Artists in Action: JSU art department recognizes faculty in latest exhibit
by Hervey Folsom
Special to The Star
Sep 17, 2010 | 3599 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State University art instructor Ron Baker explains his artwork, Red Dirt Farmer, which is part of the faculty exhibit at Hammond Hall gallery. Photo: Hervey Folsom/Special to The Star
Jacksonville State University art instructor Ron Baker explains his artwork, Red Dirt Farmer, which is part of the faculty exhibit at Hammond Hall gallery. Photo: Hervey Folsom/Special to The Star
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Spend a morning on the Jacksonville State University campus and you can feel the excitement in the air. The university is experiencing changes and growth this fall with an enrollment of 9,504 students, the highest yet. Upperclassmen and graduate students have moved into the huge Stadium Towers residence hall, and the last two football wins by the Gamecocks have attracted not only cheers, but much media coverage.

The excitement continues within JSU’s art department. Stop into the gallery, speak with the professors, and it’s clear that the department is getting top grades in achievement, too.

According to Jauneth Skinner, the department head, 75 freshman have declared art as their major this semester. Two new professors have joined the faculty and next fall the school will offer a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication and Design, making JSU the first Alabama university to offer this degree.

The department’s current art exhibit, the 2010 Faculty Art Show, reflects the upward spiral in the department.

“This is a very strong show,” Skinner commented. “The craftsmanship shown by the artists is impeccable. And every piece in it makes you think.”

Strolling through the gallery last Friday, Ron Baker seemed intrigued with what his fellow artists and instructors are up to now. He shares his thoughts with the viewer.

“I feel that there’s a new optimism here,” he said. “(The instructors) are sharing new techniques. You know, I tell my students that we are not merely teachers of art. We are artists that teach, and they can see that in this show.”

He walks to the center of the gallery where ceramics instructor Steve Louck’s display catches the light.

“Steve has gone into sculpting and using wood and making furniture,” he said. “And the two photographs by Sarah Miles are absolutely amazing.”

According to Miles, who teaches photography, the photos, both of animals, are from a body of work called Solomon’s House that explore the collections in storage at the Anniston Museum of Natural History. The digital photographs are comprised of numerous single frames and are combined to construct a high-resolution image, she said in a phone interview.

Baker, who teaches painting and drawing, walks back to his painting, titled Red Dirt Farmer. He admires the mixed media, Looking for the Landscape, which hangs next to his painting. The pastel colors used by its artist, Diana Cadwallader, who teaches graphic design, attracted lots of attention at the exhibit’s opening reception, especially among women, according to faculty members. Baker describes it as “ethereal.”

Baker has taken an interest in tragic figures — some of them from well-known literature. The centerpiece of this painting, a farmer, is both tragic and celebrated. It is a composite of several people, Baker said, and was inspired by his grandfather, who was a cotton farmer. And the work tells the story of many people in the Depression era, Baker said.

“He died young, at 51 years, because of such hard labor, but I found him to be noble. Now he has the recognition he deserves.”

The painting’s frame is a open brown suitcase from the 1940s or early 1950s, Baker said.

“With this I could give a three-dimensional effect, almost like it’s a stage or film setting,” he said.

Reminders of the farmer’s daily life, such as a carpenter’s pencil, are included on the top of the suitcase and “Granny’s shelf” in the middle where the two sides of the suitcase are connected, feature jars that hold cotton bolls and other memorabilia of farm life.

Nature could be called the theme of the show. For example, Anita Stewart, who teaches foundation courses, has photographed two birds in close focus. The warbler and ruby-throated hummingbird represent her interest and membership in the Hummer/Bird Study Group, which is dedicated to the study and long-term preservation of hummingbirds and other songbirds. Her pictures were taken this past spring at Fort Morgan State Historical Park in Alabama, a site where the migrating birds land for food and rest.

Fabric art by Allison McElroy, who teaches drawing, features a bug wig and horse hair in her framed work Mend. The many faces of human nature are communicated in Skinner’s portrait of a hospice worker, part of a series she is doing on the roles of women. Skinner teaches printmaking.

The exhibit is up through Oct. 7. Hammond Hall Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4 p.m.

Nutcracker Auditions

Young dancers ages 7 and up are welcome to try out for this year’s The Nutcracker presented by The Knox Concert Series. The auditions will be Sept. 25 at 8:30 a.m. at The Donoho School Cafetorium. Dancing experience is not necessary, but helpful, according to Missy Beverly, the Knox volunteer involved with the production by The Alabama Ballet. The dance attire requested is a leotard, tights and ballet shoes. Last year, 45 local children had parts in the ballet, according to Beverly. This year The Nutcracker will be presented Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Anniston Performing Arts Center.
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