By Robin Barr
In honor of Homecoming Reunion Weekend 2016, work from three alumni artists, Elaine Wick Poplin ’91, Jeremy Jones ’00, and Willoughby Lucas Hastings ’11, is currently on display in the Thurber Arts Center lobby. The exhibition is a harmonious yet eclectic mix of textures, colors and media. It includes outstanding examples of fine woodworking, intricate quilting, and vibrant painting. The show was installed by Huntsville Museum of Art curator, David Reyes, and will be on display until November 5, 2016.
Each of the contributing artists participated in visual and/or performing art classes while students at Randolph. They credit various faculty members with inspiring and encouraging them to pursue their artistic passions. In the words of Willoughby Lucas Hastings, “Some of these teachers taught me art and some impacted my artistic curiosity.’’ Elaine Poplin said, “I was and am tremendously inspired by the academic environment and natural curiosity and desire to know more that is fostered here at Randolph.”
Elaine Wick Poplin '91
Elaine is the daughter of an artist and a West Point math professor. She says she was raised to “see patterns in everything.” Elaine became intrigued with quilting at age 10 when her mother took her first quilting class. This interest, combined with her penchant for patterns and ability to sew, has manifested itself in Elaine’s prolific quilting. She says, “I doodle and design new patterns almost constantly, so quilting became a natural outlet for this tendency.”
Quilts adorn the walls of the Randolph classroom where she teaches Upper School math and are often used to illustrate some of the mathematical concepts she covers. She began entering regional and national quilting competitions in 1992. Recently, two of her quilts earned second place ribbons and monetary awards in the American Quilt Society Show in Chattanooga. This is a large show with 170 quilters participating from 35 US states and seven other countries.
Elaine recognizes Middle School science teacher Karen Van Bebber and former math teacher Mary Shepard Hughes as “my biggest creative influences in high school, even though they may not consider themselves to be artists. They challenged me to try difficult things and not to be discouraged when things weren’t easy.“
Her advice to any young artists who might be wondering whether they can or should pursue an artistic interest after high school is, “Your choices for artistic expression really are unlimited. Life is not an either/or proposition: art is in every part of my life and work and always has been, in various media. I’ve never had to choose between making art OR doing work, and you shouldn’t have to either. You can do both, and you can do art AS your work if that’s what you want to do. But don’t feel like you have to give up painting or singing or dancing or ceramics just because adults have to do mature and boring things like paying taxes and grocery shopping. I don’t necessarily suggest doodling in the margins of your W-2, but don’t forget that there’s art all around you if you take the time to see it. And you can create beautiful things in five-minute snatches of time, so don’t ever silence your inner artist. Create, think, learn, and savor the pleasure of the experience.”
Willoughby Lucas Hastings '11
Willoughby sometimes struggled in traditional academic classes because of her dyslexia. She credits these mentors with helping to inspire and welcome her. She says, "Sometimes the academic world proved to be extremely challenging for me, especially being dyslexic and interested in art. I have never really fit into a typical student ‘box’, so my teachers went out of their way to help me. They made a difference and encouraged me to go to California and do something different.”
After a year and a half at an art institute in California, Willoughby transferred to the University of Georgia, where she graduated in 2015 with a degree in scientific illustration. She had the goal of obtaining a more “marketable arts degree.” Several of the pieces on display in the Alumni Art Show are examples of her work in this this area, while others take a more conceptual approach. Following her graduation, she worked as a studio assistant for artist and professor Joseph Norman at UGA. Under his mentorship, she became more confident in “the validity of a career in art” and decided that the “intrinsic value art had in her life, outweighed her interest in medicine.” She is applying to a graduate program in painting for fall 2017. A long-range goal is to teach art at the college level and/or work with younger artists. She says, ” I have had amazing mentors over the years and if possible I want to provide the same support they showed me. “
Willoughby is especially interested in working with young artists suffering from dyslexia. “My interest in art always helped me cope with my dyslexia when I was younger, and now my art is better off because of my dyslexia. I want to convey to young children who feel their dyslexia is holding them back (as I once thought) and help them realize that, on the contrary, it provides you with a unique way of looking at things.” (You can read more about Willoughby here.)
Jeremy Jones '00
Like Elaine, Jeremy Jones is also the child of an artist. His mother, Mary Jones, taught art at Randolph for 26 years before retiring in 2013. As a young child he “loved to draw,” but as he got older, he expanded his repertoire of artistic expression through formal art instruction as a student at Randolph. In addition to Lower School art with his mom, Mary, this also included ceramics and drawing classes with Kimberly Reyes and painting classes with Alan Davis. A large painting Jeremy produced in Mr. Davis’s class has graced the wall on the south end of the Thurber Arts Center lobby for several years.
A few years ago, Jeremy began working with a different medium – wood, in particular, reclaimed wood. He appreciates that woodworking allows him to incorporate many different methods of art making, including “drawing, sculpting, ceramics, carving, painting, and even photography, so working with wood doesn’t limit me to just one thing.”
The use of reclaimed wood in his projects began almost by accident while on a job with J&H Lawncare, the landscaping company he and his wife, Heidi, own. After unloading some mulch, Jeremy took a closer look at the pallet on which the mulch had been piled. He thought, “Hmmm, I bet I can make something out of that. And it’s FREE wood!” From that pallet he built a coffee table as a 4th anniversary gift for Heidi. He also used another now favorite material, turquoise, to put a numeral 4 in the corner of the tabletop. This began a tradition of artistic anniversary gifts, all with the number of the anniversary hidden somewhere in the piece.
As you enter the Thurber Arts Center lobby, you can’t miss the large wooden dining room table with beautiful pieces of inlaid turquoise. This piece, too, began with wood bound for a landfill. It was made from a stack of leftover wood Jeremy’s brother had under his deck. “It made me feel good that I could turn something that most people would just throw away into a piece of functional art,” said Jeremy. Since there appears to be no shortage of unwanted wood around, Jeremy plans to continue producing “treasure from another man’s junk.” “So, until I run out of ideas, which I don’t think I ever will, I’ll continue to do these things that bring me joy!”
Stop by the Thurber Arts Center to see the show during Homecoming Reunion Weekend or when you are next on the Garth Campus. The show runs until November 5, 2016.