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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Becoming the Student #6: 2nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA

Jeremy Grove is a man who loves family and history. Through some interactions with friends a few years ago he ended up witnessing a Civil War reenactment event. In conversation with the participants he found that he wanted to participate as well. Soon thereafter he joined a Confederate reenactment unit. I asked him if he was a secret Rebel, but he had ancestors who fought on both sides in the war. Jeremy had a great, great, great grandfather who marched for the Confederate States of America with General Shelby’s Iron Brigade, while another was among the first Union soldiers to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

IMG_84942nd Corporal, 3rd Missouri Infantry, CSA (Jeremy Grove), Acrylic on paper, 27 by 22 inches. 2014.

Jeremy on Reenacting for the Confederate Army:

“A good thing to come from my participation in reenactments is that we highlight a time when slavery was an issue. The reality is that human trafficking is still an issue; slavery is still an issue. And if, through my portraying a Confederate soldier, I can have conversations and engage with people – and ultimately raise awareness of the reality that human trafficking is perhaps worse now than it has ever been in history – then I feel that it’s a good way to use history to learn from our past and make a change.”

On the History of War:

“Sobering and horrifying. All wars are wars about resources, nothing more.”

As we dialogued through the evening, our topics ranged from specific events during the Civil War to the idea of state sovereignty, from public history to personal history. Jeremy’s discursive narratives on the battles and movements of governments and armies as they impacted Missouri was amazing. Later on we moved into eastern European folklore, film appreciation, the Large Hadron Collider, faith trajectories, China, Japan, and hardcore table-top gaming. We rounded things out sharing our experiences of the adventure of marriage and the glory of parenting.

Each moment of our talk was charged with intensity and meaning; there were so many quotable, memorable moments. Jeremy’s energy, passion, and desire to live with awareness and thoughtfulness is inspirational. He’s a good man. Thanks for sharing so many grand histories, ideas, and laughs with me, sir!

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

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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.

Digital Sketching

Following the lead of a number of the people around me (such as Matt Choberka, William Dolan, Chris Fletcher, and Alex Herzog), I’ve begun to do more sketching on tablets. I’ve been working on a Kindle Fire using SketchBook Mobile X.

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Above: A sketch made from drawings and photos of a street scene in Guangzhou, China. This is an iconic tree to me, one that I walked past a dozen times, drew, took photos of, and have thought about many times since our trip in February of 2013. You can even see its foliage on Google images of the street corner where it’s located.

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Above: A sketch from the sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysus at the Cast Collection of the University of Missouri. I love the Cast Collection and have taught my students there for all but one of my semesters of teaching here at Mizzou.

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Above: A pile of the foam packaging inserts that accompany desktop Macs while in shipment. I use them as props in my Beginning Drawing and Painting setups.

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Above: A post-it note sculpture that hangs in my studio at the university. One of our friends made it and I love it. I’m sure it will appear in many more drawings and paintings over the years.

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Sorry I’ve not been writing much/at all recently. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.

Matt Ballou: RANGE – Reception at William Woods University

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My exhibition – Matt Ballou: RANGE – is still up at William Woods University until December 16, 2012. I hope you can go see it if you haven’t yet. Below are some photos of the space, both after the installation and during the reception. I want to thank everyone who came out – friends, students (graduate and undergrad, current and former), and colleagues – and especially Jennifer Sain for her help in making the exhibition happen. Special thanks to Jane Mudd for encouraging William Woods to host this show.

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Installation, back on November 12, 2012.

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Three panoramas of the installed work.

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Two of my all-time favorite works… Locus #77 and #78

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Beautiful angles and shapes during the reception…

At the reception I gave a brief impromptu talk that led into some interesting questions from the audience and my own musing on the work.

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Me during my talk – Photo by Kevin Larson.

Click here to download the talk and Q+A session (42 MB MP3 format, 50 minutes long).

Some notes about the talk:

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Photo of me at the talk – Photo by Eric Norby.

Color Drawing, Fall 2012

We’re halfway through another great semester of Color Drawing. Below are just a few examples of some of the standout work from this year. Click for higher res!

Danielle Wallace, Chalk pastel of reflections.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel study of colored and fluid filled glass.

Emily Brewer, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Colored pencil study of a lamp.

Jessica Bremehr, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Jessica Bremehr, Chalk Pastel study of reflective surface.

Ginny Algier, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Kevin Moreland, Chalk Pastel self portrait in a reflective surface.

Julie Bennett, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.

Click HERE to see more of my posts on my Color Drawing class glory!

Inspiration – Norleen Nosri

Norleen Nosri is a talented ceramist from Malaysia who is earning her MFA here at the University of Missouri. I’m privileged to work with her and to own several of her beautiful pieces. Her work is, to me, almost above comment. The compositions she creates are gentle and evocative. She says they are an attempt to “elicit harmony in duality.”

Above: Two images I took when I met with Norleen in her studio this past week. These groups of objects were there awaiting their placement in larger compositional arrangements and I was struck by the incidental beauty of their color, interrelated shapes, and intimate space. There was an amazing northern light coming in through a bank of windows; it produced a wonderful glow on the exquisite surfaces of Norleen’s porcelain vessels…

Here are two cups my wife and I have that were made by Norleen.

This last image is an example of Norleen’s awesome maker’s mark. The Nosri name is of tremendous importance to her, and is a connection to her family, her country, her heritage, and the meaning she understands of life. Having discussed this name with her many times, I always make it a point – whenever I hold one of her creations – to turn it over and look upon this honorable name.

Inspiration – Ian Shelly

Ian Shelly is a former student – and current friend – of mine. He teaches at Indiana University Southeast with his wife, the inimitable Natalie Shelly. They are awesome people and I’m so glad to know them.

Yesterday I drove out to St. Charles, MO to see Ian’s show at the Foundry Art Center there. It was great to see the continuity between his newer work and the thesis work he made here at Mizzou. Below are a few shots of the works installed at the Foundry. For best viewing check it out yourself! The Foundry is a very large space with tons of art and it’s situated in a beautiful waterfront area with lots of shops and parks. I think the space offered some really nice context for Ian’s work.

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A glorious homestead… I loved the overhead views that dominated this exhibition. Ian works to make the wall a ground plane and affords his viewers a God’s-eye perspective. This piece has a synergy with some of the not-so-intended intensities in Thomas Kinkade works…

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Orchestration of shadowspacestructure!

Pallet! The many miniature elements in this body of work are quite beautiful to investigate and serve to focus viewers on the deeper subtexts of Ian’s work. You can read a bit more on what he’s trying to do here and here.

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Rooted – this piece was especially dynamic and evocative. The lighting and overall space around the piece was also powerful – a typical aspect of Ian’s work.

Archetypal… the shapes, forms, and the interactions of mass with shadow and light, as well as the dynamics between tension, balance, and stillness are all elements of Ian’s works that helps them access a sense of the archetypal. Go see the show to learn about titles for these works and to read Ian’s longer statement about the work. Seriously, you need to experience the light and space around each work to get a true feeling for what he’s accomplishing through his playful yet intensely felt art. Good stuff. Glad I got to see it.
The show is up until September 7th, so check the Foundry’s website to get directions and hours of operation. Go there!

PS: This isn’t the first time Ian’s inspired me… Click here.

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