Becoming the Student #7: Tom Seagraves

Tom Seagraves is a man used to procedures and business plans. He’s a man who has worked in both management strategies and the soft logic of human relationships. A few years ago he took his decades of experience and began building a MAC Tools franchise here in Columbia, MO. He is now among the most productive toolmen in the company, ranking at the top in Missouri and in the top 120 nationally. His success is gaining recognition; recently Tom had an editor for Professional Distributor (a trade magazine) ride out with him on his rounds. He’ll be featured in an upcoming edition of the publication.

While drawing him for my Becoming the Student project, I took the opportunity to learn about his perspective on work and community.

IMG_8495Tom Seagraves, Graphite on Stonehenge, 21 by 22 inches. 2014.

On Building His Small Business:

“It’s satisfying to know that I built it from scratch. There was no one before me who handed it off. My customers are my customers. I didn’t acquire them from someone else. That’s been very satisfying.”

On Small Business and the Relationships it Creates:

“Operating a small business is hard. It is very hard. It feels like you get penalized – the better you do, the more taxes are tacked on. That’s the part that’s hard. But relationships make it all worth it. The relationships are the part that I love about it. I’m on a route, so I see the same guys every week. I’ve got those guys I love to see and we’ve got such great relationships. That’s really the fun part of what I get to do. And to have that trust develop; to have those guys to trust me. You know, if I suggest something to them: ‘Hey, this is a new thing, it costs this much, but you really need to have it and here’s why.’ All those guys just say, ‘If that’s what you think, I better have it.’ That trust and connection is huge to me.”

On Competition and Making a Difference:

“Competition is good for everybody. It’s good for the customers and it keeps us on our toes as business owners. I think the big lesson is that you can always learn something and you can always grow. But the other thing is that I’ve had opportunities to be used – I think by God – in other peoples’ lives. In the position I’m in – the relationships I have with a lot of people in this town – I think there have been days I’ve been able to be an encouragement. You get those days where you look at the clock and think, ‘I’ve got to hurry, I’m running late.’ But then there are those days where for some reason I’m ahead of schedule and I don’t know why. It seems like every time, that day, there’s someone who needs me. And then I’m able to have a conversation with someone about something they’re dealing with on a really deep level. It’s not every day, but those times happen. When I’m done with that I’m able say, wow, the Lord really worked that out. I’m so thankful to be used in those situations. Just with one word or in five minutes… that could be important for a guy. It’s easy to look at yourself and think you’re not making a difference in anyone’s life; you’re just making a living, just paying your bills. You get tied up in the mundane and then something happens. God cares about what happens, cares about the people I see.”

Tom and I also talked about the nature of art and portraiture. During our discussion I was able to break down a little bit of what the Becoming the Student project is about:

“It’s more than about making a nice picture for Grandma’s fridge. I mean, for the rest of our lives, when we see this drawing we’re going to think about this time. The drawing gets funded – it’s an investment. It’s an investment in relationship. It’s an investment in friendship and brotherhood. It’s an investment in intellectual history and proximity. It’s an investment in all of those things and, of course, that’s what it’s for. Drawings and paintings – artworks in general – have never merely been for accoutrement. They were always a way to mark time. They were a way to say, ‘We were here; we did this.’ So in that sense, this piece will not mean much to anyone else. But when we look at it, it’ll matter more. It’ll be different. Just in general I think it’s a very basic human urge to say, ‘This has happened and I know it. I have seen this thing, or I have read this passage or I’ve heard this song. It happened.’ I mean, the background of so many great songs is remembering. When you hear the song… you remember. It’s very similar for the makers and subjects of artworks. Learning from the people who sit for me will catalyze meaning in the artworks that result. I want to spend some time parked on that idea.”

I guess that’s a nice segue into the fact that some of the first Becoming the Student works will be on display at PS Gallery here in Columbia, MO! If you’d like to see the works in person, be sure to stop in (click the image below for more info)!

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New Collaboration For 2014

Joel T. Dugan is Assistant Professor at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, and we have begun a series of collaborative paintings. It was great to meet and hit it off with Joel during my recent exhibition at FHSU, and I’m excited at the prospect of working with him. I’ve decided that, much like my new series of portraits (Becoming the Student), I’m going to keep a record here to show how our work progresses.

The first six pieces have begun, three started by Joel and three started by me. These are the first states of the works. We’ll alternate working over what each other has developed and, hopefully, come to a mutual conclusion about the work.

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In other news, I’ve had two pieces of writing made available on the neotericART website recently:

Below the Blue Line: The Recent Work of Allison Jaqueline Reinhart

Trying to Get a Sense of Scale – Tim Lowly’s Precious Labor

~

Becoming The Student, #1: Shalonda Farrow

Starting this month I will be periodically posting a new series of portraits, beginning with the one below. The title of this series, Becoming the Student, is based on my desire to be quieter and learn from others rather than be entirely bound up in my identity as an educator. In Becoming the Student, I hope to present thoughtful, dignified portraits and use the time while creating the works as an opportunity to learn from the people who sit for me. With each post I will include some observation, quote, or other tidbit of glory that the subject shared with me.

The one below was created in 3 hours or so at a portrait workshop I conducted at The Columbia Art League yesterday. Pictured is my friend (and fellow CAL instructor) Shalonda Farrow. I was struck by how often she used the word “love” (as in: “Thank you, love” or “Do you need any of this, love?”) during the session. In speaking to her friends, she’s always intentional about communicating care and awareness. Shalonda seemed like a perfect initial entry into the Becoming the Student series. Here’s to many more. And thanks to Shalonda and the ladies at CAL!

20131208-155201.jpgShalonda, 13 by 11 inches, pastel on paper. 2013.

Sea of Red

Sterling W. Wyatt, a native of Columbia, Missouri, died in Afgahnistan on July 11th. The Westboro “Baptist” “Church” people decided that they would continue their crusade of hate and idiocy by picketing his funeral. They sent out a press release to that effect on the 17th. Within hours, people all over Columbia were mobilizing against the horrific, destructive weirdness that the Phelps clan stands for. Today, July 21st, Columbia showed up en masse in red clothing to stand with Wyatt’s family. This is some of what it looked like.

Click the panorama for a wide view of just part of the crowd.

The mass of people in front of the church. The crowd lined the streets for miles between the church and cemetary.

I was proud to attend this event, stand in the heat for four hours with my brother-in-law, and witness the unity and care of this town that is now my home. What was amazing and truly special is that this show of solidarity crossed all ideological boundaries. There were Christians and agnostics and atheists there. There were Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians there. There were blacks and whites and asians there. There were artists and teachers and politicians there. There were babies and teenagers and old people there. There were gay and straight and questioning people there. There were rich and poor and homeless people there. There were veterans and conscientious objectors and peaceniks there.

All standing together.

All standing together in 100+ degree heat. All calm and quiet and respectful. All recognizing the complexities of the situation. All willing to stop their day for 2 or 4 or 6 or 8 hours to honor a man who died along some dirty road in Kandahar. All willing to step out and deny twisted fools any chance to spread pain and misinformation. I was pretty proud to be there to see it.

There was a moment when Sterling’s mother was making her way toward the church, and the crowd parted for her. As she moved through a wave of clapping began to take shape. Wave after wave built into an ovation that lasted for minutes on end. It was a whole community of support – not making it any easier, not pretending it was all ok – but recognizing her sacrifice. We’ve been in these damn wars for so long now and most of us don’t have to count the cost so we needed to see her face. We needed to be near her and respect her. She’s paying. Her son paid. They paid in real blood and real tears and real years gone. If the only thing Columbia could give this woman was an ovation of encouragement, if all we could do was let her memory of this day be filtered through our good wishes and red shirts, if our best job was to keep her from seeing the blasphemy that the Westboro picketers brought… then we did well. We couldn’t make it better, but we kept them from making it worse.

I’m a Christian. I’ve spent the last two decades intensely studying the bible and Christian thought. I’ve heard it. I’ve read it. I’ve preached it. I’ve encountered it in history and in individual lives. I’ve seen it in Pontormo and Dostoevesky, in U2 and NASA. I’ve witnessed it through the chance and paradox and uncertainty of real life. It’s a part of who I am. And it offends me at a level that I can’t even begin to describe to see it distorted by the Westboro “Baptist” “Church” (or pedofile priests or opportunitistic politicians). Their actions are so pestilential, so putrifyingly wrong… yet they have become a picture of what Christianity is, who Jesus is, to so many in this country.

In the face of this absolute distortion all I can do is try to be a good man, a good husband, a good dad, a good teacher, a good artist. The only real way for me to show people that Westboro Hate Mongers (or abusive clergy or rightwing pseudo-Christian politicians) don’t represent MY Jesus is by acting out what I believe He’s all about in my own life. I know I can’t do it in my own strength, but that’s part of what I was trying to do today. It’s what I try to do as a teacher. It’s what I try to do as a dad and a husband. I can’t make any big difference. I can’t change anyone’s heart. None of that is my job. But I can try to be a peacemaker and promote justice, try to express reconcilliation, and work to function in a humble, gentle way with everyone.

“He has shown you what is good and what is required of you: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” – Micah 6:8

While thinking about all of the distortion and hate and foolishness is frustrating, it was tremendously encouraging to see my community rise up in a positive way today. I’ll say it again: I’m really proud to live here. I hope our efforts today had some impact – at least on ourselves.

RIP Specialist Sterling W. Wyatt

Current Shows and News

It’s been a full summer so far… plenty to be excited about in spite of the 107 degree heat!

I’ve currently got work up at PS Gallery in Columbia, MO. It’s a solo show – titled Adding – in their secondary gallery space, the Hallery. It’ll be up through July 28th. The Reception for the exhibition takes place July 14th at 6:00pm and we’ll be around for that. Also, stop by on Artrageous Friday, July 20th. Artageous Fridays are always epic cultural events in Columbia. Below are a few images from the installation.

Already making sales!

I have a piece of work at First Street Gallery in NYC until July 14th. First Street is a quality stop if you’re out there!

I am in a show (exhibiting a collaboration with Marcus Miers) at the 930 Art Center that runs through August 12th, called Phoneography. Check it out if you’re in Louisville!

I’ve got a work – already sold! – up at the Columbia Art League Annual Member’s Summer Open Exhibition. It garnered a 2nd place ribbon even…

I was the juror for Figure It Out! at the Craft Studio Gallery on the campus of the University of Missouri which was up from June 14 through June 28. I was delighted to select some amazing work and have a piece of my own there as well. See some shots below.

A detail of Catherine Armbrust’s amazing “The Titillator”

Ryan Johnson’s Crisis (on the pedestal) and Morgan Hobbs’ Self Portrait – which won an Honorable Mention.

Detail of John Schneider’s Do These Stripes Make Me Look Fat? – Oil on panel.

Detail of Jane Jun’s Journey.

My own monotype print titled Extend on the back wall, and a front view of Armbrust’s The Titillator.

Detail of David Mazure‘s Habakkuk, a luminous ink and marker on translucent paper that won Best in Show.

Wow… quite a bit going on since the spring semester ended. I’m trying to get my studio really set up and am enjoying time with my wife and daughter. I’m teaching a summer session of painting at Mizzou, which is quite a lot of fun, and working on a few odds and ends here and there in our new place. I made some hanging polyhedral sculptures for the front porch, a first for me. But perhaps the most effervescent developments of the last few days are my first brews – both IPAs – a Chinook and a Double. I’m using Northern Brewer equipment.

Beer Room…

ACTIVE FERMENTATION!

 

 

 

The Big Tree

This week was Spring Break for me (and the rest of the University of Missouri). Not that it really felt like much of a break. I honestly don’t remember what it’s really like to just be free. I don’t begrudge my responsibilities – much to the contrary, I’m grateful that they’re things I believe in and understand to be meaningful. Yet the freshness of just being able to BE… well, I guess I’ll have to experience that vicariously. 

One of the ways I see that “astonishment of being” taking place is through the experiences of my daughter. This week when we took her to see The Big Tree near Columbia where we live (here’s the Tree’s Facebook page) she was pretty excited. 

 

A group of shots of her at the base of the tree.

 

And with mom out in the field nearby…

 

…she picked flowers for the first time!

 

A pretty nice view.

Overall it was a good, joyful day. I’m blessed by the delight in her eyes at moments like these. I’m hopeful that we can let Miranda just experience being alive for as long as possible, before the cares and responsibilities crowd out wonder.

Exploring Possibility

Jill Hicks of the Columbia Daily Tribune wrote a piece titled “Exploring Possibility” that ran on Sunday, March 18, 2012. The article follows Allison Reinhart, a student who’s been a major presence in the Art Department here at Mizzou. She’s currently taking an independent study with me. We’ve worked together in the past – most notably on this film by the inimitable Keith Montgomery – and she’s one of my favorite people at MU.

Jill quoted quite a bit of my thoughts on working with Allison. It’s really nice to find that you’ve said something that really rings true and you have to work to live up to it. I feel that way about this particular passage: “…making accommodations for my students isn’t an area of ‘special’ or ‘additional’ effort — it’s the way it ought to be,” [...] “All culture-making is about access. When we — as institutions or individuals — legitimize the denial of access to those who wish to participate, we’re functioning as gatekeepers and operating in illegitimate systems of refusal. As an educator and person who deeply believes in the value of university-level teaching, I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Thanks to Jill for the great article and to Allison (and Gina, and others!) for being thoughtful, dedicated students. No, I didn’t say inspirational… Allison wouldn’t like that. :)

Miracles: Sovereign Movements Indistinguishable From Chance

Mary, above left, was born on April 30th, 2010 in Ethiopia. Miranda, right, was born on April 30th, 2010 in Columbia, Missouri, USA.

Moving across the earth to a town just north of Chicago, through sovereign movements that are indistinguishable from chance, Mary and Miranda made their way to each other – to play, and run, and explore their world.


It was a joyful, heartening meeting. In spite of the machinations and vices that rile our world, here we see some glint of the true purpose for humanity… and we can thank God.

Photos by Matt Ballou and Melissa Lancaster.