COLUMBUS, Miss. – “The Story of Us,” a history of Mississippi University for Women’s Department of Art and Design, will be featured at the Rosenzweig Arts Center this February. The exhibition tells the history of the department by using artwork from the university’s permanent art collection.
The show was curated by the 2018 museum studies intern and history major Joshua Herrick. The opening reception for the exhibition will be held Thursday, Feb. 7 from 5:30-7 p.m.
The first iteration of the exhibition was curated by 2017 museum studies intern Rachael Ward for display at the Mississippi University for Women Galleries. For his version, Herrick researched a different archival resource to augment the initial chronology for the exhibition at the Rosenzweig.
The task was tedious and grueling at times, but Herrick said, “I have been taught to be patient in the research effort and to plan for any hiccups that might occur along the way.” At times, it was indeed difficult to untangle the threads that eventually led to the current department.
The university opened its doors in 1885 as the Industrial Institute and College (II&C). All students were required to earn at least one certificate of workforce skills through the Industrial Department, which housed such diverse classes in telegraphy, phonography, “book-keeping,” millinery, sewing and art. The seeds of the present-day Department of Art and Design are thus in the Industrial Department.
Three teachers who developed the early programs in the visual arts were Sallie C. McLaurin (1885 – 1900), Mamie H. Pennell (1901 – 1924) and Betty McArthur (1909 – 1933). Nothing is known about McLaurin at this point, but university records show the educational backgrounds of both Pennell and McArthur. “When I saw where the two women studied and with whom, I was extremely impressed. Their backgrounds would rival any of our faculty’s today,” said Dr. Beverly Joyce, director of the MUW Galleries.
While the university does not own any artwork by Pennell, McArthur is well represented in the exhibition. “We were very fortunate that a descendent of McArthur’s family donated several of her paintings a few years ago. Not only do the paintings show her high level of expertise, but the gift also filled a critical gap in our collection,” said Joyce.
Other high points in the exhibition center on the Hudson years. The art department had grown in the early 1940s, but university president Burney L. Parkinson wanted to accelerate its development. In 1946, he hired Ralph Hudson away from the University of Arkansas to do just that.
Under Hudson’s tenure as department chair (1946 – 1968), the department grew rapidly. Marietta Byrnes (1924 intermittently through 1950s) and Betty Dice (1945 – 1982) were already teaching when Hudson came. He soon hired Mary Evelyn Stringer (1947 – 1991) and Eugenia Summer (1949 – 1985). For nearly a decade, this was the faculty roster for the department.
Under his tenure in 1960, the Fine Arts Building (now called Summer Hall) was constructed as the first in the state initially designed for art instruction rather than “retro-fitted.” When the department moved into its current home, more faculty were added. Faculty represented in the exhibition include Edward E. Nichols (1959 – 1965), David Frank (1965 – 2001) and Larry Feeney (1968 – 2003). Currently, there is a supplemental exhibition of Feeney’s artwork in Artist’s Alley of the Rosenzweig. The Columbus Arts Council will honor Feeney at its 2019 Arts Gala Saturday, Feb. 23. In 1948, Hudson was instrumental in starting the department permanent art collection, which eventually became the university collection.
Hudson contributed greatly not only to the university but also to the larger community. He helped with the growth of the Columbus Pilgrimage Association and contributed to the accurate preservation of local antebellum homes, The Cedars and Hickory Sticks.
After Hudson stepped down as department chair, Thomas Slettehaugh (1968 – 1970) replaced him for a short period. In 1970, Charles Ambrose (1970 – 1982) took the helm. He hired Thomas Nawrocki (1970 – 2012), who forms a bridge to the current staff.
Five faculty members now oversee the Department of Art and Design: Shawn Dickey (1998), chair; Robert Gibson (1990); Beverly Joyce (2003); Alex Stelioes-Wills (2003); and Ian Childers (2011).
“The invitation to show the artwork at the Rosenzweig has allowed us to deepen our understanding of our history and to share this with our wider community,” said Joyce.
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Feb. 6, 2019