Department of Art Faculty Biennial Exhibition exhibits collections of art by professors and colleagues

Mary Ruth Smith laminates and transfers dress patterns to fabric and embroiders the outlines. She has added her own embellishments to distinguish her creations from the originals. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

Baylor faculty engage in work that goes far beyond what their students witness in the classroom. Research, visiting lectures and writing all form a significant part of the professor’s working life. For professors in the department of art, their work extends into the creative realm as well. They don’t just teach; they do.

At the Department of Art Faculty Biennial Exhibition, which opened Thursday in the Martin Museum of Art, students and faculty have the opportunity to see a collection of what their professors and colleagues work on outside the classroom.

The exhibit, which used to run annually alongside student work, showcases the creative preoccupations and fixations of the studio art faculty. Since two years ago, the exhibit has taken place every two years and has showcased only the work of faculty.

“It gives the faculty time to generate new work,” said Allison Syltie, the director of the museum.

The exhibit is composed of the work of the 16 instructors in the studio art department. The four members of the art history faculty presented lectures yesterday on their respective research interests.

“It helps the students to see what their faculty mentors are doing,” said Mary Ruth Smith, who teaches fiber art and fabric surface design.

Smith takes her own students to the museum to learn from the methods of her colleagues. Viewing the work of their teachers is helpful for them to learn the application of classroom techniques, Smith said.

The work of the studio art faculty ranges from Professor Terry Roller’s graphic designs for Baylor University to the squash castings Professor Robbie Barber transforms into grotesque figures.

In addition to seeing the technical mastery of their teachers, the exhibit also offers students a glimpse into their thoughts and preoccupations.

“I’ve been working with the basic ideas surrounding these pieces for decades. The pieces ultimately derive from my wondering about life,” said Paul McCoy, who teaches ceramics and drawing. “What I’m doing in the show is the same process as any person writing a journal. It’s tracking my life. “

McCoy’s work is placed on a series of pedestals throughout the museum’s second gallery. His “Chamber VIII” resembles one of the pieces of squash that grows in his garden but is made of stoneware and porcelain. It is a combination of elements, representing the natural change and transformation McCoy said he has always been fascinated by.

Memory is another theme on prominent display in the museum exhibit. Smith’s work is made by transferring dress patterns to fabric through a laminating process and embroidering the resulting outlines in thread. She chooses patterns from the 1920s through the 1950s that remind her of the clothing her mother and grandmother once made and wore. Now, she repurposes patterns like those her family once used and adds her own embellishments.

“They take me back to my childhood,” Smith said. “Now, as an art professor with an art degree, I’m looking back. I’m trying to elevate it to a more artistic endeavor.”

Professor Leah Force, who teaches 2-D and 3-D design, uses a similar form to reference her own past. She has reassembled several clothing fragments that her grandmother made and, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, later destroyed with scissors. Force’s work shows both family connection and the fragility of creation.

Nature, memory and the passage of time are only a small sampling of the themes and interests on display in the exhibit.