. She is a founding board member of Texas Vignette, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and supporting women in the arts in Texas, and now serves as a member of its advisory council. She has also been artist-in-residence at the Dallas Arboretum. Jaeggli can be found on Instagram at @erikajaeggli.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, I had wanted to live in New York City for as long as I could remember. I was hungry for the culture and sophistication of big city life, and the intellectual stimulation that Columbia could offer. By my senior year of high school, my best friend and I were spending our weekends downtown, going to coffee shops, clubs, museums and thrift shopping. We watched John Waters movies and listened to bootleg tapes of Dylan Thomas readings. Art was “my thing” — I spent my summers and Saturdays engrossed in art classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. So, arriving at the College, I felt like I had finally found “my place.” Coming from a town where my identity felt like it had been set since middle school, I relished the freedom and opportunity to find my authentic self.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived on Carman 9 with my roommate Susan Harlan ’99, who was from California, and we hit it off instantly. In fact, she remains one of my very closest friends. This was the mid-’90s, pre-cellphones, pre-social media, and when we still had a physical Face Book we pored over, matching faces to names. Susan and I, along with our other best friends, Ania Wajnberg ’99, Kristina Kaufman ’99 and Sam McConnell ’99, SOA’07, had a blast staying up late, debating the finer points of Don Quixote, ordering late-night pancakes from Grandma’s and taking advantage of everything the city had to offer, from clubs like the Tunnel and Limelight to standing-room-only tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. There was a shared excitement among us first-years, building a community with other smart, weird, artsy friends from across the country.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

There are so many reasons why Art Hum is the Core class that had the most influence on me. I took it first semester of my first year, as I was certain that I would be either an art or art history major. My professor was Judith Rodenbeck GSAS’03; she was able to make the material interesting and relevant. It was this class and professor that helped solidify my passion for art, and the ability to understand culture and history through the lens of the visual image.

Our final project was to build a website on an artist. This was 1995, the early days of the internet, where there was no Google, Wikipedia or social media. Professor Rodenbeck’s rationale was that even if we didn’t pursue our art history studies, we would learn a useful programming skill. I created a webpage on the artist Frank Stella, and for several years, it was the top search result for him. Additionally, Professor Rodenbeck connected me with the Luhring Augustine Gallery, which was looking for an intern. So, by the middle of my first year, I had secured an internship at one of the most prominent galleries in New York, with the help of my professor.

Lastly, on a very personal level, there is another reason why Art Hum was my most memorable Core class. Strolling in late to class on the first day was Nelson Jaeggli ’97, PS’04, a junior, who also happened to be my COOP leader. This was definitely an “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, [he] walks into mine” moment. We became friends first, and worked on the Frank Stella website together. Nelson and I started dating during my second year; last year we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, and have two teenagers.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

When I think back to my time at Columbia, I think of Low Steps first and foremost. The steps are iconic. Yes, they are picturesque and when coupled with the view of Alma Mater, create the most emblematic view of the campus. But for College students, they are more than that. They serve as a physical nexus; friends coming out of classes in Hamilton, Schermerhorn, Havemeyer, Dodge, etc., all pass on the Steps. The Steps offer a place to hang out, chat with friends, meet new people and reconvene late night after hours.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I would tell my 20-year-old self to take more classes outside of my major, and not bother with the minor. I minored in German studies. Because of all the required courses dedicated to the Core during the first two years, there is not as much time built into the curriculum for electives, especially if one is both majoring, minoring and studying abroad. Now that I have teenage kids of my own, I find myself telling them the things I would have wanted to hear: Follow your passion, go to office hours, seek advice from mentors, get involved.