Artists with UM Connections Showcase Creative Works

Individuals from different disciplines came together in 'creative fellowship' taught by Constance Pierce

Kirstie Manning, UM human resources reconciliation assistant, chooses paintings for display at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center as part of the ‘Creative Fellowship’ exhibit. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi human resources assistant, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and several Ole Miss alumni with backgrounds in medicine, business, education and humanities all have united through creativity.

The work produced by these individuals of diverse disciplines constitutes an exhibition of watercolors, acrylic paint, creative art journaling, pastel and mixed media, titled “Creative Fellowship,” which opened July 5 at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. A reception for the artists is set for 6-8 p.m. July 24 in conjunction with the July Oxford Art Crawl.

Constance Pierce, previously a fine arts professor at St. Bonaventure University in New York, made Oxford her home upon retirement after learning about the town’s rich literary and artistic culture. After speaking with Wayne Andrews, executive director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Pierce began offering classes at the Powerhouse to share her expertise in painting and drawing.

“I began to gather a group who developed a great chemistry together, and it blossomed into a creative fellowship,” she said. “Those who visit the exhibition will see a wide array of artworks expressing the personal vision of the eight artists who are featured.

“The talents of the participants are quite diverse, but there is a communal depth of soulfulness in their expression and their imagery.”

Over the last few years, the fellowship has continued to grow and Pierce said she welcomes participants of all skill levels.

Kirstie Manning’s portrait of Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, is titled ‘Buried Her Son.’ This painting and several others by Manning is on display at the Powerhouse as part of the ‘Creative Fellowship’ exhibit. Submitted photo

The exhibit features works by Kirstie Manning, assistant in the UM Office of Human Resources; Susan Pedigo, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and other exhibiting artists Ashley Brewer, Bobby Kennedy, Susan Phillips, Vicki Stevens, John Takerer and Lynn Wilkins, all of whom participated in a variety of classes and workshops taught by Pierce.

Each artist has a unique connection with Ole Miss, either as a faculty or staff member, a graduate of the university or as a guest speaker.

Pierce said Manning is one of the most artistically gifted art students she has worked with in decades.

“Ms. Manning’s art is special because it reveals the depth of the human spirit, especially in her portraits,” Pierce said.

Manning also offers reflections of her own life through her visual journal pages, some of which will be on display.

“She has a rare ability to authentically express the soul of the person she is painting,” Pierce said. “I respect her desire to bear witness to the faces of those in African-American culture and history who she experiences as ‘truth-tellers.’ She has an exciting future ahead as an artist.”

Manning has been interested in art for as long as she can remember, drawing and coloring with a crayon case and artist’s desk that her family gave her as a little girl.

“In first grade I would draw ‘portraits’ of my classmates, even though my portraits were insanely large circles for heads with small stick-like bodies,” Manning said. “I enjoyed drawing and always wanted to get better at the skill.”

She dramatically improved her skill level from those stick figures through drawing as a hobby and taking art classes throughout her time in school.

When she enrolled at UM in 2009, she began painting through courses offered at the university. Three years later was a pivotal year for her creations.

Susan Pedigo, UM professor of chemistry and biochemistry, shows off one of her paintings that is included in the ‘Creative Fellowship’ exhibit at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. Submitted photo

“I was impacted by the victimization of people of color, and I would channel my emotions into my art,” she said. “While surprisingly acing projects in Advanced Painting and Advanced Drawing courses, I finally understood that art is my voice to be heard by the nation.”

Manning’s pieces on display are of people that inspire her directly, including American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel, a South African activist.

“Through their voices in art or protest, these beings tell stories of our ancestors and our future,” Manning said. “In turn, I’m showing reverence for them through my art.”

Pedigo, who is a beginning artist, set aside her concerns about significant figures and standard deviations in her daily research to put a brush to paper.

“I have always been interested in art, but I have never made art until now,” she said. “I was a failure in high school art class and really never pursued it on my own.”

Her daughter has been an artist since she was a young girl, and Pedigo said she admired her devotion to the craft and her unique style.

“I had to learn to let go of the expectation that my art would have a specific form and to focus only on the simple act of putting ink or paint on paper,” she said. “I worked on several pieces at one time, and I worked on each piece many times.”

Pedigo’s pieces are created with watercolor paint, oil pastels and black ink on brown paper.

“Constance has opened a world to me that I was never in – only on the outside looking in,” Pedigo said. “Now I dream about brown paper and black ink. I only pay attention to the feel of the brush as it runs across the paper.”

The exhibition can be viewed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through July 28 at the Powerhouse Gallery.