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Mercy Carbonell

Instructor Mercy Carbonell stands in her classroom

"The idea of objects as carrying stories and meaning and intimacy and proximity has always mattered."

Tucked at the far end of the basement level of Phillips Hall, English Instructor Mercy Carbonell’s classroom is a visual invitation. There are books to look at for sure, stacks of them along every wall, but also vintage multilingual posters, framed team photos, ink drawings, a Native American dream catcher, even a half-bust mannequin sporting a scarf. All are items that Carbonell has accumulated during her 22-year career teaching and coaching at the Academy. 

"I love my room and sometimes I wish I could find ways to arrange all the clutter," she says. "Sometimes I wish I was not quite a hoarder of stories and art and student lives, but it might be best to let go and just be who I am."

She is a collector of stories, carefully preserved in the keepsakes that fill her room. "The idea of objects as carrying stories and meaning and intimacy and proximity has always mattered," she says. "I hold on to things so somehow I won’t forget the thing itself. ... I’m terrified of losing my memory." We visited Room 013 to learn more about a few of the pieces that can’t help but catch the eye.

— Wes LaFountain ’69

James Joyce
This quote from author James Joyce is attributed to "D.S.," or the "Dining Society," a group of boys who gathered for cooking lessons and conversation with Carbonell during her days as a faculty adviser in Dunbar Hall. "I love the history of etched names on the table and the moment when an alum comes in to find their name," she says.
Rubber ducks
The first rubber ducks floated into Carbonell’s life through her late partner Christine Robinson, a fellow English instructor. Over time, the ducks multiplied and by 1996 they famously started showing up in goal cages at field hockey practice. Carbonell has been a coach throughout her time at Exeter.
Homage to a colleague
Carbonell says she "would not be here [at Exeter]" if not for her friend and colleague Peter Greer ’58. He snapped this photo of an outdoor mural in San Francisco after 9/11. The large eyes provide a "wonderful entrée to an individual’s personality, character. ... An invitation to 'see inside,'" Carbonell says.
Spring in Love
These calcified pomegranates are part of a final art project Alex Fankuchen ’06 created for Carbonell’s senior elective course Spring in Love. "They have endured," she says. "I love that moment in [Virginia] Woolf’s "To the Lighthouse" when she writes about 'the thing is made that endures.'"

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.