Louisiana Tech University

Member news, and other regional art updates and opportunities

It's spring, and the whirlwind of activity has my spirit full. Today's post is full as well, so let's get started with the news!

Member News:

First up, Hooshang Khorasani currently has a solo exhibition in Bossier City at 1800 Prime in Boomtown Casino, as part of Bossier Arts Council's exhibition series. His April 4 reception includes wine-tasting and a $15 entry fee.

Jerry Berg, of Louisiana Tech University, will be exhibiting at Livaudais Studio in Monroe for the April 4 Downtown Gallery Crawl. New works will be shown for this one night only event, and Jerry will give an artist's talk at 6pm.

Congratulations to Christiane Drieling of Brush Hour Studio, who has been hired to teach art at Montessori School of Ruston. If your child attends Montessory School of Ruston, they will learn so much from Christiane.

Jake Dugard, from Louisiana Tech's SoA Graduate program, will be interning at Hatch Show Print this summer in Nashville. Way to go, Jake!

Dorene Kordal of Fabulous Felt has been invited on an all expenses paid trip to Peru Moda because of her award winning wool felt stitch sampler. Peru--whoo-hoo! AND, Dorene will be blogging about her experience here on our blog upon her return.

At the Louisiana Tech Annual Student Show, currently on display in the School of Art, three NCLAC members won Red River Paper Honorable Mention Awards: Sophia Maras (our recently-moved Gallery Coordinator), Peter Hay and Casey Parkinson. Congratulations!

Next, our very own technical writing intern, Jennifer Downs, was awarded the opportunity to present a paper at the Sigma Tau Delta conference in Portland, Oregon last week. We are proud for you!

Calls for Entry:

Interactive Art Exhibition presented by Alexandria Museum of Art Friday, May 10, 2013, 4–9pm & Saturday, May 11, 2013, 9am–7pm SUBMISSION DEADLINE: April 11, 2013 Alexandria Museum of Art is seeking artists to participate in the first annual Interactive Art Exhibition taking place on public sidewalks, green spaces, and streets along the riverfront area of downtown Alexandria during the 2013 Annual Louisiana Dragon Boat Races™. Drawing over 10,000 attendees and 1,000 race participants, Louisiana Dragon Boat Races™ on the scenic Red River viewed from the amphitheater in downtown Alexandria, Louisiana is a spirited day of racing features more teams, food, elaborate costumes, and entertainment on and off the water than ever before. The Interactive Art Exhibition presented by Alexandria Museum of Art will feature art that is highly interactive and invites participation, inspired by local community themes and the spirit of the Louisiana Dragon Boat Races™. Artists will have an opportunity to create new work, showcase their creativity to a large audience, and interact with the public, alongside food vendors, live music, and race spectators. Interactive art may require human interaction to complete the piece; involve the community and the audience in its creation; prompt the viewer to act; incorporate multi-sensory elements; prompt people to interact with one another; respond to participants and its environment; cause people to reflect on the larger community; respond to the community’s culture, needs, and environment in an innovative and unique way. Honorariums in varying amounts will be awarded to each selected artist or collective. For more information on how to submit a proposal: https://www.facebook.com/events/478623825526828/

NCLAC's is now accepting artist entries for our exhibition spaces at Crescent City, Dixie Center Lobby, the Bridge Project with Bossier Arts Council, and early notification for large group shows in a new space being renovated at Louisiana Tech University's Student Center. Here is more information. The application is available in 'the box' at the bottom of your screen.Big_News_clip_art_88125135_std.329233502_std


The Twin City Art Foundation and the Masur Museum of Art are asking artists to help with our annual fundraiser. The Off-the-Wall Fundraiser will include a silent auction. Please consider contributing a work of art to this important cause! The money raised will help fund upcoming exhibitions, educational outreach, and educational programming for adults and children. It's your last chance to participate in this worthwhile and, frankly, very fun event! See more details here.

NCLAC's Keep the Arts Afloat fundraiser is here! This annual event makes the arts council possible. We sell only 250 tickets, for $100 donations, and then we give away $5000. It's great odds, and it's a great way to make a tax-deductible donation. See any NCLAC board member to make your donation and get your ticket, call our office t 255-1450, or stop by the Dixie Center for the Arts at 212 North Vienna, Monday-Thursday from 9-3.

NCLAC Member Frank Hamrick releases handmade book "Letter Never Sent"

 "Letter Never Sent" is Frank Hamrick's latest handmade book. 

Front Cover

Text from the book:

Some of the photographs in this book were made in Georgia and Louisiana, but most were made in Florida while helping Charlotte Lee develop film her father, Bud, exposed but never processed. Thanks for posing, Charlotte. Macon York helped identify the wooden letterpress type Jay Gould brought down from Minnesota. Jim Sherraden at Hatch Show Print has provided much guidance in person and over the phone. Thanks, Betsy Williamson, for encouraging me to make this book.

On the back cover of the book is this line from the letter, "Do you remember the trees we cut Charlottes Chairdown for fires we never burned?"
This first hardcover edition of Letter Never Sent is limited to 25 copies. A soft cover edition of 12 copies and 1 artist's proof preceded this hardcover edition. The images and text are inkjet and Laserjet printed on 50lb., double-sided, matte, Red River paper. Ruben is the title's typeface. The covers are cotton rag paper handmade at the University of Georgia's Green Street Press. The cover text was printed on an etching press at Louisiana Tech University using a polymer plate produced by Boxcar Press.


Purchasing Details

“Letter Never Sent”, can be bought online at:
Or checks can be sent to:
Frank Hamrick
PO Box 3175
Ruston, LA 71272
“Letter Never Sent” hardback, first edition is $60.00 plus $5.00 for shipping in the U.S. 
For More info, visit:

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Mandi Nikole Zimmer. A more in depth discussion of her work and methods for the upcoming show at 102: Bistro this Wednesday. You can find Mandi's photography online at mandinikolephotography.com or on facebook. (Do not adjust your internet: This interview is transcript only)

If you would like to be interviewed for Q&Art please contact me at russellpirkle@gmail.com or call nclac at 255-1450.

Can you tell me how this series evolved?

The series was originally done as my senior exhibition. During the summer before my final year I was trying to decide on what photographic series I would display at the exhibition. I had thought about doing something in fashion. I love shooting fashion and had originally entered the photography field with hopes of one day becoming a fashion photographer. I did photography for several years prior to entering LA Tech and was very comfortable in the commercial industry. After much thought, I decided I wanted to photograph something more meaningful. I wanted to tell someone's story or capture the moments of a person's life. I shoot alot of lifestyle photos so environmental photography was not new to me. Finally, I narrowed it down to 3 choices; (1) I would have like to have done 3 families that had children who were patients at the St. Jude's Children's Hospital, (2) military men and women, or (3 ) 3 families during the delivery of their child. I was very interested in telling the story of the St. Jude's Kids, but it was difficult gaining access to the families, physicians, and hospitals to get approval to take the images. I would still like to photograph this series one day if possible. I have done birth photography in the past and it is such an amazing moment in the life of families, but I realized that I wouldn't always be available at just any time for the deliveries. My neighbor, Mr. Harry, used to sit and talk about World War II with my parents when I was young and I would hear him. I didn't really understand much but as I grew older I began to see the sorrow in his face at times and I realized the effects it had on his life. If you ask him today he is reluctant to speak about it anymore. So, I decided I wanted to do environmental portraits of service men and women and the  American Heroes series was born. I was amazed by the response I received. Veteran's and their families were receptive to the idea and the project evolved from there.

Can you tell me what you learned or discovered from the experience of creating the American Heroes series?

I learned about the sacrifices that service men, women, and their families have made over the years to defend our independence. They not only leave their families to fight wars, but they have suffered the loss of friends, family, and loved ones. I realized that the men and women who has fought on the front lines will always carry the memories, good and bad, of what they experienced forever. I don't believe I had ever really considered the sacrifices military families make until I did this series. Many families have given generations to military for the protection of our country. The Dyers, are an example of one of those families. Grandfather and grandson have both made sacrifices to defend the country we all love. I am forever grateful to these men and women who have fought for our nation, because without them I wouldn't have the freedom to live the life I live today. That is why I chose to do this series. I wanted to give honor and thanks to all our military and their families. I also learned that there are many wonderful people in the world. There are still trusting people who are willing to open their hearts, homes, and lives to others. I have been blessed to remain friends with a few of the soldiers and their families. Just recently Mr. Comeaux, The Grandfather, passed away and his daughter opened her home allowing me to become part of the family, celebrating his life. The images I had taken were some the last photographs taken of him and I felt blessed to have been able to document a part of his life and then share it with his family.

On a personal note, I learned something about myself and my goals in the photography field. I have always thought of myself as a commercial photographer because I photograph portraits of children, families, weddings, and fashion. I had earned my reputation through the use of lifestyle images, my ability to use an off camera flash, and my ability to use Photoshop. I had pretty much set my course, but this project changed me. I began to see myself more as an artist. My goals are changing. Yes, I would still like to work in fashion, but I also would like to photograph for Life Magazine, National Geographic, a newspaper. Oh, and yes I want to capture that perfect shot and win a Pulitzer prize.I love shooting environmental portraits. I try to incorporate it into almost every session I do now.

What wars do the veterans photographed represent?

Several of the men fought in World War II.  Mr Harry, the neighbor who inspired the series, is a World War II Veteran. Brandi North, the female soldier, fought in Afghanistan. She was also a victim of 911. I also photographed soldiers who fought in the Vietnam and Gulf War. I also photographed a gentleman who was at Pearl Harbor.

What are your personal connections to the subject matter? What family or friends do you have in the service?

The series was inspired by a neighbor and family friend who fought in World War II. Recently a friend of mine I've known since I was junior high returned from Iraq. Currently I do know people in the service but do not know anyone who is over seas doing battle.

Can you talk about a few of the artistic choices that you've made (in terms of how to shoot the subject) and why?

I chose to photograph these images as environmental portraits. The use of environmental photography allows me, the photographer, to give the observer or viewer a look inside the life of each man or woman as they live their life today. Many of these portraits were done in each Veteran's home. This allowed them to share the environment they live in, their families, and their hobbies or interest.

I am primarily a portrait photographer and the majority of my work is done as what's described as environmental or lifestyle photography. I have done some studio work but I am primarily known for my environmental style and lighting skills. I photograph the majority of my clients "on location." I love to photograph clients in their home but will occasionally chose a place that highlights them as individuals, or a place that is meaningful to them. I use questionnaires to help me learn more about my clients interest and to help me chose the locations used to photograph them.

Warren, The Fireman, was photographed at his place of work. After interviewing with him I decided to highlight his life as a Fireman. To showcase his life as a protector in the service and at home. His love for music was also something that stood out to me so we decided to share some of his life as a musician.

Some of the men are grandfathers who wanted to be photographed with their grandchildren. Mr Comeaux, The Grandfather, was shot in his home with two of his granddaughters. I wanted to portray them as they would appear in their everyday life. I felt I was able to do that because after interviewing with him and his daughter I was able to find out that it wasn't unusual for him to be home sitting in his chair while his granddaughters were playing on the floor near him. I chose to include the wheelchair and medical equipment in the image because it portrayed his love for his wife who had recently been admitted to a nursing home. Just weeks before she would have been sitting with him with the grandchildren playing between them.

I photographed the majority of the images with my 28mm lens, but I also used my 100m and 50mm on several of the images. You were correct about me using a narrow aperture on several of the images, but I was able to maintain a large DOF with the use of my 28mm lens. It was important for me to keep the entire image in focus so the viewer would be drawn into the story of the image and enter the into the life and environment of the subject. About the color - when I originally started the series I envisioned them as either black and white or sepia. I love black and white images and use them alot in my business. When I first presented them in class for critique my instructor suggested I print them in color for my second critique. I was really a little disappointed but took her suggestion. I loved them in color. I do have some prints in black and white though because I feel using black and white sets the mood of the image and highlights the subject being photographed.

NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Peter Jones, local artist and recently retired Tech Professor of Art. Peter's retrospective is currently on display at Louisiana Tech. [wpvideo kLDdadCX]

I want to start out by asking you about the selection process for the paintings for your retrospective. Specifically about which ones were excluded and why.

I had to pick from what I had on hand. And also I had to make sure I didn't duplicate everything that was in the show that I had at the library that was up from August until October, although I figured it was a different audience. So there's some paintings that were in both shows and some that were not. I also, this summer when I was thinking about this upcoming show, I got a couple paintings from Woodstock from my mother's house, and shipped them down here. Because I wanted to have some of the really early stuff like the '67 landscape from Cape Cod. And the still life with the sewing machine and the eggs, which is one of the earliest serious still lifes that I did in the early seventies, when I turned away from painting from memory and started painting from life again. I did figurative . . . You saw the powerpoint I gave, didn't you?

No I missed that. I was out of town.

Okay. I can show you some slides from that. I was doing these invented, expressionistic figures and landscape. Then I saw the joys of painting a figure from life again. I began this series of full length portraits. And then I discovered there were these still lifes that were appearing around the figures. And I thought, you know, I can do those and arrange them however I want. I don't have to worry about a model. And so I started doing still lifes. And that's where it all got going. But it grew out of a desire to figure out a way in the late sixties to paint at the end of the whole modernist thing. I'm digressing here, I figured at that time, as Hans Breder, my teacher in Iowa said, "Painting is dead. It died when Ives Klein painted a canvas blue." This was in '67. I was taking a drawing class in graduate school. And I thought if painting is dead, hey it's a new ballgame. And so I started doing things that were based on the early clumsy Cezanne figures and landscapes. I figured Cezanne is the genius of early modernism. You can't work from the end of Cezanne. If you're going to work from Cezanne you've got to go back to the beginning. So I did this expressionistic drawing. And I remember running into Guston. I didn't know what he was doing at the time. He was getting into his figurative phase in the late sixties. And I thought, hm, that's interesting. He's doing people killing each other, and I'm doing sort of the same thing. But it was different painting entirely. So I wanted to basically tell a narrative that students could make some sense of, from where I started, the very early work I shipped down from Woodstock. Stuff I did when I was a kid.  The earliest piece I did when I was five years old. So I hung that and then I put the photo right next to it. Because I wanted to make it clear that you don't lose that response to color. I don't remember doing that particular pastel at five. But the one with the India ink lines on it, I vividly remember doing. I must have been six or seven. I remember responding to the black and yellow together thinking wow, this is really cool. And of course years later, I'm painting lemons on black backgrounds. So it's all the same thing, but it becomes harder to paint freely when you know more.  When you're a kid, you don't have to worry about dealing with form, and space, and perspective and all that stuff. You can just design on the picture plane. I was lucky that I had my father who was a wonderful artist and a very good teacher. And he basically encouraged me to make what he called designs. This was 1946-47. The whole abstract movement in America was just getting started. He was coming out of the mural projects for the government, which ended during World War II. And he had done a number of commissions. So he was working with easel painting, but I think drifting towards a more abstract approach. So he encouraged me and really liked what I was doing. So I had this early career as an abstract painter, which I was never able to live up to. When you start trying to paint abstractly, when you don't know enough but you know too much you start trying to paint like somebody else. When you're a kid you just do whatever. As Picasso said, he started off drawing like an old master and then he had to learn to draw like a child. But I just did the usual thing, started off doing kid's stuff. And by the time I was nine I figured I have to learn to draw a horse from memory. I couldn't do that so I quit. Most kids do that. So I wanted to tell a story, but I had to also pick it out of the pictures I had available. A lot of the work I've done over the past thirty years is no longer here. It's sold. So I was trying to piece together a narrative.

There's a reclining nude that's in the retrospective. Is that one of the pieces from when you weren't painting from life?

No, that's painting from life. I was very lucky. I was living in Vermont and designing the state magazine for seven years. I moved up there from Virginia. And trying to raise two kids. I wasn't doing a lot of painting, but I showed a couple of landscapes in a local juried show up there. And I got a note from somebody saying that we have this group, we meet every Friday to draw the model. And so I said aha I need to do this. So for three years, three hours every Friday afternoon, we had forty-five minutes of gesture drawing. An hour of ten-fifteen minute poses. And then an hour of an hour pose. And it was great. To get back into drawing from life. This would have been '76, so it was almost nine years since I left grad school. I had not had the chance to draw the model regularly for those nine years. So I did tons and tons of drawings. And then I started doing these studies on canvas, and that's one of them. But that's painted really fast, because you have an hour to get the pose down. I did a series of those. They really got me on board. Because painting the figure and drawing the figure, it's like playing music. It's like playing scales. It's basic. So I did that until I came down here. I showed a bunch of drawings in a show when I first started teaching here. Joe Struthers gave me a show, so I matted up a bunch of drawings and I had some of these figure paintings as well as some still lifes. Basically when I taught that figure painting class in the spring, I was drawing on that experience. That got me back into the figure. But they're all studies. I tried working on a figure away from the model, and it got too stylized. It ended up looking like a stiff Bronzini. I prefer painting the model from life. Painting it from memory, I don't want to go there again. Although I can do it better from memory than I used to.

Your work sort of has this focus of looking back at the old masters. Vermeer, Chardin.


If you move past that read of this reflection on art history, what further meanings are there in your work?

Yeah, it's not a pastiche of the old stuff. These are paintings that are done in the aftermath of the big modernist push. And so, they really have to be about self expression. They have to be about finding something fresh and new. They have to be about design. So you can't turn the clock back. There are artists like Jacob Collins in New York who claims that the entire past 150 years have been a mistake. That starting with Cezanne it all started going downhill. And that Bouguereau and the academic painters in the nineteenth century represent the highest evolution of art and we need to return to those. I think that's bologna. You can't turn the clock back. Some of my very favorite artists of the twentieth century are more abstract. I love Paul Klee. I love Matisse. I love Picasso. I love Braque. There's a whole slew of painters that I admire and really respond to. Of the American painters, Guston and DeKooning are artists that I particularly admire. Not so much Pollock, although he's terrific. I never cared much for Motherwell. Klein I like. I started going to art school at the end of that whole abstract expressionist movement. And of course what really confused everybody was the advent of pop art. Which, if you were to get with the whole idea of action painting or abstract expressionism, to have something that is basically manufactured, with silk screens and comic books. It just threw everybody for a loop. And that's about the time people at most of the universities basically stopped teaching. They just let you go. Pinkston and I basically learned to draw on our own. Because nobody was explaining anything. Because it wasn't necessary anymore. Basically I like the dialogue between the abstraction and the representational object. Because the representational object has meaning to the viewer, and the meaning to the viewer may have to do with totally different ideas than it does to me. But that's okay, because as a friend of mine that's a poet says, once you set it out there and send it forth, somebody's going to read it and see something entirely different. And that's fine. That's part of it. You may not have put it there, but all of those readings are part of what the poem's about. I like the fact that what I'm trying to do is make works that people can come back to, and look at again and again and find new things in. One of the things I've been very pleased with in the work that I've sold over the last thirty years is that a lot of the owners of my work, and of course they don't sell for a ton of money, a lot of the owners of my work have come back for a second and a third and a fourth painting. Because they like the experience of living with it. I had a sort of quasi-epiphany at the Dallas museum one time. I went over there, and the middle there's this sort of knave it's like a cathedral. And there's an Oldenburg. I love Oldenburg by the way. But you know, it's this rope that's holding up this great big circus tent, and it's sticking out of the wall. And then there's a giant Motherwell Spanish republic painting. Number whatever. Once you've seen one of them, you've pretty much seen them all. So there were these giant abstract paintings that could only be seen in a museum, because you can't live with them. And basically you see that and say yeah, that's a Motherwell. And what are you going to get out of looking at the 150th iteration of that big black and white painting. Well you can read the caption and yeah, it talks about Motherwell. People in a museum spend more time reading the caption than they do looking at the painting. Then I went upstairs, and there was a Daumier genre painting about this big, mid nineteenth century. And it was a group of men in a print sellers office. Chiaroscuro. And they were these guys. It was a portfolio with prints in it. And it was the most beautiful little picture. I thought, I could look at that thing everyday in the morning and get sustenance from it. Human experience painted beautifully, it spoke to me. I thought, okay I want to paint still lifes like that. I want to paint still lifes that you're going to look at more than you read the caption.

I've heard your work described as a sort of reaction to the de-emphasis of rudiments and basic drawing and painting skills, and also as you talk about now, this restriction of how much content you get to put into a work in the modernist, and maybe you wouldn't describe it that way, but . . . 

Yeah, you know Guston famously said, "I got sick of all that purity. I wanted to tell stories.

What do you think is the state of affairs today in terms of emphasis on craft and mastery?

I think it's an interesting situation. A lot of different kinds of art are acceptable and are respected. We don't have that single narrative anymore. Of course, the art world is still ruled by big money, and so there is a bizarre situation where stuff can be a hundred thousand dollars or stuff can be. This guy with the silver paintings, twenty-seven years old, just got his MFA a couple years ago. And he sold out a show at six to nine thousand dollars a pop. They're reflective silver emulsion paintings with discoloration on them. And they became so popular that someone bought one for ninety thousand dollars, because they couldn't wait for him to paint another one. And then another was put up at auction and sold for 375 thousand dollars. Now, for a twenty-seven year old that's got one thing going for him, to make that kind of money. I don't see how he's going to have a career. And he's a bright guy. He knows what he's doing. And his work is quite lovely. But if he does anything else, are people going to like it? Are they going to pay big money for it? So there is that element of money in the art world that always distorts things. Leon Golub, the social commentary painter said, 'If the art world wants a million dollar painting, it will create it.' In other words, artists do whatever they want. But the market, it's not simply a reward for good and original work. It likes to believe it's sorting things out. But it throws out a lot of good stuff, and keeps a lot of junk. And they're constantly revising the canon, but it doesn't always work out the way it should. There are thousands of artists who were very good at one point who have not been heard of in fifty years.

Can you tell me about the Woodstock community? Of course we all know about the music festival in '69. But tell me a little more in depth about what it was about and how it influenced you.

Yeah, I grew up in a town where everybody that my parents knew was an artist or a writer.

One aspect of your art that we've left out for the most part is your photography, which is interesting because it seems experimental in ways that your painting isn't.

Sure. It's how I can rediscover the joy of discovery that I felt when I was a kid making those abstractions. Because an abstract photograph is still based on reality. It's not an abstract painting. But you can reference abstract painting. I've always loved photography, and I've done it off and on. Basically the only photography I did when I came here in the '80s, besides taking pictures of my kids, and taking pictures of paintings, was Susan and I would document things. I like documentary photography a lot. As the art director of a state magazine, I became very interested in photojournalism. But when I got my first digital camera in the 2000s, I bought it to document my mother's estate. And I thought, I'm going to go out and take some pictures to illustrate some color theory. So I just started shooting color relationships. And I thought, oh that wall looks like the shutters in a Vermeer painting. And this looks like a Diebenkorn painting. And so I shot that. And I was driving home from school and the light was perfect on that and made a perfect half circle. And on a whim, after putting paintings in the Peach Festival show, I framed up a couple of these photos and put them in there. And this thing won first place, and that was bought. And I thought, damn! And then I had to hunt down the people who bought the paintings and go 'that print is not archival, here.' And switch.

Can you tell me about what motivated you to begin your academic career in art history, and then what motivated the shift to art making?

Well it was being in Europe and taking photographs, among other things. But I went into art history because I had majored in fine arts at Ameryst. And, you know, there's no money in art. You either have to teach, or whatever, but you're not selling paintings. Plus I didn't feel like I was good enough at that point. Because if you go into the family business, your parents are adult artists by the time you're a kid. How do you learn this stuff? As it turns out, everybody that I knew in Woodstock whose parents were artists, they all went into the art business. Everybody did. Writers' kids became writers. Artists' kids became artists. And I talked to my advisor at Ameryst, and said go into art history. Don't try to become a painter. He was bitter anyway, because he was a figurative painter, and this was in the fifties and everything was abstract. He was a painter, but he had a Ph.D. in art history so he was the art historian. So I took off, and I graduated. And I spent a year working in New York just to get my feet off the ground, get a little bit older. And I ended up working in a camera store with a friend of mine. And started taking photographs. My father had died when I was fourteen, so he wasn't around to show me anything. But I set up a darkroom. And got out his enlarger and started teaching myself to make prints. And my kid brother who died at twenty-one, he wanted to make films. And so we would go out, he with his movie camera, and me with my 35mm camera, and clamber around the Hudson river in 1962-63. So when I was going to graduate school in art history, which was what I did after I did that stent in the camera store, I was making photographs. I'd been going to the art students' league in the summer and drawing. So I was still tossing back and forth. But going to Europe in '64, I decided I wanted to keep making art. I really would have liked to stay and Europe and make photographs. I wasn't that good a photographer at that point. I didn't have the experience. And I would have been drafted possibly and sent to Vietnam. So I came back and went to grad school. The other thing that took me into that was the fact that my brother was killed in an auto accident at twenty-one. He was the one who was determined to make a film and do all this stuff. And I was the responsible one who was just going to get a job or whatever. And I think I said, you know, I'm going to do what I want to do. So I went out to Iowa, when I got back from Europe, and I enrolled in painting class, and had to start climbing the hill from way down. Because I didn't have nearly as much experience as most of my fellow students. Because I had only been drawing in the summers. And there was very little painting and drawing at Ameryst. It was mostly art history. And these kids out of big ten schools, some of them had come out of programs where they had been making prints and they were really good. Some were not so good. It was an interesting three years. I think it makes sense looking back, but at the time it felt like a strange move. And I remember lying awake one night and saying what am I doing? I'm wasting my time. Staying up until five in the morning feeling depressed and guilty. I got married and spent two years in New York working at a variety of jobs, including a custom photo finishing lab. So I absorbed a lot of New York at that point, went to shows and was aware of what was going on. And when I taught in Virginia at Sullens College, that got me in with colleagues and stuff like that, and my vision started to evolve. But I put it on hold more or less when I was in Vermont because when you have one and three year old kids running around, and you're trying to juggle two careers and do freelance stuff, you don't have a lot of time to make art. So coming to Louisiana Tech was the key. It got me the show in New York because I got the work done. It got me a chance to basically get a second MFA, come down here and hang around Ed Pinkston. Learn how to teach, learn that you can actually teach people how to draw. It doesn't just happen. That was a revelation. So I figured, hell, I can teach people how to paint. So it's been a very gratifying experience. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. And when you get into a classroom and start teaching, you also teach yourself. You learn. So that was for a long time it was just a really nice balance. But it was my brother's death and the photographs in Europe in '64 that tipped me into the creative end.

I think that's all the questions I have. It's difficult to cover everything.

It's good, I enjoyed it.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.  In addition funding for the Holiday Arts Tour is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council and administered by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Ashley Feagin, artist and grad student at Louisiana Tech. Ashley's latest piece is Devour: Daily Consumption and Restoration. You can find Ashley's work and statement at ashleyfeagin.com and learn more about the Devour project on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/add_email.php#!/event.php?eid=214503108615136 [wpvideo F73wC92u]

Let's do this, Russell.

Okay, let's do it.

Start by telling me about the project that we're at right now.

Okay. Devour, the Consumption and Restoration Project, the concept behind it is for everybody to connect on a pscyhological level. The fact that we all struggle with issues with our body, no matter what we look like. And then also that those things resonate in our mind, and they constantly come up. It's stuff that we deal with, but also a topic that you really don't talk about that often. So basically what I wanted to do was make this generic format where people could voice what they're struggling with internally. So for a month I'm eating lunch at this table everyday. And then also I've carved into the table, and I'm asking participants to carve into the table, the negative thoughts that they've had about their body or their image. Either stuff that they feel or they've been told about themselves. Whether they still struggle with it or not. And then every week, like on Tuesday, I go and I sand the table down. I try to get rid of those negative phrases. Hoping to lessen the impact. Because this is something I struggled with. I grew up never as the skinny person. I always was the chunkier girl. And so I was picked on a lot. But it wasn't until college that I started to really become confident in who I was, and not necessarily listen to other people. My image doesn't define who I am. Well, my weight doesn't define who I am. What I intend for this project to do is for people to connect that everybody struggles. And that you can be an amazing, awesome person, no matter what shape or size you are. And that confidence comes not from your outside exterior, but from inside of you.

Could you talk a little bit more about the significance of sanding down the marks?

The sanding down is hoping to reduce what people have actually written on the table. And it talks about, for me, those moments when you gain confidence with yourself, and you become comfortable with who you are. But yet you still have those things resonating inside of you. Because even if I am comfortable with who I am, I still have some doubts that linger on, from things that people have said about me, and that I've thought about myself. WHen I sand down the table, depending on how deep people have actually carved into the bare wood. There's one particularly that says, "I'm scared that I'll never find true love because of my weight." And it was carved in the table really deep. And that was something that, though I didn't write that, I also resonate with that statement. So it's one of the ones that I tried really hard to get off but I couldn't. And now somebody's come back and put ink into the carving, so obviously that's something that's a phrase that a lot of people have identified with.

What have people carved with generally?

Oh goodness. Everything. Keys. Paperclips. Nail Filer. Somebody brought out a knife and really got into it. A nail. Just any sharp object they have.

One interesting thing to me about the project is, these are very personal things that people might not want to share. Why do you think they do share them?

I think because they see that other people are doing it. And they find that connection to another person. Even though the other person is not physically there, the emotion of the other person is left in the table. And so they can connect with that and feel also connected with it. Most people do not carve at the lunch time. They carve outside of the lunch time.

How do you think the act of eating lunch with these people affects the meaning of the piece?

It's been really interesting because when I do eat lunch with people, we get into conversations about people's body. Like, I had lunch with a couple of girls who I consider to be really fit and, quote-unquote, what you should look like as a female, but they still had issues with their body that they struggled with. And I think the fact that the table has two chairs, instead of four or five, also emphasizes that idea of conversation. Like I'm making this a conversation even though people aren't there all the time. This table exists as a conversation. But back to the lunch times, it's really brought people together to discuss these issues. It's been fascinating to see what people are willing to share.

Do you think there's a connection between food and being self-conscious about eating, and then the body image aspect of the project?

I think there is on some level. For instance, another part of the project is I'm documenting what I eat everyday for thirty days. And I'm going to make a calendar, showing what I ate. And it's shown me personally that I'm so busy that I eat fast food a whole lot. So I think there is that connection, but I didn't want it to go into the health route. I wanted to delve into the psychological aspect of it.

Something I was thinking about this morning while I was considering this project, you know the obesity rate in America, and how other countries are becoming fatter as well, and it seems as if this is an issue that needs some kind of resolution. It makes me wonder if maybe ten or fifteen years from now, being overweight won't mean the same thing it does today. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it fluctuates. Because if you look back in early paintings of females, what was considering beautiful was a very curvacious and volumptuous body. Because those people who did have money were able to eat, and those people who didn't have money were skinny. And so our idea of beauty has switched, and I'm curious to see if it will ever switch back. I think that more people are taking the initiative to say this is who I am. Personally, even if I was to work out all the time, I know that I would never be a size one or two or three. It's just not going to happen. And I think that's where this conversation is. No matter where you are, you have to accept how beautiful you are, and how you look. And be confident in who you are. I think it's so important for people to have a mental health before they have a physical health.

What has the experience of doing this project been for you so far? What have you gotten out of it? What has been hard about it?

The thing that I have gotten out of it is the connection with other people, having other people carve something into the table and being like 'oh I was going to carve something like that into the table today!' And also like I said previously, I do eat a lot of fast food. Haha. And I know I'm not getting enough vegetables. And I do love vegetables. But I take them off of my burger. Haha.

What is the point of a daily project? Why is that somehow more meaningful than just doing something just whenever you have time or every few days or something like that?

For me the reason that I was doing it every single day is I wanted to emphasize the daily struggle that people have with these thoughts in their heads. And I also wanted to make myself accessible to people on a daily basis, and I wanted to be able to check and see what's been written on the table. I think that me just checking up on it once a week and having a big meal lessens the impact. I feel like I'm more fully committed to it when I do it everyday as opposed to once a week or something like that.

You were talking earlier about this project, I don't remember your exact wording, but helping people to have a dialogue or a conversation about stuff. I was thinking about this shift from art as this introspective, personal expression type activity, to more about exploring communication. Like, even graphic design is now communication design, and things like that. What are you thoughts about that?

I think there is a push when it comes to site specific art or performance art. One of my personal heroes/art crushes is Marina Ambramovic. And I guess that's why being here daily has been so important to me. Her recent piece The Artist is Present that she did at the MOMA. I forgot exactly how many days it was. I know it was a good couple weeks. She sat in a chair, and she allowed participants to sit across from her. And all they did was stare at each other. And it became a very emotional connection. Because sometimes as artists, all we do is put a piece up on the wall, and we're removed and we allow people to respond to it. But by being there daily, you get to see what your piece is doing. You get to see the interaction and the feedback from people. And I think that's one of the things that also inspired me to be here daily. Is being actually present in the piece and not removed from it. But I think there is a push . . . Also another artist who responded to Marina Ambramovic. I'm going to mess up her name. She's an Asian artist. She did The Artist is Almost Present, where she set up a twitter feed, and she tweeted between the participant that sat down in front of her. And so they communicated via 140 characters. But she was still able to connect to people on a different level. Because ultimately that's what art is about. We want something that's so personal to us to be put into a piece to become a universal conversation. But we are removed from it because we put it up on a wall and then we stand back. So I think artists are wanting a little bit more.

In this piece, there's no mastery or skillset involved. And I think for people outside the art community those pieces are the most suspect or the most open to derision. What makes this piece valid in the same way that a piece that shows mastery would be.

I see the validity in the fact that there have been some elaborate carvings into the piece, if you want to talk about skillset or mastery. That other people are allowed to carve into the table so you get to see their hand and their impression. I also think that the skill mastery conversation is starting to become, and I don't want to say this in a mean way, but it's almost old and dated. Because art has moved past just painting and drawing. And I'll even clump photography into that. There's a lot of media that have no classification now that are still considered art.

In your last two projects, this one and the large piece in the hallway . . . What's it called again?

Shift and Ache.

In both those pieces, you've moved  away from photography. Can you tell me the reason behind that move?

I experimented a lot with installation art in undergrad, and also the beginning of my graduate. For the first six months I didn't take  a photograph. I did installation and mixed media stuff. I believe that I should make a piece in the best way it can be communicated. And so if it doesn't need a photograph, it doesn't need a photograph. And I'm okay with that. I consider myself an artist and not just a photographer, if that makes sense.

Could you tell me about the progression from the other work I'm familiar with of yours, the white photographs, to this work?

This work, I wanted to continue with that installation stuff. I took a class with Nick Bustamante last quarter, and it's been in my directed study with him. And I feel like this work is a lot more personal. The Shift and Ache deals with a specific situation in my life, and this one also. I'm addressing specific issues in my life, and turning those into art pieces. As opposed to having an idea or concept or theme. This is me internalizing what I've dealt with and putting it out there.

Do you see any themes that have been present in the earlier work and the work that you're doing now?

Are you talking about my photo work?


Other people see connections, but I haven't seen the connection just yet. I think that's because my photo thesis work is just at a breaking point now. Maybe later I might. But right now I see them as two separate beings.

Two things that I see, one is the use of the color white, even in the installation piece that's in there. Can you tell me about the significance of that?

Always for me when I use white it's to symbolize purity and cleanliness and unobstructiveness. Just the purest state possible. In the piece in the hallway, I wanted as much of a violent reaction to the dye moving up the fabric as I could. And so, white being completely engrossed in this red dye was the most violent that I could think of.

The other theme that I see throughout is food. In some of your photography and also your personal life as a person. What do you see as the meaning or symbolism of food in your work?

I'm a southern girl, and I came from a really southern family, and a southern mother who loves to cook food. And the table was always this place of family and encouragement, and there was this comfort there. And so food has always had those ideas attached to it. So when I use baking a pie or cleaning up a mess of food in my photographs, that's what I'm connecting to. It's this source of I'm inviting you into this comforting space with me by sharing a meal with you.

How has your family history influenced your work.

A lot. Haha. And that's something right now that I'm dealing with with my photographs. And so when I come to a conclusion about that I'll share it with you, but right now I'm still wrestling with it. Because I grew up with a very southern religious family, and it has impacted my work a lot. I'm sorry, that's a really personal question right now. Haha.

Another really obvious influence is religion. And I'm interested in, one of course how it influences the work and what part it plays. But also I was thinking about, with most of your projects there's a sort of problem or tension that's very personal that's being resolved through the work or explored. Do you see your experience with religion as being approached in a similar way with the works?

Yes, I do. And I believe that religion and the topic of my upbringing, my heritage, is very much a propellant for most of my work. But again, it's one of those things that I'm just starting to realize is making so much of an impact on my work. I was subconsciously doing it, and now it was brought to my attention. It was one of those moments like oh okay, that's really what my work's about. And I'm sorry Russell, I can't give you a better answer than that. Just the fact that I'm seeing those things, and it's really personal. So once I resolve them, I'll be able to.

One interesting aspect about these two pieces, your most recent pieces, they require the context of some sort of work statement to go along with them. What's your feelings about that situation . . .

Project statements? Do I feel like their necessary? I feel like in some situations, yes. Particularly, with this Devour piece. Because I'm wanting people to actually do something, I feel it's absolutely necessary for there to be one. I feel like with photo work, the work should exist on its own, and the project statement or artist statement should just give an extra sparkle to the piece. And with the piece in the hall, a lot of people got that tension that I was trying to imply without even reading the artist statement. With installation work, I'm fifty-fifty. With some pieces I need that artist statement, especially with others' work, to help pull me in. But with other pieces, I can get it without being overwhelmed, without the statement. It really depends on the piece.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Marina Ambramovic is a big influence right now. Erin V. Sotak. She's a photographer, but she's also an installation and performance artist. She has influenced my photographic works. Of course, I still like the greats like Sally Mann and Diane Arbus. Richard Avedon. I think he was a brilliant man. Jeanine Anthony is another one. Anne Hamilton. She's another good one. Sarah Hobbs. I have a huge list of photographers that I could just rattle off that have been really influential in my own work. But I connect with people that I can tell their person is in them, they're bringing their lives into their photographs.

How has being an artist affected your life as a whole.

Art is therapy. Even if you don't realize it, art is therapy. Because every piece that you put out there is a part of who you are in some form or fashion. So it's a little narcissistic. For me as an artist, it has helped me give a voice, and have a voice. If I wasn't making art, I don't know what I would do. On any level, performance, art, if I was acting, I was playing piano, whatever it is. Those avenues for me, are spiritual.

And, what about the other side? What effect does it have on the viewer? Do you see it as similar or the same or something entirely different?

I think it is an enlightening process to go view art, honestly.

Do you think it's therapeutic as well?

I do. But it's also dependent on how much a viewer is willing to think. If a viewer gives up on a piece of art because they don't understand it, then they're missing out on something that the artist is wanting to say.

You're teaching now. What has that experience been like?

Great. I went into grad school not knowing if I really wanted to teach. I thought about teaching, and it wasn't until that first quarter. Joey Slaughter was the professor I was TAing with. And he gave me a photoshop assignment in a basic design class. And I gave it, and once the students started connecting and making that connection, and I saw their progress. Well, you were in that class! I remember just one day being like 'holy crap I love teaching!' I don't know, I feel like you should always give back, in life in general, and you should help other people out. And if I can give something to other people, like knowledge and art or whatever, then I want to do it. It's this collaboration between teacher and student that is really exciting. Because I learn just as much from the students as hopefully they're learning from me.

What have you found that works, as a teacher?

Games. I know that sounds really weird, but for the first four weeks of class, I start every class with some icebreaker or stupid game. Because you need your class to have some type of camaraderie. We'll get into class and we'll become comfortable with who we sit by, etc. And so when it comes to critique, you don't have that where people aren't comfortable enough to really give feedback. Now on the flipside, it can become where people are so comfortable with each other that they don't want to offend each other. So it's learning that balance of getting the class to become comfortable with themselves. They get real excited. At the beginning of this quarter I had one student tell me, it's like summer camp coming into your class. But I can definitely see that in their critiques, that they're comfortable with each other and they can say 'ok, this is working and this is not working.'

I think that's all the questions I have. Is there anything that you'd like to add?

If you want to come carve on the table and come eat, come eat! And if you can't make it you should come to my thesis show in March!

Thanks for speaking with me, Ashley.

Not a problem.

LA Tech Theatre Honor Society to Present Play @ Black Box

Louisiana Tech University

Alpha Psi Omega is Louisiana Tech's Theater Academic Fraternity. They believe that as an organization our mission is to serve the community through enrichment of the cultural scene of our campus and community. One way that we are trying to do this is through performing casual staged readings of original plays written by budding playwrights.

Tuesday, November 1 at 7pm  Alpha Psi Omega is presenting an original play by Owain Johnston called "Intermortem," where a newly deceased man realizes that heaven has a budget and they have discovered reincarnation to be the most economic choice for the afterlife. Could your karma points land you as a mongoose?

Come pick up some coffee at the Black Box (207 N. Trenton St)  from the delightful baristas and celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Alpha Psi Omega!

Homegrown: 2011 Holiday Arts Tour

Homegrown will be a weekly post highlighting our Holiday Arts Tour artists.  NCLAC would like to celebrate the artists living in our own backyard whether they were raised here, relocated, or just like to visit enough to call Ruston home.   This years Holiday Arts Tour will be November 18, 19, & 20th.  Watch here for more information and tour locations. This weeks post is about Adrian Dean Gipson a Louisiana Native who is currently calling Ruston home while attending Louisiana Tech University.


Adrian Dean Gipson was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana and raised in Monroe, Louisiana.  He showed an interest and talent for art at an early age. Always encouraged by teachers, family and peers to pursue a career in art, he completed his Bachelors of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in communication design at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in May of 2007. Adrian is currently a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at Louisiana Tech University, with an expected graduation date of May 2012. His art uses a combination of organic and geometric abstract shapes to depict narratives concerning the processes of non-linear thinking and human creation.


My work deals with the concept of growth, progression and adaptation and how they occur along the path of life and invention. The birthplace of many ideas and solutions is reverie. These moments of reverie, which often take place during familiar and repetitive tasks, allow our brains to create ideas and solve problems. It starts at reverie, then moves into the idea or solution, and then finally the production. What once existed mentally migrates into the physical world and can be experienced by others. Along this path an idea may encounter unpredictable problems that must be adapted to. This adaptation and development occurs both in invention and life.

The finished piece starts as a group of loose sketches that is narrowed down through elimination. After choosing the strongest composition, I move onto my surface and medium of choice. Once there, I allow the composition to grow and change as needed. I use limited color palettes because the restricted choices make for stronger color composing. The geometric shapes reference the synthetic, while the organic shapes reference the living and natural. I use vibrant colors to represent movement and growth, and dark colors to represent the dormant. The repetition is used to guide the viewer along a path of progression. I want the viewer to see a clear sequence, and along with the man-made and natural references distinguish their own narrative.


NCLAC:  Who is your favorite artist and why?

GIPSON:  Vincent Van Gogh, because of the expession in his lines.

NCLAC:  How does doing art make you feel?

GIPSON: Focused and at ease.

NCLAC:  What gem of advice would you like to share that someone shared with you?

GIPSON:  If you are going to do something do it right, or not at all. 


NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.  In addition funding for the Holiday Arts Tour is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council and administered by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Kenneth Robbins, Director of the School of Performing Arts talks to me about the Tech Theatre department's production of Our Town, opening this Wednesday, October 26th, at 7:30 PM. Our Town will run two weeks, Wednesday through Saturday. For tickets, call 257-3942 or visit the Howard Auditorium lobby between 1:30 and 4:30 Monday through Friday. This interview has been edited for length.

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 Our Town starts next week; can you give me the show times?

 Yes, it starts on Wednesday night, the 26th of October, and plays that week the rest of the week through Saturday the 29th. 7:30 PM curtain. And then the next week Wednesday through Saturday, November 2nd through 5th.

 And when and where can people get tickets?

 The box office is open Monday through Friday from 1:30 to 4:45. And that's located in the Howard Center for Performing Arts in the lobby. The telephone number is 318-257-3942.

 How much are the tickets?

 Adults, $10. Students with ID is $5. Non-Tech students and senior citizens, $6.

 And they're on sale now, correct?


 Who chose Our Town as the play, and why?

 The faculty chose it last year when we had our discussions regarding our forthcoming season. And I'm glad we did, because it fits in really quite well with contemporary times, matters, and issues.

 In what way?

 In 2001, a very famous theatrical company in Connecticut called the Westport Country Playhouse was looking for something that would address the audience's needs in regards to reacting to 9/11. Which had just happened. And they decided to open their 2001 season with Our Town, because it is the quintessential American play. It revitalizes the whole concept of who we are as Americans. And I find that to be rather effective today, because we're, what, ten years out now. Ten years ago, 9/11 happened. So I think it's time again for us to revisit this wonderful play, all about being proud of being Americans.

 Do you see similarities between the archetypal town in Our Town and Ruston?

 Absolutely. Our Town is Grovers Corners, New Hampshire, but it can be any town anywhere in the world. In fact, this particular play was produced quite commonly in other countries. So I think the universality of the subject matter is very, very effective. Yeah, Our Town is Ruston, Louisiana.

 How's the context over time between when Our Town was written and now changed the meaning of it and how it's received.

 That's an interesting question, because I really can't address that universally. I can just look at it from my personal point of view. I know that revisiting this wonderful play, I first was introduced to it when I was a junior in high school. And I think that still is something of the case throughout the country. You too?


 I fell in love with it. Not just because of the subject matter, but also for the way Mr. Wilder managed the theatric space. It's a minimalistic approach. And there's no such thing as plot time necessarily. It's the universal time. I think Thomas Wolfe is the one that said “time is nothing more than the coming and going of light.” And in many ways Wilder has accepted that idea. And so we bounce around in time throughout the whole play. It does progress. First act is 1901. Second act is 1904. And third act is 1913. But still, it could just as easily be 2001, 2004, 2013, for that matter.

 It's been a long time since I read the play. I read it in high school or junior high. I know life and death, and life after death is a big theme in the work. How do you think that will relate to the culture in Ruston, the church culture, and also the international and multi-religious culture?

 Even though this play deals very clearly with a religious context, it's not specific. The whole concept seems to be we're all on this planet, and we're all striving to make the best of it as we can. And it doesn't really matter what church you go to, because the universality, the human nature of the play is going to address the concerns and the issues. There are references of course to the congregational church. That's where the marriage takes place in the second act. But all of that is peripheral. It's not a real wedding ceremony. It's a rite of passage. The first act is called Daily Life. Second act Love and Marriage. Third act is Death. Even the stage manager says, some of the things that the dead people say may hurt your feelings. That's just part of it. And that's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It simply is. One of the things that Mr. Wilder stresses in his play is the nature of numbers. Over and over, the words millions and billions and thousands and hundreds are used quite readily in the play. The final act, even though we're listening to dead people speak, they're talking about the nature of the universe. And there's nothing more humanistic than that, to be contemplating the fact that we are looking at a star, and it takes millions of years for that light to get from that star to earth. It's quite extraordinary when you look at it released from the constraints of a particular religious idea. And look at it from a human idea.

 What relevance do you see this place as having for young people and for college students?

 Oh, it's extraordinarily relevant. The rite of passage is very clearly defined. One of the wonderful things for me is, as I watch this play, I can remember how it was when I was young. How I felt whenever I felt as if the world was against me or for me or whatever. Because this play captures those essences. It allows us in our memories to return to a nostalgic era. And recognize ourselves in the actions of these young people that we see. Much of the traditions of the so-called American dream are either created by this play or being validated by this play. The American dream of a white picket fence around a home, that's there. The American dream of the girl or the boy next door as being the love of your life, that's there. All of these things are endemic to this particular play. And it's exciting to see the young people, the audience, the cast members, buying into this notion so willingly and so effectively.

 Do you think these traditional elements we're talking about with the American dream, do you think they're realistic, do you think they're unrealistic? How do you see them as coming into play with real life?

 Mr. Wilder's quite clear in his statements about realism. One of the things he was doing in 1937-38 when he wrote this play was responding to the so-called realism that had been taking over the American theatre. Realism to the point that you needed three walls in order to create the image of an American home. He does away with that. He's very clear in his statements of recognizing traditions and conventions as they're being applied and utilized on the stage. And saying, it is nothing more than a convention. We don't really need it necessarily. So he all but discards all of the traditions of realistic theatre. And in their place, he has a bare stage. It's what he calls a platform and a passion. That's all you need. I think there's something else you need, that's an audience. But he says all you need is a platform and someone with a passion on it. And this will result in some very compelling stuff. And in fact, our stage is fair. There are only a few pieces of furniture and that's it. The actors move freely in and around and through the space. And they define the space by how they use it. So realism as you refer to is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to Wilder's plays. It is a constraint. It's convention that has been implied and is no longer necessary. And that's one thing I find exciting about this play. He says look at your conventions. Determine which ones you need to keep, for whatever reason. And if you don't need them, discard them. Use something else. Create a new convention. And I think he did that, in 1938, can you believe that? A convention that we still find revelatory in contemporary 2011.

 I think that's interesting when you take it in the context of the economic culture of today and the bareness of resources.

 That is an interesting observation because the economics of 1938 are being played out today. We were just in 1938 coming out of the Great Depression. And today in 2011 it feels as if we're just now beginning a new depressive era. I hope not. But still, there seems to be this incredible feeling for the nurturing presence of a nuclear family. And that's something that this play is all about, is the nuclear family working side by side for a common goal, for the betterment of the entire community. I would love for this community, for Ruston, to come and experience this play. Because it's about them. It's about us. It's about all of us. We don't get to do that very often, you know what I mean? Oftentimes it feels as if we're not connecting. But in this instance, I feel as if Our Town does connect, and that it is important for us to reach out for the community.

 On that note, can you give me your ideas about what purpose the theatre serves in a community?

 Haha. Well for one thing, it's live. The actors are breathing the same air as the audience. And there's something unique about that. You can go to a movie, and there's some distance there. It's a medium cooled. But when we get into the theatrical space and realize that the person that just introduced me to the theatre, the usher, is also an actor. And the reality is, some members who just came in, they're not actors, but they're being asked to be a participant in this play. Russell, you could be asked to be a cast member, if you want. It's your choice. The playing space for the audience is the playing space for the actor. So the actors come and go through the audience. They intermingle. We're not taking the house lights out for the first two acts. We do for the third act, Death and Dying. But I think that the audience is going to be quite intrigued by this. I hope so. That's our goal, is to intrigue an audience enough to want to come and see it.

 Have you deviated in any way from the original script?

 Oh no. We've kept the script as written. There've been a couple of places here and there where we've cut a line. But nothing significant. There's a moment in the play written where the stage manager says here's some scenery for those of you who insist on having scenery. Well I've decided we don't need that. We're not having any scenery at all. So we cut the line.

 Sorry what was the playwright's name again?

 Thornton Wilder. He's one of the very few writers that America produced that actually won Pullitzer prizes for both drama and fiction. His novel the Bridge of San Luis Rey. And then he won the Pullitzer again for his drama called Our Town. And then again for his other drama called The Skin of Our Teeth. So he's a three time recipient of the highest literary award our country has to offer.

 Can you talk a little bit about a few of the actors in maybe some of the lead roles?

 I've been very blessed by having such a dedicated young group of actors to deal with. They have really devoted themselves to this project without any reservations, at least that I have been aware of. And I hope that I don't become aware of any. Haha. And the young people are just so talented here. That's something I've been impressed by. Not only are they talented, but they're well trained. They're well prepared. They know how to handle a bare stage, which is not easy. Most of our actors today are props actors. They have to have a prop in their hand in order for them to behave properly. But in this instance, there are no props. They have to mime everything. And the only tradition that we are keeping is lighting. And that's because an audience requires the opportunity to see the face of the actor. Therefore we have traditional stage lighting. But other than that, I think we're breaking free. I hope Mr. Wilder would find pleasure. Probably not, because he's seen the play so often he doesn't want to see it again. Haha. Who knows. You know, he played the stage manager on many occasions, on Broadway in fact.

 Talk about the role that you play in the production of this play.

 My job as director is to make sure the play is communicated clearly and unequivocally for an audience. That they can understand the nature of what they're experiencing, so that they can leave it feeling complete or informed or maybe both. At least nostalgic is what I'm hoping for. So I as the director, one of my principle jobs is to be the surrogate audience until the actual audience arrives, in preparation for the actors to do the jobs. The technicians to do their jobs, etc. All of it is aimed toward communication with an audience. And that's the reason we do it.

 Tell me about some of the other people behind the production of this play and their roles.

 I'm very pleased with the opportunity to work with the Associate Dean of Liberal Arts. Bill Willoughby has never been on stage before, and when I suggested to him that I had a perfect role for him, he said I'll do it. And he's been wonderful to work with. Matter of fact, I'm looking forward to him having a chance to play for an audience. That will be a brand new experience for him. So Mr. Willoughby has been a delight. The set design by Mr. Stevens, our technical director here at the university, has realized exactly what I was hoping for, which is a non-descript, black empty space. Hallelujah. It works. The lighting, we'll find out tonight when we add lights for the first time. The costumes, we'll find out next Sunday when we have our first dress rehearsal and the costumes are added. But basically we're saying through costumes, this play is today. This play is not 1901. Though we talk about 1901, the play is 2011. So we'll find out if it works.

 I always like to ask, what advice you have for the audience that comes to the play? How do you get the most out of the experience?

 Come with a clean heart, a clear heart and a clear head. And be willing to accept what is presented before you. And take it home. Chew on it. Spit it out. Share it. Whatever. Just don't prejudge it. Try your best to be open.

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Todd Cloe, wood sculptor of benches, rings, and large works for galleries. Todd is also the Woodshop Technician at Louisiana Tech. You can explore Todd's art at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cloe-Studios/116171901774199 This interview has been edited for length.

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 Could you start by telling me how you decided to become an artist?

 I knew from the time I was about a fifth grader that I wanted to really study art. I had always drawn. I made a little soap sculpture of an owl head when I was in third or fourth grade. My dad helped a little bit, but I felt like it was all mine, you know? So I thought, 'This is something that I can do.' Didn't offer art until the sixth grade. And I took an art class and really enjoyed it. Simple stuff, drawing, and little toothpick houses. And then art wasn't offered again until my freshman year in high school. I took art all through high school and really did well. I won a couple of little competitions for the kids. We'd all travel to one of the local universities, and the art professors would assess everybody's work. And hand you a little ribbon. Everybody got a ribbon; some just for participating. Mine happened to be blue and red. So I got a little positive feedback. Then I went to Oklahoma State Tech. It was just a two year program in commercial art. I thought that might be where I wanted to go. My granddad said, “Todd, if you're going to do art, you need to do something people will pay for so you can have a steady job. So commercial art's the way you need to go.” So I did that, did very well. Of course, there weren't any computers until my last trimester there. And this was '82. Hardly anybody knew anything about them, so everybody was learning how to hand-render things. So my drawing skills and my lettering skills got real good. I still use the lettering skills here and there, that I picked up so long ago. I went on interviews, and didn't get picked up by anybody. And thank God, my aunt asked me if I wanted to go to a four year school and study art. I'm like, “Yes!” So I did that, went to Oklahoma state. And I got my BFA in '89.

 Were you still studying commercial art?

 No. I had gone in in commercial art and realized, 'This is a mistake. There's no reason to do this.' So I changed after one semester, and did very well in my drawing classes. I tried to take a drawing class every semester. And eventually I was taking painting classes and doing very poorly. I could not get above a D in my painting classes. And I was there all the time; my stuff was more paint by numbers almost. The drawings were solid underneath, but the actual painting part was very rudimentary. Then I took my first sculpture class. My very first project, he said that it's open, you can use any material, it's just got to be an organic form. I saw this stump in this guy's front yard, and I asked him if I could take his stump away from him. And he said, “Yeah, here let me get the garden hose. And I'll get the ground nice and wet, and we'll pull it out.” It was a cedar stump. So I started carving on that. All I had was a chisel and a mallet. And eventually started buying a file here and there and a rasp where I could get into the tight places. It eventually became a very nice piece, and my sculpture teacher said, “Todd, sculpture is your thing. Don't let anybody tell you any different.” He really enjoyed watching me work on that, because I was just all elbows and sawdust, and sweat. It was a very physical, labor intensive piece. My mother's got that at her house, and she's very proud of it. I did a few more wood sculptures and realized, you know I do this pretty good. I was working nights at the time. I worked for Safeway. I worked nights for ten years, running the night crew. It was a pretty hard thing to go to school all the time, and my grades suffered a little bit. I think I had a 2.9 average when it was all done. I always wanted to go to grad school, but never got real motivated to do that until I got married in '97. My mother-in-law, who's a very generous person, she paid for my graduate program here at Tech. And it was a really good ride. I made a lot of nice big pieces, was really happy about those. And got a lot of positive feedback. I guess that's it in kind of a long nutshell.

 I was thinking about how big a part tools play in your life and your art. Of course, you work as the woodshop technician. And often a big part of the sculptures and benches and rings you make, they almost act as a record of the interaction of the tool with the wood. I was wondering first of all what sort of significance and meaning do you see in that, in the use of tools?

Gosh, man's been fascinated with tools for thousands of years, and I guess I'm really no different, other than I try to do something aesthetically different with the tools. I like to leave tool marks that, like you said, do give a little bit of a history of what's happened to the wood. And my large sculptures are inspired by Native American handtools that I've picked up over the years. Most of them were broken little curiosities. I would take the broken parts and rearrange different parts of different tools, and then blow the scale up and make them really large. The sculptures were inspired by Native American handtools. I would walk these cotton fields and find these pieces of Native American handtools and my mind would wander, imagining what they were used for. So you'll see whenever you look at my work, finger divets that might be six or eight inches across, just trying to kind of keep in scale with the size of the tool maybe. Not necessarily that a giant race of people used these tools, but just more of a design element I guess. When they get that large, they really start not to speak so much about handtools anymore, but they take on their own presence. They command a space, you know. You see them upright, and they just scream come here and look at me.

What are some of your favorite tools to work with?

I love working with the chisel and the mallet. That is just about as personal as you can get with extracting the wood. It's very slow, but the payoff is you can see a mistake before it gets too far along. Whereas if you're using a chainsaw you can really go too far in a hurry and maybe not be able to save something. Speaking of saving things, I've been pretty lucky. I've never had an accident that I couldn't make better than it was whenever I originally thought of it. A lot of times the wood will only let you do what it will let you do. If you try to force something, it typically shows, or it just won't happen. But I have never had nothing but happy accidents. I've lost things and really stressed over it, and then come to find out I didn't need that element of the sculpture anyway. It's better off without it. Getting back to what you're saying though, the chisel for me is a great thing. I really like the chainsaw wheel. It's a little four inch disk with a chainsaw on the outside of it. It grinds a lot of wood in a hurry. I like that. You can't work too fast with the wood. You kind of have to be a very patient person. You can't rush it.

I was thinking about how much time and effort goes into making each piece. They're very heavy pieces of wood oftentimes. It's also just a feat of strength and endurance. I read on the website that during one piece you had to have back surgery in the middle of it. I was wondering, how do you think that affects the value and the meaning of the piece?

 I don't know, other than whenever someone walks up to it, they can just tell. My God, moving this piece is a feat in and of itself. I'm hoping it will affect the value in a positive way. Haha. I like being able to be seen as somebody who really puts a lot of effort into what I'm calling art. That makes me feel good. Because it does take a lot of effort. I'm not saying it's not art if it comes easy. It's just that I can't go there. I have to, it seems, bleed a little bit, and strain myself, to actually reach an end.

 How much of the sculptural pieces you make is planned, and how do you plan? And how much is unplanned?

 Really very few of them are actually ever planned out. I did plan one, but only half of it looks the way it did when I did my drawings. Every one of them have always been, 'Ok, I'll just start with this blank canvas, being a large stump, and just start making marks on it, and kind of drawingthe in the wood with the chain saw. And constantly walking around the piece. Stepping back and looking at it. And taking off some notches here and there. Every single time, something has come about that's worthy of finishing. I do have in mind that 'Ok, this is tool-like. I need to have certain elements in the sculpture.' Some areas kind of have to be concave, and something else may have to be convex. Or there has to be a point or a serrated edge or something like that. So there is some planning, but nothing is ever drawn, or exactly how I draw it is how I'm going to make it. That's never happened.

 When you take the different kind of woods, and then also consider the Native American tool influence, you can think of it either as a geographical element to the pieces, or maybe an interaction between human history and natural history. You know what I mean?

 Right. The bodark tree was revered by the Indians. That's what they made their bows out of. Bodark translates “arc of a bow.” It has a lot of flexibility to it. It will flex a lot more before it snaps than any other hardwood. And I'm sure they experimented with a lot of different kinds of woods for their bows and realized this is the only one that really works great every time. And it's absolutely impervious to bugs. If they get into the heartwood, they will back right out. I used a piece of bodark that was at my granddad's dairy farm. It was a corner post that he and his dad never used. And it laid by the dairy barn for seventy years. You can imagine what's in a dairy, a lot of cow dung everywhere. And the bugs had gotten into the sapwood, but once they got into the heartwood they backed out. So it was a very structurally sound piece. It was in great shape. I made my wife's and my wedding rings out of that wood. Whenever we got married. She has metal allergies. I made us that wooden wedding set out of that wood. I think the wood rings really are a better metaphor for a marriage than a diamond is. Because diamonds are absolutely forever, and marriages rarely ever are. And like a marriage, the wood rings need a little bit of attention. They need some maintenance. You've got to be careful with them. And that's exactly like being married. If you want to maintain that, you've got to do something to protect it, and seal it against the elements that would otherwise ravage it.

 I keep thinking about what it would be like to find one of your sculptural pieces hundreds years from now the way you found the tools that they're inspired by.

 That would be quite a find. I'd like to be there for that. And you know, I've thought about how temporary people are on this planet. And avoiding a fire, everything I make will definitely outlive me. Especially if the sculptures are enjoyed by somebody, they're going to be taken care of. It's a dream of mine to see one of my pieces on antiques roadshow. Haha.

I like to think about the way it portrays our society. Obviously it signifies an appreciation for tradition and other cultures, and leaves out a lot of that stuff that will fade away because it's on a disk, on a harddrive or something.

Right. Not that you can't make art with technology, but to me, if I can't see that somebody has really put some effort into making something, I struggle with validating that it is truly art. I'm sure that's just me. There's a lot of people that can put things together and call it art and sell it for lots of me. But in the end those things fade away, and what stays is something with some permanence. Where there's some record of somebody's toil that they've gone through to create something. I think that that will ultimately survive and outlive all of these other ephemeral artforms that are everywhere.

What do your sculptures convey to the viewer about you?

 I think they can tell that it's somebody with a strong will to start something of that kind of magnitude. I'm hoping they're saying to themselves, 'God, I could never do this. But here's somebody who can.' I hope that they see the finesse that I try to give every square inch. I leave very little untouched. You just have to go around the whole piece many times and address it all. They might think, 'Oh, here's a guy with a lot of time on his hands,' maybe. It does take a lot of time.

 And you really don't have a lot of time.

 I really don't. It's an illusion! Haha.

 Thank you for speaking with me.

 Oh you're welcome. I enjoyed it.


NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.

Homegrown: 2011 Holiday Arts Tour

Homegrown will be a weekly post highlighting our Holiday Arts Tour artists.  NCLAC would like to celebrate the artists living in our own backyard whether they were raised here, relocated, or just like to visit enough to call Ruston home.   This years Holiday Arts Tour will be November 18, 19, & 20th.  Watch here for more information and tour locations. This weeks artists are husband wife team Paul & Kathy Smith.  Paul is originally from Leesville, Louisiana and Kathy is a Ruston native.


Paul was born in Leesville, Louisiana.  He comes from a large family with two sisters and four brothers.  Being born the third child of seven , he probaby was the typical middle child.  Kathy was born in Ruston, LA, also from a large family of three brothers and four sisters.

Paul played baseball as a young child, worked from the time he was twelve years old.  He was very smart in school, active in many clubs and played basketball.  Upon graduation from Leesville High School in 1968, he attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA, majoring in chemistry and minoring in math.

Kathy graduated from Ruston High School in 1972 and began working in a local grocery store.  This is where they met and began their life-long personal partnership.

In 1989 salary cuts forced a change in their life.  Paul had to retrain in another field and Kathy stayed in the retail field as a merchandiser.

Paul trained as a welder at the local vocational school.  After he finished his training, they moved to Connecticut where he worked as a shipfitter for general dynamics building nuclear submarines until defense cuts brought about layoffs.

After moving back to Ruston, Paul worked for Willamette/Weyerhaeuser for fifteen years as a maintenance coordinator and Kathy worked at Louisiana Tech library for five years.

During this time Paul's metalworking hobby turned into a profitable business that requires both of their efforts.


Our mission is to bring a smile to your face with our sculptures and help the environment by recycling materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Our work is mostly sculptural in nature.  Chiefly from recycled materials such as, old plow points, shovels, hoes, farm machinery parts, old glassware and chair and table spindles.  Some items are combined with ornamental iron pieces ordered from architectural metal supplier.

Recycled metal pieces are sandblasted to remove the rust and other imperfections before being welded into the sculptures.  They are inspected for imperfections and either hand painted with a clear sealer to help deter rust or painted with a rust inhibitor type of paint depending on the item.  Glassware is cleaned and holes drilled using a special bit for drilling glass.  No glue is used in these sculptures.  Bird houses are cut using a compound mitre saw.  Butterflies are cut using a plasma cutter and hand smoother with grinding stone.


NCLAC: Do you think everyone is or can be creative?  If so, what, if anything, sets artists apart?

SMITHS:  Yes, artists have the ability to visualize.

NCLAC: If you could live in any other time, when might that be?

SMITHS: Old West.

NCLAC: What, if anything, do you hope others get from your art?

SMITHS: Pleasure and fun.

NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.  In addition funding for the Holiday Arts Tour is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council and administered by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Allison Gilbert Bennett, actress and owner of Stitchville, knitting and fabric shop in downtown Ruston. You can find out more about  Stitchville on Facebook or at Stitchville.wordpress.com. This interview has been edited for length.

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 So, can you start by giving me a rundown of what all you do. I know you own Stitchville, and you're an actress, and you're also a teacher.

 Yes. At Stitchville we have fabrics and yarns for sale. And then I do custom sewing for people. Alterations, and some monogramming, other things like that. We also have a full line of sewing and knitting classes. So even if you've never touched a sewing machine, don't know what a bobbin is. I've got beginning classes for kids and adults. And we go all the way up, I now have a series where you can sew things for the home. And also I've gotten some more patterns in, to learn how to read patterns and sew your own clothes, which people are pretty interested in. So you can pretty much do anything.

 I was reading on your blog about the alpaca adventure. Could you talk about that?

 A couple of customers and I . . . I used to have some handspun yarns. And a lot of people enjoy having that unique, natural, sometimes naturally dyed yarn that really make a statement. So a couple of customers of mine found this alpaca farm out in Tululla or someplace. She contacted them, and we went and met them in Monroe. And they brought sacks of blankets that they had sheared off the alpacas. So we sifted through those for a while, and we've been washing them. And I started spinning mine. It's slow going, but it's interesting. I'm learning a lot about yarn and fibers. I'm realizing why people didn't have a lot of outfits back then, haha, when they had to actually get the sheep and shear it and wash it and spin the wool. It's a labor. But it's kind of fun. I'm actually going to look into starting teaching some drop spindle classes, where people can get the spindle and get some, it's called roving when it's all been prepared to spin. And I'm going to start looking into getting some prepared rovings and teach some spinning classes, so people can make their own handspuns. It's really not hard.

 How did the desire to open a fabric shop come about?

 I don't know. It's something that I've been wanting to do for a while. Years ago, right after I graduated college, which I graduated in theatre here in Tech, I worked at Fabulous Fabrics, which she had a shop here in town. Now she's just in Monroe. I worked in the costume shop at Tech, so I learned a lot about sewing and fabrics and all that. But working at that fabric shop, I got to see all the fabrics, and see what they were doing, people who'd come in, what their ideas were. It got me interested. And after that, my husband and I got married and we moved overseas. He was in the army. And I did a lot of sewing over there. I wanted to open a shop, but we were on an army post overseas, and it was not possible to do it there. So I did a lot of sewing out of our apartment. Just different things. And every time we would come back to the states, I would go and buy a suitcase worth of fabric and bring it back with me. So I started kind of hoarding fabrics. Finally whenever we moved back to Ruston, I'd still been sewing. I couldn't find a job that I wanted bad enough to spend my days there. And I felt like there was a niche in Ruston that needed to be filled. With a different feel of a fabric store. For the people who don't know how to sew. Normal people who don't know how to sew don't walk into a fabric store because it's very overwhelming. So I wanted to create an environment for people who have ideas and just don't know how to complete them yet. It's like taking an art class. You have all these ideas, and you just don't have it in your fingers. You don't think that way. I wanted to create an environment that is both inspiring and just unassuming, I guess. For somebody to be able to walk in and say 'I would like to learn how to do that!' And I can say 'I can help you!' You know. I'm not a person who has a lot of ideas. I am, but I'm a person who likes to talk to people about their ideas and feed off of that. And watch ideas grow into something that you can make with your own hands. I just think there's such a fulfilling thing about starting with raw materials and ending with a finished product. You've got this new skillset now.

 It seems like when I was younger, sewing and knitting weren't really the cool thing to do. And now it seems pretty cool. Am I imagining that shift?

 No, there is definitely a shift of craftiness if you will. It's kind of the same feel as the shift to people more locally. People want to feel like they're contributing to their own lives more. And the things that are going on immediately around them. And I think that shopping locally, and starting to use their spare time in a way that is creative. And not just sitting there playing on your iPad. Which we're all guilty of, and I love my iPad. But you want to feel like at the end of the day you've got something else to show for it. I really push that sewing and knitting are fun. Because a lot of people are like 'oh, I took home ec three times, and it just was no fun.' We don't make things for serious. I would rather throw a sewing party than have a sewing lesson. Haha. And if you're not having fun, take a break. In this day and age, you're not making clothes because it's cheaper, you're doing it because something inside you wants to learn something new. If you're not enjoying it, then you're not going to continue doing it.

 What did you start out making when you were overseas?

 I started out, since I did the costumes at Tech, I got involved in the theatre overseas. So I did most of the costumes there. Alterations. I did a lot of patches on uniforms because we were on an army post. So people would get their rank changed, and I would have to sew the new patch on. That was probably one of the most nerve racking things. Because you have to get it precise. You can't get it crooked. It's regulation, so I would get really nervous about sewing patches on officer's uniforms, because I was just some chick . . And they could get in trouble for it if it was on the wrong shoulder, or off by a half an inch or so. I did that a lot, and it was just word of mouth. And I ended up doing a lot of bags. I started doing my line, Repursables. Because I started off doing reversable and repurposed bags. We would do bazaars and craft shows. So a lot of people on the post knew me, and knew that I was the sewing chick.

 I know you're a mother. How old is your son now?

 We have a two year old, and one on the way in January. So probably around Christmas. I usually get pretty busy around Christmas. After Christmas in January it usually gets pretty slow. So that's good; I think I will probably be slowing down, by necessity.

 What are the advantages to being, say, a working parent or a parent that's active in the community, rather than a stay at home parent?

 When you have children, it's so easy to lose everything that you did for your entire life in your kids. I've seen parents that had an active life, and then they had kids and their life just stopped. I read these stories of parents who haven't had a date in five years, and I think that is so sad. Because you can't lose yourself. It's not good for you. It's not good for your kids to see that you've given up everything that you used to enjoy. Being a parent, especially a working parent, comes with a lot of guilt. Because you want to spend all day every day with your child, because it's your responsibility. But at the same time, you have to go out into the world. And you need to do things in order to make the world run. It's one of those conundrums that you just have to find your own balance. There's a lot of moms who thrive at being stay at home moms. But I feel like you owe it to yourself to continue to do those things that make you happy. Be artist or working or whatever it is.

 Can you tell me how being a mother has changed your outlook or your ideas about art or life?

 I feel that it's more important now, for the next generation. Art is not about losing your boundaries, but it's about finding your boundaries. I was having a discussions with Christianne Dreeling, the Twirling Swirls lady the other day. We were talking about, she has two small kids, and how sometimes in art class they just let the kids kind of teach themselves. Like, find their own artist in them. And I think that's not the way to bring up an artist. You have to know how to do it right before you can go on your own path. And that's something that is in everything in our life. We have to learn it first before we can start making up the things that we want to do. We have to learn how to live before we can go live our lives. It's all a process. And being a mom, you have this little baby where . . . Our two year old is learning how to talk. I've never taught anybody how to talk. You have to think about all these things that you never thought you would have to think about. So you start learning that life really is just a series of processes, and how you have to put one foot in front of the other. And build these foundations. And I think that that's important in being an artist, in life, in being a mother, is going through the process and finding your own process.

 You lived overseas with your husband, you also lived in California working with a theatre company there. I was wondering what are your impressions of Ruston, after having spent time away?

 We chose to come back to Ruston for a few reasons. My husband's now in engineering, and it's one of the best engineering schools in the country. And I don't think either of us are big city people, but it's also important to have a university in the vicinity of where we live because of the energy that comes from young people and their ideas. You can feel the energy of the town. And I think that Ruston now, as opposed to Ruston ten years ago, even when I was in school here the first time, has so much more of that energy. And there's so much more that is happening downtown. And there's just like this, you can feel the energy underneath of all the artists that are here, and the photographers and the sculptors. You don't have to look quite as hard to find it as you used to. It's making its way up and out. And that's really exciting, to be in a town that you know is poised on this jump of growth and entertainment. That energy is exciting. Every day, just drive around, you can find something new to look at and say that's cool I don't remember that being here. Be it new restaurants, the Black Box, things like that. Galleries. Anybody who says you can't find anything to do in Ruston just isn't looking hard enough. Haha.

 Tell me what you have coming up at Stitchville, so far as classes or anything like that goes.

 I've recently put up my schedule of classes, which we've got the learn how to sew series, which I think we've got four or five projects. They're pretty simple, but with each project you learn a new skill set. I've got a sew for your home. Make you own clothes. And I've also got some kid sewing. A lot of kids are interested in it now as well. This weekend, I've got a kids class. We're doing owl pillows. That should be pretty cute. As far as knitting stuff goes, in the beginning of December, we are taking a trip that is open to anybody, up to Hot Springs Arkansas. They're having a Fiber Arts Extravaganza. There's going to be a lot of handspun arts and roving. It's two days. They've got classes, vendors. Fastest knitter competitions. It's fiber arts nerdilicious. We've got about four, maybe six, so far going. We're going to carpool and just go have a fun time. We're all excited about that. So we've got something for the sewers and something for the knitters coming up.

 I should mention you have Halloween and you have Fall fabric here.

 Yes, and my Christmas fabrics are on their way as well. I'd like to do some handmade Christmas type things if people are interested in making gifts to give. They can always get in touch with me on my website or call or drop by. And I'm open to any type of class. Because I don't have all the ideas. If somebody else has some idea they want to do and just need help doing it, that's what I'm here for.

 You and your husband are amateur brewers as well?

 Yes we are.

 Are you going to take part in ARToberfest?

 We are. We have brewed our brew, and I think we're bottling tonight or tomorrow. Whenever we've got time. We had a really good batch, but we drank it all. Haha. So we had to brew another batch for the competition. Luckily it's soon, so we won't have time to drink it all before the evening gets here. It's a fun time. That's another thing that a lot of people are doing. And we're going to have a pretty good competition. I'm looking forward to tasting the beers.

 I think that's all the questions I have. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

 Thank you very much.


NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.

NCLAC Member's Exhibit at Barnwell


 Beginning August 25, 2011, and ending October 9, 2011, the Barnwell Garden & Art Centeris pleased to present Cory Carlson and his “Natural Impressions”.   Mr. Carlson is an accomplished artist and show cases his amazing talent in the Main Gallery of the BarnwellGarden & ArtCenter.  Painting the Spirit of the Wild portrays nature’s timeless beauty and energy with his extraordinary wildlife paintings.  Carlson’s goals as a painter are clear when he says, “it’s not enough to just paint a good likeness.  I want my viewers to feel the emotions, struggles and triumphs of living free.”

Through Carlson’s personal travels and experiences he is able to bring such beauty and depth to his subjects.  From the wetlands of theAmericasto the sprawling African jungles, Carlson carefully observes wildlife in its natural environment, capturing rare moments with his skills in photography and sketching.  Bringing the beauty of Nature and the sense of freedom into people’s lives is Carlson’s primary artistic motivation.  Carlson recently discussed his motivation and amazing gift, when he replied “I’ve always been an artist as long as I can remember and I think I was born with a paint brush in my hand.”

Carlson began a lifelong devotion to art when he was a small boy.  His first painting sold at the age of thirteen, becoming a professional portrait artist by his fifteenth birthday.  Carlson has a bachelor of fine arts degree and is the recipient of several best of show awards.  Today his work is found in numerous corporate and private collections around the world.  Carlson’s work recently was selected as one of only 75 artists chosen from over 40,000 entries to be included in the 2011 book “Best of America Oil Artists.” 

Laura Glen Carlson is a creative jewelry maker whose love of nature’s graceful beauty is expressed through the art of sculpting precious metals into unique pieces of jewelry.  Her goals as a fine craft artist are clear when she says, “I want the people who wear my jewelry to feel a connection to the jewelry and know the piece was handmade with love and care.  She believes this sense of connectivity is achieved through the synergy of seeking balance and harmony between metal and stone in a fluid, organic style. 

Through her travels with her husband, the renowned wildlife artist, Cory Carlson, she finds fresh inspiration for her pieces from the natural world.  Expressing an element of timeless grace, Laura creates interesting pieces of jewelry expressing the flowing rhythms of life.

 Laura Glen participates in various shows and festivals, while winning numerous awards.  Her work is available in a selected number of galleries, including the Store at the Barnwell.  She has been interviewed by Louisiana Public Radio and has been featured in several newspapers and magazines including Louisiana Life magazine.  She is a member of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, North Central Louisiana Arts Council, and the Louisiana Craft Guild.

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Ed Pinkston, who has a show opening tonight (Thursday September 22) at Gallery Fine Art Center in Bossier, with an art talk at 5:30. [wpvideo 7TwXkrwL]

One of the other abiding influences in my work is man-made versus nature, or freedom versus control. Societal issues that we face, laws and regulations. Where you can ride your bike and where you can't. Can you ride at night. Versus childlike freedoms that we all enjoy, especially in this country. A lot of my work is about that, so the way my work begins is it starts out very childlike and spontaneous, and I do the large broad issues in literally broad paint applications with brushes or squeegies or scrapers. And I use a lot of combinations. So I start out with this sense of freedom in my pieces, and then as I go on, I start to constrain or confine and refine them somewhat. And they develop more man-made like rectalinear elements like squares or straight line passages. So I like to have a duality between freedom and control. And in some pieces, the fulcrum is more under one end than the other. Some pieces will have a lot more spontaneity in them. Others will be more sober and controlled. Of course, in art publications, one of the main ways they talk about this is Apollo and Dionysius. The idea of the sober good god versus the party Bacchus god. I always try to keep that dichotomy in mind, and I try to juggle those two and make them reconcile. And that's where my fun comes in is playing off those two extremes against each other and seeing what happens.

Yeah, it seems like the sort of abstract expressionism that you're working from is a really good way to deal with those questions about freedom and self-determination.

I've been greatly influenced by abstract expressionism, but mine are not wholly that. A piece like mine might look a little bit like a Hans Hoffman, but it still has more constraints and more rigidity in it than his pieces did.

It almost seems as if you move through the abstract expressionism in the beginning and start to become more representational with the shapes and lines and things.

That's fair. And sometimes those rectangular shapes are windows and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they open up a space, and sometimes they're 'don't go there. Stop there.' And that's the way Hans Hoffman used them too. Sometimes they would be a window into the depth of the painting, and other times they would be a confrontational thing that said 'no, you're not going there. You're not going back in space. This is not a landscape.' So sometimes if I see something getting too spatial, I'll do something like that to bring us back up to the picture plane and say 'Whoa, this is all illusion. It's all flat stuff for the most part.'

I read in your statement you used to do figurative and landscape painting. What caused you to move from that to non-representational work?

I don't know. I have always given myself permission to change my stripes. I'm not one of those artists whose work evolves very little over time, maybe just gets better in quality but they do the same basic painting over and over. Or maybe their work gets more expressive or gets bigger or whatever. But I seem to go through cycles of seven or ten years' work. In graduate school, I started out doing abstract expressionism, then I went to hard-edge abstraction. And then when I got out of graduate school, I did abstraction again for a while. Then finally I said I need to get back to realism, that's what I'm teaching in my classes. My drawing classes are all about learning to see. You know, perceptual experiences. Let's get back to that. So I went back to doing drawings and landscapes with charcoal and pencil. And then I decided I wanted to get back to color again, but I didn't want to go back to being a full blown abstract expressionist so I went to pastels. I don't have many pastels to show you. In fact, this one's sold, but this was one of them. After I went to abstraction and things like that, I wanted to come backt o more realistic experience with color. And I said well, pastel would be a good way to do that. I'd never worked with pastels, and I didn't realize how tremendous they were. Not for just bringing out a color experience, but also just for markmaking properties. 'Cause I've taught drawing for so many years and taught a lot with charcoal. I was kind of naïve and slow to realize 'Hey, pastel is just charcoal in color. I can make the same kind of expressive marks. I can break the color surface up into local color. I can break that local color down into broken color. I can do all kinds of things with it. To answer your question, I just don't ever like to be bored. I like to keep going. There is a common thread to my work, but as I shift experiences, some other people have had difficulty seeing that. And then after I did these for a while, I did pastel landscapes and still-lifes. And even abstract pastels for some time. I did those for about ten or twelve years. I had a retrospective at Tech somewhere around 2000, and looking at that show on a whole, there was so much pastel work in it. I said 'I want to get back to painting again. I want to get back to that viscosity and that liquid feel.' And it was just that simple. I just wanted to go back to a more temporal kind of liquid idea, and so I stopped doing the pastels and started doing abstract painting again for the first time in many years. And it was very difficult at first. I don't know if you've done any abstract work yourself. Do you ever do any? But you work without a net, you know. You've got no subject matter to refer to. You've got nothing to bail you out. It's just you and what you know about the principles and elements and things you want to express with them. And I had a real tough time for a couple years when I went back to abstract painting. I just said I can't do this. I'm no good. And I really struggled. But after a while, I slowly started making some gains and feeling like 'well yeah, ok.' Part of my problem wasn't just me, it was my materials. I have never in an enclosed space like this, even using odorless mineral spirits, I've never been able to work with oil paints. I'm very hypocritical: I always made my students use oil paints whenever I taught painting at Tech, we always used oil paints because of the slow drying time and the ability to intermix and rework and things like that. Oil painting's far superior to acrylic. But my head just can't take it. So I've had to use acrylics all these years. And that's a tremendous limitation because of the fast drying time. You don't get that opportunity to rework. At first, trying to do abstraction with acrylic paint, it's tough. But after a time, I started learning how to work with it, and I can use retardants to get a longer drying time where I can go back and rework. But also I just learned how to make my spontaneity work. So the acrylic made me speed up. It made me more spontaneous, because the clock is ticking. And I had to work with it very rapidly. That was part of my struggle. I was part of the problem, but my materials were part of the problem too. But after I got more back into it, both of those sides started to come around, and I started to see results.

I think that's something about abstract art that people who say they don't get it aren't seeing is that rich narrative of the process that's in there. Oftentimes it conveys at least as much meaning as a representational work if not more.

I love to hear you say that. That is exactly right. Abstract painting has its own studio autobiography. It can be just as rich in historical experience or personal experience as any pictoral piece can. Whenever I've been in any kind of group and people have asked me 'what's the best way to understand or explain abstract expressionism?' I've said part of the trouble is people worry about understanding it. I used the analogy of music. Listening to a melody is abstract. There's no lyrics there like a country song. It's like opera, where you don't understand the language. I could listen to an aria in Italian and probably enjoy it more than if I understood Italian, because they might be saying 'I went down to the store, bought a loaf of bread.' Well that's so pedestrian and everything. So the abstractness of music, it's the same kind of thing in the visual arts. You have to enjoy it on that level, just for what it is. And you don't have to read interpretations into it. You can, but you don't have to. So many people feel like they have to understand abstract painting, and I say you just open your eyes. Just like you open your ears to music. One time, when I was in front of a woman's group, and they weren't getting it. I had a real good friend in the audience, and I knew it wouldn't embarrass her. A very nice looking lady who was very well dressed. I said if you wouldn't mind come up here and stand for a moment. And she came and stood beside me. And I said now, what did you do this morning when you got dressed? You made the decision to put this skirt with this blouse. To put this piece of jewelry here. These earrings. You were doing abstract art. You were making decisions about color, line, shape, form, texture. All the things an abstract artist does, you do it every morning. And they said “Oh!” That really broke the ice for them.

I guess one thing about abstract art is, in a lot of ways you have to avoid meaning. You have to avoid representation in order to be non-representational. That has a sort of tyranny to itself, you know?

Absolutely. That's why I fight the spatial issues so hard, because I know any time I do a lot of overlaps, I'm going to start to get a landscape read out of the piece which I probably don't want. Sometimes I go ahead and give in to it and let it go that way. I give myself permission to let realism creep in or pictorial space creep in sometimes. But for the most part, I try to keep it on an abstract plane because of this very pitfall you mention. And you don't want it to lapse too easily back into conventional that's a landscape, that's a still life, that's whatever. I do my best work when I really keep my thinking on abstract and don't let them become to spatial or spatially illusionistic.

Let me ask you about yourself, as an artist who's worked for multiple decades, how do you keep from becoming stagnant and from imitating yourself? And on the other side of that coin, how do you keep from abandoning all the things that you've done before and the progress you've made?

Those are good questions. And they're not easily answered. But I think you know part of the answer is what I do is I change materials and approaches, and that keeps me fresh. On a singular level of individual painting basis, I try to do what Diebenkorn said he used to do. They said how do you begin a new painting? He said 'I begin a new painting as far away from the last painting as I can, because I know what's going to happen as I work. I'm going to gravitate back to what I've done before, to what I am, what I know and all the experience I have.' And he said if you don't you'll wind up repeating yourself. That's what would surprise people a lot of times about artists. This is what drives artists crazy about art historians. Art historians will say 'this must have come from 1892 because it's painted just like this one over here.' No. Maybe that's true, but many times artists will leap back in time as well as leap forward. And a lot of times my paintings are done at the same time and have very little correlation, and that's deliberate. People say these two magenta paintings down here must have been painted at the same time. No, they were painted several years apart actually. What I try to do is the same thing Diebenkorn did. Whenever I started a new painting, I used different materials, different techniques. If I painted real thickly with brushes on the last one, I'll start with glazes on the next one. I'll use scrapers instead of brushes, or something like that. I'll use a very different palette to begin with. I don't usually put down a dominant palette colore first. That just happens. So whatever dominant palette color resulted in the last one, by god it's not going to be in the new one. It's going to start in some place totally elsewhere. And that's why my paints are not organized. In some artists' studios, every paint is perfectly lined up and organized, and they know exactly where everything is. I keep my paints moving around and disorganized to keep me disorganized, to keep me fresh so that I don't revert back, hopefully, too much too soon to what I already know and the methods and techniques and things I know have worked in the past. This color relationship worked with this color relationship last time, let's use it again. No, I don't do that. I try to go to another part of the palette, start with some funky color over here and say what if. So it's just like a child will. I try to put myself in a childlike mode and say let's just try. What if. And then you go from there. Waste a lot of paint. Waste a lot of time. But that's the only way to go. That's the frustration of working abstractly, but it's also the joy. It takes you places that you can't preordain. Some people say do you have any kind of image in your head when you start painting? I hope not! When I'm doing this, absolutely not. Evenwhen I was doing these, I did about forty or fifty of these pastel still lifes. Only two of them were done from life. All the others were made up. You might say well I can tell that from the end result. Haha. But I deliberately tried not to put too much form on my apples or tomatos or whatever I'm using. To stay fresh, I've gotta change. I've gotta evolve, and I've constantly gotta challenge myself and surprise myself to keep from getting into stereotypes.

What happens prior to the beginning of the painting? Is there any sort of planning stage, or do you think there is any subconscious work that goes on?

There must be. You know, you can't ever relax the subconscious. There must be something going on. But I try to avoid that. Sometimes I will have a strong idea I want to try, but who knows where it comes from. It might be just an abstract pattern I saw on a wall in downtown Ruston or something. Or sometimes I say what if I try that color with that color? What will happen? But of course it never turns out that way. Matisse had a good way of expressing that, and you may have heard this story before. They asked him the same question you asked me. When you begin a painting, how does it begin? He says let's just say sometimes I have a real strong idea what I want a painting to be, but it's like I've got a train ticket from Paris to Marseilles. And he says sometimes you get on that train, painting, and sometimes you make it to marseilles just fine and it's turned out just the way you planned it. But more often, before I get to Marseilles, I find I want to take another train. I divert off. Or sometimes, I get to Marseilles, and I realize I don't want to go to Marseilles and I keep going past. That's the way I think about it too. Okay, I may start out with a strong idea that's going to take me to Marseilles. I may get there. I may get there and not like it. Or I may never get there. And all of those are fine.

 I think one thing that most people and probably a lot of artists don't realize too is so often the meaning comes after the work. After you finish making the work, you then think okay, what does this piece mean? What was I actually thinking and trying to do?

That happens all the time. I think it's very common. Art is usually poorly served if you start out with too much meaning. Occasionally we'll get a painting where an artist is really passionate about an idea. Like, say Picasso's Guernica after the bombing in Spain. It turned out to be a good painting. It was a dramatic, forceful editorial, but it was also a dramatic, forceful piece of artwork. A lot of times, when you take that on your shoulders at the very beginning, a load of meaning, it can weigh you down and overrule you. We see that a lot with some of the muralists. The idea would get in the way of a good paintings. Deigo Rivera, people like that were great painters, but their painting would be so weighted down with the monumentality. I'm going to express this about the world's state of affairs. You lose your sense of optics. I don't worry too much about meaning. I know what they mean to me, and what I see in them. But I love it when other people have alternate interpretations of what they mean. And that's where they should be I think. And that should be true of realistic painting as well as abstract painting, whether you use recognizable imagery or not. I like the idea of meaning coming after the fact. People worry, especially in today's culture. You've run into this in school I'm sure. Now it's become very prevalent and very important for an artist to find his voice. For him to be able to articulate verbally what his work is about. Well that, just between you and me, that's all well and good. It's nice if an artist is verbally articulate. What I want is a visually articulate artist. If an artist is articulate enough visually, he doesn't have to open his mouth. I don't need for Cezanne to tell me one thing verbally. Or Matisse. Or Diebenkorn. It's all there. It's visual, not verbal art. We're getting a lot more blurring of that and overlapping in art, with video and god knows what else going on. So many cross-disciplined kinds of art made now. But just talking about a one on one kind of experience of you with the painting or piece of sculpture. If the artist is visually articulate, that's all I need. The meaning will come through from that.

Could you tell me about your process of making a work? When do you like to work? Do you like to listen to music?

I always listen to music. I've gotta have music going. Sometimes the music is a direct influence and many times a subconscious influence as well. So I'm always listening to music. Just like changing my approach and my palette, whenever I start a new painting, I go to a different music. Just to see where that takes me, how it influences me. When do I work? I work best early. I don't work well at night at all. When I was younger I could. But I'm an old man now. And I can't do that. What I do is I have a daily routine. I get up and I go for a two and a half mile walk around the neighborhood. I come back and eat breakfast and I come down here. And that's where I do my best work when my mind and body are really fresh. I literally can't wait to get down here in the morning because I know that's when I'll do my best work. And then as the day goes on, it'll tend to be diminishing returns, or it'll go in waves like that. If you charted it, I'd say in the AM hours I do my best work. But I take breaks too. That's the great thing about having my studio at home. I used to have my studio at Tech. I found out after my teaching duties and administrative duties and committee work and all that was out of the way, I would have to have a big chunk of time before I would go to my studio. Here I don't have to have those big chunks of time. When I moved my studio here, I was amazed how much more work I got done. Because, you know sometimes I could just come down and work for ten minutes. But a lot of times what you'd do is you'd come down and just look for ten minutes. And that's just invaluable. And then you'd go out and do something else. A lot of times I go out and walk in the yard. Especially when I'm struggling with a painting. I always work on that wall, and I can go walk around the yard and eventually I'll wander over to this window and look at the painting from out in the yard out there. And by diminishing it not only in size but also it diminishes it psychologically. I look in the window at that little painting over there from the difference and I say 'what's your problem? Why can't you fix that? What are you afraid of?' I love the in-between times, the broken times, the casual times, that you get when you have your studio at home. My productivity when I'm in my studio at home, boy did it go through the roof. I didn't realize how important those little snippets of time were. One of my favorite stories. Diebenkorn always had his studio separate from his house. He got off in the morning, and he'd come home in the evening. And his wife would say how'd it go dear? He never talked much. He came home one day in abject depression, and she said what is it? And he says I can't paint. It's the worst painting I've ever done. It's terrible. Just terrible. He had a drink, and she commiserated him. And then the next day he gets up and goes back to the studio. And then in the evening he comes back home, and she says 'how'd it go today dear?' He says well, I just sat and looked at it all day, I think it's the best thing I've ever done. Hahaha. Sometimes it's a little something about perspectives. That's what I like about having my studio at home. I can walk away and give my mind and spirit time to refocus and regain my objectivity, whatever that is. So that's what the little journeys I take are meant for, getting away from it, and coming back and seeing it afresh and deciding it's the best thing I've ever done or the worst thing I've ever done. The hardest thing about coming in first thing in the morning is that you have to guage your objectivity. You've been away for many hours. So when I come back in the morning, I can always look at what I'm working on and know whether it's any good or not. So I come down with great anticipation but also a feeling of dread because I know that my objectivity is returned and I'm going to be very critical. And I'm going to say, what were you thinking? That's a piece of crap! I can't believe you liked that yesterday at five o'clock. Or what's really nice but maybe doesn't happen as often is oh! I still like it. If I like it when I come down the next day, that's a good sign.

How often do you work?

Everyday. I was administrator for twenty years, graduate coordinator for twenty years. I always taught a full teaching load. I always taught freshmen. I always taught drawing. Teaching freshman drawing is one of the most demanding courses on the curriculum. It never kept me out of the studio. I don't think I'm a particularly gifted artist. I'm a hard-working, consistent artist. I'm a bulldog. And I still enjoy it immensely, I don't know what I'd do without it.

I know that interpretation is a tenuous and subjective topic, but what advice might you have for how someone should approach your paintings if they want to get a deeper understanding of them?

Just stand back and look. And then look some more. You don't have to ask any deep, penetrating questions. Just look really, really hard. And do what I do sometimes, use a mirror. I've walked many a mile in this studio. The main thing is to get back far enough. Even my smaller work, I judge them from back here. And then I use a mirror all the time to see them backwards, upside down, diagonal on this edge. Anything that helps me see it afresh. For an audience, someone looking at my work, I would just say walk a lot. Stand back a lot. If you don't see anything there, move on to something else. Come back again later. You have to be tenacious and be a bulldog as a viewer to get it too. I would just tell people stand back and do a lot of looking. You don't have to ask a lot of questions. You can if you want to. Just look. People don't have enough confidence in their eyes. Like I said before, it's no different than music. If you enjoy a melody, you know you enjoy it. If you enjoy something visual, you know it. I can try to figure out why I like Mozart, but I don't have to.

I think that's all the questions I have. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

I'm glad you came over. I'm glad to get to know you better.

Homegrown: 2011 Holiday Arts Tour Artist

Homegrown will be a weekly post highlighting our Holiday Arts Tour artists.  NCLAC would like to celebrate the artists living in our own backyard whether they were raised here, relocated, or just like to visit enough to call Ruston home.   This years Holiday Arts Tour will be November 18, 19, & 20th.  Watch here for more information and tour locations. This weeks artists will be Bess Bieluczyk a regional artists and avid NCLAC volunteer.


Bess was born and raised in the Conneticut suburbs.  She received her MFA in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design and her BA from Sarah Lawrence College.  She is an active, exhibiting photographer and an arts adminstrator at Louisiana Tech University.  She's recently had a series of solo shows in Monroe at the Bry, Arender, and Livaudais Galleries.  In addition she has particpated in a variety of group exhibitions in Indiana, Michigan, Texas, and Georgia.  Her recent work culminated in the series Subtle Hysteria.  The focus of her work is women and domestic life. 


I have created a character and environment based on stories and my own imaginings of the life of an unhappy housewife.  I investigate her psychological terrain through domestic still lifes with a taste of hostility.  Her quiet desperation and frustrations manifest themselves in strange displays within the confines of her home.  I find the  evidence of her outlets in her minute obsessions, her petty violence and the aftermath of her little explosions.  The home and objects that surround her are beautiful but used. worn and past their prime.  I focus on a woman's solitary rebellion against the restrictions of her domestic life. 


NCLAC: What's your first memory of the arts, and/or how did you become interested in art?

BESS:  I remember being put in a remedial ‘cutting and coloring’ class in kindergarten. I think I wound up there because I wasn’t very good at following directions. I got in trouble for coloring a tulip in blue when we were supposed to be using “realistic” colors. I thought the remedial class was fun because it was just a couple of other kids and me and we got to draw all the time.

NCLAC: What, if anything, do you hope others get from your art?

BESS:  I hope it brings up an emotional reaction, I hope that they can relate to it on some level. I hope it makes them think. In my photographs, I try to give the viewer pieces or hints of a story, I want the viewer to make up the rest of the story on their own.

NCLAC: Who were your childhood heroes?

BESS:  Wonder Woman and Cyndi Lauper; basically outrageously cool women who wore crazy outfits.

For more information about Bess visit her website at www.bessart.com

NCLAC is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.  In addition funding for the Holiday Arts Tour is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council and administered by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council

Art Opening at Gallery Fine Art Center in Bossier

New paintings by Edwin Pinkston, Ruston artist and former Tech Art Professor, will be featured in a solo exhibition at Gallery Fine Art Center in Bossier, Louisiana, September 20 through October 28.

 An opening reception will be held on Thursday, September 22, from 6:00-8:00 pm. Edwin will give an artist talk about his work at 5:30.

 Gallery Fine Art Center is located at 2151 Airline Drive, Suite 200, Bossier City, LA 71111, and can be reached by phone at 318-741-9192. The gallery is open Tuesday - Friday, 11:00am - 5:00pm and by appointment.

Artist Statement

New Paintings 

I am very excited about the direction of my new paintings. Over the years I have done figure and landscape drawings in charcoal, semi-abstract collages, wall constructions of painted wood with earth and sky themes, pastels of still lives or landscapes, and abstracted mixed media pieces inspired by jazz music. But lately I'm enjoying a very challenging return to abstract painting.

 In this latest exhibition, I'm working primarily on Gessoboard mounted on a 2” deep maple frame. These hard surfaces can take a lot of physical paint application (or removal) and are used in a square format, thus providing a neutral dynamic, which leaves me free to generate my own visual velocities. These paintings investigate non-representational issues where color, texture, paint handling and spatial fields are explored.Extensively reworked, they feature layers that are sometimes translucent, sometimes opaque, and are filled with marks, lines, textures and scumblings. This concentrated strata of energy and pigmenets, which eventually unite to include a predominant color, hopefully suggests depths both literal and emotional.

 Tensions and counter forces are strongly cultivated, using a non-objective approach that is inspired by Paul Cezanne's still lives and landscapes. I try to set a stage where forms aren't fully reconciled to their positions, where color and mark-making struggle for dominance, and where surface and spatial considerations jockey for position. I try to give each section a role to play, composing holistically, and avoid centering any one element, to neutralize any dominating tendencies.

 I see these paintings as reactions to conflicting issues of human existence that we all face, such as personal freedoms versus societal regulations. Energetic brush action and strong colors depict a sense of abandonment and are juxtaposed against straight lines and geometric shapes representing life's constraints. Further, elements suggestive of being man-made, such as straight lines or geometric shapes, are contrasted with freely brushed, spontaneous and color dominated passages, which I see as emblematic of nature's embrace of growth, change and the unexpected.

 Edwin Pinkston

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Nicole Duet, the new professor of painting at Louisiana Tech University. You can view Professor Duet's art at nicoleduet.com

This interview has been edited for length.

[wpvideo LLssWKTx]

 So where did you get your BA?

 I got it from Cal State North Ridge. I'm from New Orleans originally. And I went to a few different universities in Louisiana. I went to LSU for a little while. I went to University of New Orleans. And then I did some theatre work in Tulane. And then that summer I made a decision to move out to California to get my Bachelors degree there. And I went to a theatre training program there for a little while, and finished up at Cal State North Ridge.

 When did you decide to do art?

 In my last year at North Ridge. I had electives, liberal arts electives that we could take. And one of them was life drawing. And I had always been interested in drawing as a kid, but never really pursued it. And when I took that class, I just fell in love with life drawing. And I was fortunate enough to have a really good teacher. So it all came down to this one elective that changed my idea about what I wanted to do. So I finished up my theatre degree. But by the time I finished, I had a few more art classes under my built, and I knew what I wanted to do was be a painter, and particularly a figurative painter.

 And then you entered an MFA program?

 Yeah. I took a period of time off in between getting my bachelors degree. I lived in New Mexico for a while. And I studied painting, mostly just by painting everyday on my own. And that allowed me to get experience and practice, and build a body of work. And after that I moved back to California. And at that time I started to apply for graduate programs. That was when I got into the MFA program at Cal State Long Beach, and got my MFA degree there.

 Is that where Bustamante went?

 Yes, exactly. And we met actually, but once. He had already graduated when I started, and I remember crossing paths with him in the hall once as I was moving into my MFA studio. And I think he said something to me like 'well you're coming into the program at a really good time, because there's lots of young people coming in and it's really competitive.' And he was teaching a beginning level class there, and I never saw him again, but I do remember hearing that he got hired at tech. So that was kind of an interesting coincidence.

 Tell me about your experience in between getting your bachelors and getting your masters, so far as trying to be successful in the arts or trying to do something related to the arts as a career or to support yourself.

 The one thing I knew in between finishing my bachelors degree was that I had a whole lot more to learn. So most of that time that I spent not in school was spent painting everyday on my own in my studio. Literally just painting still lifes, getting into the habit of working everyday. And taking that opportunity to practice the things that I felt like I needed to learn in order to be able to make the kind of art that I wanted to make. So that was really my work. I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where I could just do a little bit of part time work on the side, and spend the rest of the time painting in the studio. So when I moved out to California, I started working as an art model in various art classes. And I got to meet a lot of great teachers that way, and I got to see a lot of great art programs that way, some of the big art schools on the west coast, like art center and Pen Otis College. I worked there quite a bit and saw what people were teaching and what students were doing, so most of my work at that time was jobs that would allow me to continue to paint. I did do some gallery work for a while. And it was connected to those early still lifes. I showed my work in Santa Fe for quite a few years, in a gallery off the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And that was a great experience, gave me a taste of the professional side of making paintings. But somewhere in that time, my ideas about the kind of work that I wanted to make were changing. And so that's what let me gradually transition out of that gallery work into the MFA program, which I took as an opportunity to set aside time to paint and develop a new body of work, which was totally different from the still life paintings I was making. So to support myself while I was a grad student, I started teaching, almost right away. Two careers, one love was teaching, and one love was making paintings.

 You were teaching at what level?

 Well I started teaching a painting class at a school where I studied. It wasn't a school; it was kind of like an adult extension program connected to the animation guild in Los Angeles. This was a place where animators could go and take classes outside of work so that they could build their skills, especially in life drawing and in representational painting. And because that had been my focus for a long time, I went there to study life painting, with some really great teachers who were also really great animators. Once I started going to grad school, I proposed a class to the animation union. I wanted to teach a basic intro painting class. Something that would allow people to learn to use paint without worrying about painting the model, which is very difficult. So I proposed a still life painting class, and that was my first painting class. I had been doing that for about two years when I got into the grad program at Long Beach, and within my second semester of being in the MFA program at long beach, they offered me a life drawing class. So I really did start teaching right away. Sometimes teaching adults, like in that program at the animation union, sometimes teaching foundation level classes to freshmen, which is mostly what they give grad students, which I enjoy too.

 What influence do you think your background in theatre has had on your art?

 I think a couple things pretty directly. My painting is narrative painting, so I'm interested in stories. I'm interested in circumstances, moments that happen between people that are undefinable in words. In theatre, some of the most profound things happen when actors aren't speaking to each other, when there's just an exchange that creates a certain tension or a certain poignance to a moment. And that's the same thing I'm interested in in my own painting. Literally though, like I was telling you I loved building sets, and I love the things that happens when the lights come on in the first dress rehearsal. That crosses literally over into my paintings. A lot of the composition, a lot of the color is based on staging characters within a space. And a lot of the colors are determined by the color of the light that is connected to a mood or a story. And so some of those early things like the transformative quality that light can have on a composition come directly from theatre. Also, theatre oftentimes is about the circumstances and problems that we have in life, big and small, and my painting revolves around those questions too.

 Switching gears entirely, How does it feel to move from a big city, and sort of like the nexus of the Western world like Los Angeles, to Ruston, Louisiana?

 Haha. That is switching gears a lot I think, for me too. Actually it's like switching gears. I'm from New Orleans originally, but I've been in Los Angeles for over half my life. So, in some sense, my primary feeling about it so far is that it's giving me a chance to come home, which I've been actually looking for for a long time. And I think I go through different phases as a painter, different needs, different sides of myself. In Los Angeles, there's obviously all kinds of input, all kinds of art forms and all kinds of influence that a person has that affect the way I make art, and my ideas about art. That can be a good thing, depending on whatever phase I'm in with my work, and it can be an overwhelming and distracting thing. So I think that this move came right at a time when two things were happening. Personally, I was looking for a way to do something from my home state, and professionally, I'm in a phase now where I need less distraction, and more of, I think one of my colleagues here described it as laid back or relaxed in a way, I think I need more of that, haha, to get to the next stage of my work. So it's a change that feels big, but it also feels right at the same time. And my work is becoming much more about growing up here, too, so that's an interesting coincidence as well.

 What are your impressions so far of Ruston and the art scene here?

 I've only had a couple days. I don't know if I can really answer that fully. I'm excited by some new things, Nick was just telling me about the Black Box, and I love the fact that there's the old theatre right across the way. And I saw that there's live music and all that available here. All of those things are things that I would look for back in Los Angeles. And however big or small they are, they're present here too. And that's all really exciting. It seems like, just talking with the people that I'm making friends with here now, it's a pretty vibrant artistic community. And I'm really excited to get to know it more, to see more of what's going on around here and in the outlying areas too.

 In a traditional medium such as painting, and also considering the post-modern climate of theory in which there's no trajectory or continuum of progress, what does innovation in painting look like?

 That's a great question. I think I'm constantly asking that of myself. And I'm constantly asking that of the painting that I see. I might be able to answer that in part by saying what it doesn't look like. There's a lot of work out there that seems to be focused exclusively on a genre or a style, and when you look at it, you get a feeling that it's basically a representation of that look. So that to me easily becomes fixed in a way. So it's not really letting one painting or one idea bump into the next idea and influence the next painting. Innovation is a really difficult thing to define. It can't ever seem like innovation for it's on sake. If you're just taking risks and slapping paint around without a connection to an intention, then that's not innovation. What I like to see, in my own work and in an artist's history, is transformation. Being able to see a through-line is part of it, but finding problems and asking questions that take the style in one direction and then that influences the next style and that influences the next. So I'm not giving you a concrete look or anything. I'm just giving you my ideas about innovation and what I look for, what I hope to see.

 Could you tell me a little bit about your teaching philosophy, or what you've found that works?

 My teaching philosophy is really influenced by those early experiences I was telling you about at the animation union. In different art forms, I've had many teachers in my life, some of whom were the kind of teacher who were all about 'let yourself do whatever you want to do and let's see where it goes from there.' And then I've had other teachers who were very much 'this is step one, step two, step three, step four,' and then you do all those things and you'll get to this point. And those are radically different philosophies. The ones that work for me were the ones that made me feel like I was getting concrete, tangible information that helped me to get to the next level, helped me to have the skills and abilities to do what it was that I wanted to do. When I found that, I realized I had found teachers who were not only teaching me how to be an artist, but they were teaching me how to teach. So my philosophy is influenced by that. It's really hands on. I believe in showing a ton of different kinds of work related to an idea from all different kinds of eras of drawing, painting, and photography. I believe strongly in being able to demonstrate as well as being able to talk your way through an idea with students. And so I work one on one with everyone in my class everyday. That's really important to me. It's a visual world, and so it needs to be dealt with visually in the classroom, whether that's through showing a lot of examples or showing by example, by doing. It's both of those things. And then I also feel that most of what I have been teaching, it's classes at the foundation level. So it's really about skill building and increasing awareness and understanding of what's possible. Another dimension of that level of foundation class that I think is important is creating an awareness in the student of their own ideas. What is your answer to this age old problem? So, fostering, doing whatever I can to engage in a dialogue with students about their ideas, and helping to form those ideas in relationship to the projects. All that's interconnected, all that makes for a well-rounded classroom experience.

 Could you describe for me your ideal student, or what qualities someone needs to be successful as an art student?

 That also goes back to my own early experiences as an art student. I know what worked for me, and I know where I fell short of trying hard enough to achieve what I wanted to achieve. So my ideal student is a person who asks questions a lot. The worst thing, the most uncomfortable thing anyway, is to look out across a sea of empty faces. So if there's a student or two or three or four who ask questions whenever they come to mind, and freely without being self-conscious, that's an ideal situation for me. You have students who come to class already with a little skill, but that isn't even necessarily the ideal circumstance. You can come to class as a student with a willingness to learn and not much else. And I think that's a part of my ideal student. In addition to those personal qualities, the ideal student is someone who's willing to work, someone who's willing to keep their goals in sight, and to suit their choices to their goals. So I really do want to see someone giving everything they have to a class and to a project, personally and in terms of how they handle projects. So if I can see that development from the beginning to the end of a quarter, where something has changed in terms of the way you've handled the materials because you've applied yourself, then that's really exciting to me, no matter what the starting point is. That's someone who's a pleasure to work with. Because they're engaged. They're engaged at the level of ideas and asking questions. And they're engaged with the wonder side of making art, which is the question like what happens when I do this? And how does the amount of time and effort a energy that I put into it physically affect that? It's all this kind of personality that's open on one level to new information, and also willing to try and apply themselves on another level.

 Do you have any thoughts about the role of art in society?

 Yeah. I do. And those thoughts are, just like everything else I've said, are constantly formulating and reformulating in my mind. But I believe that one of the primary roles of art is to keep us connected with what's invisible. It's to make visible what's invisible. It's the deeper questions of life that have been ongoing for as long as there's been records about the questions that we ask as people. Art takes us out of our normal selves and gives us an extraordinary experience, the best art does. Even the art that is not the best does that, because it keeps us thinking in extra-normal ways, beyond 'what do I need to get at the grocery store,' into questions about what it means to be a human in the world. So whether or not you're a person whose art is political or a person whose art is fanciful, or a person whose art is ironic, those art just avenues into the same basic world, which is to teach us about what it means to be human, in this world.

 I think that all the questions I have.

 Thanks so much.

 Sure. You're welcome. It's my pleasure.

Q&Art with Russell Pirkle

This week: Paul and Mary Fran Crook of B & B Theatre. Don't forget to come see RFK this Friday and Saturday at 8pm at the Norton Building. Interview and transcript edited for length.

[wpvideo qVE76yjr]

This is Q&Art. I'm Russell Pirkle, and today I am interviewing Paul Crook and Mary Fran Crook, professors of theatre at Louisiana Tech and Grambling University respectively, and founders of the B & B Theatre, for which Paul serves as director and Mary Fran as producer.

Could y'all tell me about the show that's coming up . . . next week, is that right?

PC - Next Week. Would you like to do that or should I?

MFC - I will. It's next week, August 19th and 20th at the Norton Building located downtown on Mississippi. Doors open at seven o'clock. The show will begin at eight o'clock. We're trying to avoid as much heat as possible, and are praying for rain to break it out. But again, it is B & B, which stands for Basket and Beverage, so people are welcome to bring a basket of food and their beverage of choice and sit back and enjoy an evening of theatre.

PC - And, decorate their tables!

MFC - Right, decorate their tables, because for this show, which I kind of got inspired by some of the participants who came for Graceland to have a table decorating contest. And the theme is actually patriotism, so bring out your Fourth of July gear and celebrate again. And there will be a prize which is yet to be announced.

PC - That's right. There will be a fabulous prize. We will have a special local celebrity guest judge who will judge the table decorations. And each night he will choose . . .

MFC - Or she!

PC - He or she will choose one table as the winning table, and that table will receive a fabulous prize, fabulous parting gifts.

And the show, that's RFK, is that right?

PC - Yes, that is the name of the show, RFK, written by a man named Jack Holmes.

How did you choose this show?

PC - Mary Fran chose it.

MFC - I actually was given the script by a colleague that I work with at Grambling State University, just to read it. And it was one that once I started it . . . I felt bad because it stayed on my desk for a while, and I had some time so I decided to read it. And I started it, and I couldn't put it down. I was like 'this is such a great play, the history in it.' And I wanted to share it with Paul. And so he read it and felt the same way, and we got together this idea about the B & B Theatre, and we wanted to make it a small cast for the inaugural season. And I thought what about RFK, and you [Paul] play RFK? Because it's always nice, especially for our students to see us actually doing something outside the classroom, showing that we do have some kind of professional work outside. So RFK, I fell in love with it after I first read it, and I'm enjoying the opportunity to get to direct it, especially with my husband. Because this doesn't happen often. Haha.

Ok, so whenever I did the intro, I said that you, Paul, were usually the director . . .

PC - I'm the artistic director of the company. It is weird. I'm the artistic director, and Mary Fran is the producer of the company. But for this show, she's directing the play, and I'm just an actor.

What do you think it was about Robert Kennedy that made him such a unique political figure?

PC - I think a couple of things. One, certainly is his relationship to JFK. The world had a fascination with John F. Kennedy and with Jackie. They were young. They were vibrant. They were passionate. They had big ideas. And Robert was a part of that. And when JFK was assassinated, I think it was natural to look to Robert to carry the torch. But I also don't think that RFK was strictly a coattail rider. He had his own reputation. We see these events in the play. We see his work in the attorney general's office, fighting organized crime, fighting the corruption in the Teamsters' union, his court battles with Sam G. Encana. His court battles with Jimmy Hoffa. We see him come into his own as a political figure, solitary, but he still had a lot of the same qualities that JFK had. He was young. He was vibrant. He was full of new ideas. And that spoke to a generation of people who were looking for change, who were looking for something different than what they had. And it's why anytime a politician comes on the scene who is young, who is advocating change, who is advocating a new direction, they get compared to RFK and JFK. We saw it in 2008 with President Obama's campaign. All of the comparisons between him and JFK and RFK, because here he was, a young guy, 47 I guess when he was elected, he was running on a platform of hope and change. And that tied directly back to RFK, and that resonates with the younger members of a society.

Are there any other actors and actresses in the play besides yourself?

PC - Haha. Unfortunately No. (All laugh) It's just me. It's a one man show. Jack Holmes wrote it actually for himself. He wrote it and did it himself. The first six or so professional performances from workshop performances to off broadway performances to performances in Cincinnati and Boston and other big cities, it was just him. He had a passion for the Kennedy family, and that was what sparked his interest in writing the play. So he wrote it as a one man show, and that's it. RFK is the only character in the play, so it's just me. Talking.

Do you want to speak a little about how this role compares to other roles you've played in the past?

PC - It's a lot more words! Haha. That's a cheesy thing to say, but it's true. Here's the difference: I've done of course big huge shows, and I've had leading role in big shows. I've had small roles in big shows. I've also done a three person show a couple of times. And I've done a two person show a couple of times. And each of those, the fewer actors you get, the more pressure comes on you to bring it as an actor, to be on your game. Because you've got a shared stage. And when you're doing a two person show, and it's just me and you back and forth, man, we both gotta be there. We both gotta go. Take one of those people away, and the pressure just multiplies exponentially. And that's the difficult thing. There's nobody else you can feed off of. There's nobody else up there to share energy with, to share an approach with, to share a communion with. So what happens is the audience takes the place of that other actor. There becomes this give and take between the performer and the audience. And as an actor, I'll be interested to see, having never done a one man show before, how deeply that synergy can work.

MFC - But also, you're playing a historical figure, where your other characters, you kind of built it on your own. But this one, Paul has sat there and researched and listened to clips of RFK, trying to figure out the voice, even to how he says specific words. Because it's been 43 years. That's not a long time ago for a lot of the people who will most likely be coming to see this performance. RFK is still fresh in their memory. JFK, RFK, that whole family is still fresh in their memory. So Paul has really gone a step further trying to recreate Robert Kennedy, not just Paul Crook but Paul Crook portraying Robert Kennedy to the best that he can.

PC - Yeah, and that's a tough part. That's a tough thing, I think. And this is the first time I've played a role who was an actual person so recently in our midst. I've played historical figures in a Shakespearean show. You know, I've played the Duke of York, who was, yes, a real person. But there's nobody alive who remembers the Duke of York. And that's a challenge in this because we're going to have people in the audience that voted for Kennedy. We're going to have people who voted for JFK, or voted against him. Or remember wathing him. Or watched some of the hearings on TV, or saw clips of the hearings. They have a person relationship and a personal memory of him. And I've got to live up to that, which is tough. That's a tough challenge for an actor. And because I'm 42, I was born the year after RFK was assassinated, so all of the research I've done has been relying on youtube clips and stuff I find online to get a feel for . . . How does he sit? How does he walk? How does he talk? Which side did he part his hair on? He had more hair than me, but I'll do the best I can to part it that way. So it's a tough thing.

Mary Fran, could you tell me a little bit about your role as the director?

MFC - Paul made this comment when he was directing Graceland, that with his two actresses, Allie [Allison Gilbert Bennet] and Rebecca [Rebecca E. Taylor], they're just such great performers, that his role comes easy. And it's the same way with directing Paul. It's kind of easy, in a way. I'm just here to be that eye for him. And there are things that maybe he doesn't see that I feel like should be in there, so I've been trying to get him to go that direction. The problem with scripts is that there's always directions in it, and stuff that's expected, but that was also for the first time that it was ever done. But just trying to make sure that I'm getting across what I want the audience to see. And having an audience, it would be nice, because it's just he and I in here and these four walls at times. So just making him get off book, that might help a little bit more, but like he said, it's seventy pages of words. Seventy pages.

PC - Fifty. For the love of God, don't give me seventy!

MFC - Fifty pages of all words.

PC - I couldn't do seventy. Haha.

Could y'all tell me about any other people who have a role in making the B & B Theatre possible?

PC - Yes! One is the North Central Louisiana Arts Council, which has been fabulous. When we had the idea to do this, one thing that we knew is that we couldn't do it ourselves. We had an idea, so we went and we put together a proposal, a presentation, and we went to the Arts Council and proposed it and asked if the Arts Council would be interested in sponsoring this kind of new artistic venture getting of the ground. And one of the things we stressed was, we want this to be a complement to other artistic activites in North Central Louisiana. We don't want to compete. We made very certain when we were choosing the shows and the dates that we weren't going to conflict with anything that RCT was doing, and we weren't going to conflict with anything and the Dixie, and we weren't going to conflict with any art gallery openings that were going on. We want this to be a part of, an addition to the art scene. And so the Arts Council was great. And the Stone family, who helped sponsor it. Kathy Stone, who was at that board meeting, loved the idea and said 'Absolutely. We'll help out in any way that we can.' So the Stone family and the Arts Council. We wouldn't be doing it, if they didn't support us, Mary Fran and I would be sitting at home watching Let's Make a Deal right now. And not rehearsing.

MFC - And the Nortons. They were gracious to let us use the space, provide us with the space at the Norton Building. I've worked with Dean [Norton] before, when I was at the Dixie Center for the Arts, for an event that we had that went with the two. It's just a great space, so definitely the Nortons as well.

PC - Mhm.

MFC - And the community.

PC - Well yeah. And that's the thing. Leigh Anne [Chambers], she helped us out above and beyond her role as the director of the Arts Council. She helped out with Graceland and has been helping out with this. And April. And you. Everybody, the Arts Council has helped getting press releases out, setting up interviews. The Louisiana Tech Department of Theatre has allowed us to use this rehearsal space and some props and some set pieces, which has been really nice. And then, like every theatrical endeavor, it's a communal event, so there are tons and tons of people who help out with it.

You mentioned about wanting to be complementary to the other theatrical and art things that are going on currently. I'm curious, what do you feel about what sort of niche that the B & B Theatre fills that wasn't already?

PC - We look at this as adult theatre is what we say. And everytime I say that I think 'oh my God, it sounds like we're doing porn.' It's not. Haha. It's not that, but it's theatre for adults. Louisiana Tech's theatre department, every theatre caters to a specific audience. Tech's theatre department caters to the campus community, and our season ticket holders, who are typically kind of older members of our community. Ruston Community Theatre targets family audiences. And that's what every good community theatre does. You look at their shows, they're doing shows the whole family can come and enjoy a great evening or afternoon of theatre. They did Annie. A couple of years ago they did Cheaper by the Dozen. And all the shows they have are all fantastic, but they're for families. Likewise, Grambling's target audience is the Grambling campus. What we wanted to provide with the B & B, and the niche we wanted to fill, is theatre for adults to come and enjoy. We don't want you to bring your kids. This should be a date night for the adults, to come out and enjoy. Like Mary Fran said, bring your picnic basket and your dinner, whatever it's going to be. Bring your bottle of wine. Bring your six pack of beer. Bring your whatever. Your two litre of Coca-Cola, whatever it's going to be. But sit back and enjoy shows that are meant to be enjoyed by an adult audience. Whether they're comedy, or whether they're dramas, or what have you. Graceland dealt with mature themes. It dealt with loss. Even though it's a comedy, it dealt with psychological abuse. It dealt with relationships. It dealt with finding yourself. Even though it's a comedy, it was for adults. Same thing holds true with RFK, and this is a theme, we're talking about a past political figure in the United States, not a lot of ten year olds are going to be that interested, I don't think. Haha. But this is for adults. This is intelligently written. It's intelligently directed. I hope it's intelligently performed. And we want an intelligent, mature audience to come and sit back and enjoy an evening of entertainment.

I know you both have a wealth of theatrical experience, but were there any new challenges or experiences involved in creating and running the B & B Theatre?

MFC - With this play specifically, because it is two acts, four scenes in the first act and five scenes in the second act, and there's all these transitions that lighting would really come in handy. So in having a dance background, I'm one that I choreograph everything, I really do. That's how I like to direct. And trying to get all of this to run together, and our hope right now is that we do this without and intermission. We've just got to see if we can. I've got water breaks, you know 'take a sip of water here, take a sip of water there.' But the lighting aspect has been . . . But other than that, theatre can be done anywhere. It's like Peter Brooks said, 'you just need a person walking across the floor and one person watching, that's theatre.' It can go anywhere.

PC - And I think, the only challenge in terms of the theatre company itself is people need to get used to us. It's something new that's in town. When we set out to do this, we said 'alright, we want to bring professional theatre to Ruston. We want to use this first year to see it's successful, if there's an audience for it. 'Cause you never know. There may not be. But We think there will be.' And if this is successful, and if RFK is as successful or more successful than Graceland was, then we'll look to do it again next year. But the other thing, and this goes back to your earlier question about what niche we fill, our goal is we do want this to be, for all intents and purposes, a professional theatre company. The people that we're going to hire to work are people who have worked professionally before. This is not something we take lightly. We're both very serious about it. If we're going to choose a show, and we're going to choose actors for the show, we want to make sure that everybody has worked professionally before, has got that experience. They've got a certain level of training and experience that allows them to work in these conditions. Because one of the biggest differences between what we're doing with the B & B and say what we do at Tech, at Tech we typically will rehearse shows for five or six weeks. Sometimes even seven. And you're looking at rehearsals six days a week, three hours a day. Well, being in the summer, because we're working small, and because we're working with all professionals here, we're rehearsing these in two weeks. And we're rehearsing, depending on however long in the afternoon or evening or morning, whenever we're scheduling our rehearsals, we're putting it together quickly. And there's a pacing to it that you have to have done before and be used to in order for it to work. And if I just pulled a couple of my students, or a couple of Mary Fran's students out, if they had not done this before, they woudn't be able to do it now. There's nothing wrong with that. They just haven't had that experience. So that's why we're looking to make this as smooth as possible so we can get the best product on stage possible.

Do you have any thoughts about the role of theatre in society, and what it offers that say tv and movies don't?

PC - I'll give you the short version of it. Here's the thing. Theatre, like any art form, we are the historical recorders of a society. We are the conscience of a society. We are the commentators for a society. We are the entertainers for a society. Those are all roles that theatre fills. That are important roles, that add to any culture, that add to every sociological setting. These are things that theatre can do. It goes back to that sense of community that we talked about earlier that you don't get with a movie. You don't get with a television. I love movies. I love tv shows. There's nothing wrong with them. The thing, and it's what I tell my students all the time. We're not competing with the movies, or with tv. We can't. Live theatre can't compete. And I don't care what your budget is. I don't care if it is Les Mis. I don't care if it is Miss Saigon and you're landing a damn helicopter on the stage. It's still not going to be as impressive as Platoon or Full Metal Jacket in the movie theater. When you've got all of the special effects, all of the money, all of the camera angles and everything else you can do in the movies, we can't compete with that. And we shouldn't try to compete with that. But what theatre offers is an immediacy, a story-telling connection between artists and audience that is real, that is synergetic. That is Visceral.

MFC - Tangible.

PC - That is communal. And it's an event. And there it is, and we all go. The three of us, we go, and we sit down and we watch a play together. And we have experienced something together. Those of us in that room, both performers and backstage technicians, and audience members, we have all experienced something that no one else has and no one will again. Because it's ethereal. It's one night. The show is performed and then it's done. Even when you perform it the next time, it's not the same as the night before, because you've got a new set of circumstances around it. It's a new audience, and maybe an understudy is in the role or the weather is different or whatever it is. But it's never the same twice. And that is so cool. That is something. To be a part of that, to be a part of that community for those forty-five minutes, or one hour, or ninety minutes, or three hours, or whatever it is, that nobody else has.

MFC - We're true life. You know, the audience members can feel that personal state. They can feel it. They are a part of it. And there's nothing like it. We are true form. We can't stop and cut and paste. A bleep or a dropped line, we can't rewind it. We can't rewind our life either. We are true. Where, yeah, we can cry at movies. We can laugh at television. But there's just something about that synergy that you feel. You can't feel that in front of a screen.

You've already gone a long ways toward answering this question with the last question, but what drew you two to theatre as a career?

MFC - Hahaha!

PC - Me again?

MFC - Sure.

PC - For me it's easy. The short answer is I have no other marketable skills. None. I got nothing. Why are you in theatre? This is it. This is all I can do. I can't build anything. I can't fix anything. I can't go into a kitchen and create a five course meal. I can't build a widget or sell a widget or anything like that. These are the skills that I have, right. It's the only marketable skills I have are acting and directing. That's the short answer. The meatier answer is I direct and I act because there are stories that I want to tell. And this is how I tell stories, is through theatre, through plays. I read a play, I see a play. I read a story, and it speaks to me. And there's something about that that I want to share with other people. And there is a story that I want to tell, that this play helps me tell. That's why I do it. I talk about this when I teach directing classes all the time. As a director, you want to have that connection with the script. It needs to be something that you feel you bring something to it, and you can help tell that story. That's why I do it. It ain't for the money. Haha.

MFC - My true role in theatre is stage management/theatre management. And I got into that when I was an undergrad dance major, and I saw somebody on a headset, and I was curious. What is that? And I realized it's stage management. They control everything. And I like to be in control.

PC - Ain't that the truth!

MFC - But it's so hard for me sometimes to go to the theatre and not sit there and look at the lights, and look at how the props are taken off, and the flow of it. Again, I mentioned about choreographing everything. And always looking at the technical aspects, because I am a technical person. I want to run things. I like to take control. And that's why I got into it, personally.

PC - That's why it works well with her as producer of the company, because she gets to make the decisions.

MFC - Somebody's got to.

PC - That's right.

Do either of y'all have any advice for people interested in being involved in theatre?

MFC - Do it.

PC - Do it, yeah. That's it exactly.

MFC - Don't let anything stop you. You're going to get criticized by everyone. And, you know, whether that be your family, your friends, your professors - other professors, not professors in the theatre department, they're always going to say 'why? why are you doing that? Why do you need a degree?' They're always questioning. And then another question that always comes up is what can I do with a theatre degree. There's more on that list of what you can do with a theatre degree than there is with anything else. There really is. There's so many more opportunities. I tell my students all the other subjects, you sit in your desk and you're taught it. In theatre, you practice it. What other degree do you get the opportunity to actually put it into play?

PC - Welcome to the liberal arts, that's what we do! Liberal arts/humanities rock! (All laugh)

I asked you if you had any advice for aspiring actors. What advice do you have for the audience, to get the most out of the theatre experience, and to cultivate a deeper appreciation?

MFC - Be open-minded.

PC - Get drunk! No, well that too. Haha. We like drunk audiences.

MFC - Come in with an open-mind.

PC - Yeah, and come in ready to participate. Again, it's not sitting in the movie. You're not going to get the most out of any play. Not just ours but whatever play you go to. You are a participant in the action of the evening when you go. Because your energy and your attention means so much to the audience, to those who are out. It's just key. That and a lot of wine. Haha.

Well I think that's about all the questions I have. Thanks so much for speaking with me.

PC - Thank you.

MFC - Thank you.

Frank Hamrick Announce's Book Release for "Harvest"

About the Book

The first hardback edition of the handmade book "Harvest" is limited to twenty-five copies and is available in blue, green or purple. Twelve images are inkjet printed and the text is LaserJet printed on 50lb., double-sided, matte, Red River paper. The covers and end sheets are cotton rag paper handmade at Green Street Press at the University of Georgia. The cover imagery was printed on an etching press using a polymer plate produced by Boxcar Press. The book measures approximately 7 3/8” x 7 3/8” and has a total of twenty pages. An edition of twenty-five softcover copies were produced, but are no longer available. 
The photographs were made in Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Italy and are selections from the series "Hideaway", "On The Mountainside", "House to Home" and "A Nice Place To Visit". Portions of the text have previously appeared in the one of a kind books "Passing" and "The Wallet Book". 
All the images and text from "Harvest" can be previewed here.

Hamrick's Artist Statement

I grew a garden for three summers when I lived in Athens, Georgia. The first garden generated a small plot of potatoes about the size of a double bed. The next year I grew more potatoes while adding turnips, collards, peppers and watermelons. Tailgaters stole the peppers and melons on game day as caterpillars progressively ate their way through the turnips and collards I failed to consume myself or trade for fried chicken with the soul food restaurant in front of my house. The garden grew bigger and more plentiful each year. The soil became rich from continually mulching in the giant tea bags I got everyday at closing time from the restaurant. The grocery co-op in town had sunflower seeds for sale the third summer. Many of these flowers became a deep red I had never seen before. Their stalks grew ten feet tall before falling over in the wind. 
The constant success of my potatoes inspired me to plant other underground foods, including carrots. It was a busy spring and I never thinned the rows. During the harvest I discovered two carrots firmly wrapped around one another. I washed them off, made a quick snapshot and gave them as a present that night to the girl I was dating at the time. I have tried since then to grow more intertwined carrots to photograph, but have not been able to come close to the success I had with that original garden in Athens
One summer I photographed dozens of tree roots on the bank of a creek. I thought about how people stay in an area when it provides something they need, but move on when things dry up. I bounced back and forth between New Mexico and Georgia for years after leaving my full time job in Athens. I was never in one place long enough to plant and harvest a garden. My wandering went on to include Italy and Maine before reaching my current residence in Louisiana. It is only during the past few summers that again I have been able to harvest potatoes and carrots and other plants that grow down into the ground. 
Several of my garden images challenge conventional notions of beauty. A plant blown down in a storm that has the perseverance to grow back up again is more beautiful to me than one that grows straight, yet lacks character. Some of my photographs are constructed images where I consciously decide what to discard and what to keep. Other images are simply my documentation of what I see as being notable, whether it is good, bad or something I realize is impermanent and will be seen by others only if I take the time to save it in the small way I can. 
The pieces I make have particular meaning to me, but I understand other people will see them in their own way. My photographs are not necessarily created to illustrate or provide answers. If anything, I would like for my images to generate more questions. I do not see them as endpoints, but rather starting places where I give the viewer ideas to ponder and allow room for their imagination to create the rest of the story.

Purchasing Details

"Harvest", can be bought online at:
Or checks can be sent to:
Frank Hamrick
PO Box 3175
"Harvest" hardback, first edition is $60.00 plus $5.00 for shipping in the U.S. Please list your preferences concerning the book's cover: blue, green or purple.
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