Past Meets Future with UM Research into Greek Plaques

Classics, engineering professors team up to explore ancient history

Brad Cook, UM associate professor of classics, balances an ancient Greek inscription over an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer as Lance Yarbrough, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, and Melanie Munns Antonelli, collections manager for the University Museum, watch. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – It is a delicate balancing act Brad Cook performs as he places a more-than-2,000-year-old golden Greek artifact atop a high-energy X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. In position, the wafer-thin ancient article soon will be beamed with billions of photons, all to unlock its age.

Cook, an associate professor of classics at the University of Mississippi, is working in a back room of the University Museum on an October morning alongside Lance Yarbrough, UM assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, and Melanie Munns Antonelli, the museum’s collections manager.

Today meets a yesterday of centuries ago as the trio is using the spectrometer to peer into a gold, and then a bronze, inscription to discover the elemental compositions of the Greek relics. The results will offer a clue whether the inscriptions – both part of the museum’s David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities – are ancient or modern.

Because it is undetermined where the inscriptions were originally found and because the survival of metal inscriptions is so rare – they were commonly melted down, even in antiquity, and “recycled” – there is doubt as to whether the inscriptions are ancient or more modern. While the scans cannot prove the plaques are ancient beyond a doubt, they can reveal the absence of anything that would signal modern manufacturing.

After scanning, the gold inscription is found to contain 99.8 percent gold, with the remaining 0.2 percent being below the detection limit of the device. The bronze inscription’s makeup is 82.2 percent copper and 17.8 percent tin. The percentages are definitive.

“The results of the scans for the two metal inscriptions show that there is nothing modern about the composition of the metals,” Cook said. “These scans, then, provide an answer that is one of many answers that collectively build a case that argues for the antiquity of both inscriptions.

“Without these scans, there would always be a ‘what if?’ hanging around the room. In the broadest terms, every artifact has a story to tell, and these artifacts in the museum have, I suspect, a unique story to tell.”

The research into the composition of the inscriptions continues Cook’s work from earlier this year, when he received a $21,000 National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the two inscriptions, including five months of work based at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in Greece.

While other parts of the roughly 2,000-piece Robinson collection have been the subject of published works, these inscriptions – both about the size of an index card – have not been.

A gold Greek inscription, an artifact at the University Museum, records the essence of a defensive treaty between Philip V, king of Macedon from 221 to 179 B.C., and the city of Lysimachia. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The gold inscription records the essence of a defensive treaty between Philip V, king of Macedon from 221 to 179 B.C., and the city of Lysimachia, a strategic town on the Dardanelles between the Aegean and Black seas. The bronze inscription records the freeing of a slave woman named Philista in northwestern Greece about the same time.

“A ‘mini’ version of a treaty on gold is, however, unparalleled, so much of my research is trying to finding comparanda for such things so I can answer … what is the purpose of a gold epitome of a treaty,” Cook said.

Classics and engineering might seem like strange research partners, but Cook has a friend, Scott Pike, an archaeological geologist at Willamette University in Oregon, who uses a spectrometer. Witnessing the usefulness of the instrument in that line of work and how it might aid him, Cook asked Pike where to find such an instrument. He told Cook: Ask your geology department.

“Brad sought us out,” Yarbrough said. “He emailed my chair, Dr. Gregg Davidson, hoping we had an XRF device. I only recently purchased the device in the spring of 2017, so it was good timing.

“One of the most useful aspects of (X-ray fluorescence) is that it is nondestructive. Many other methods of elemental analysis require you to destroy or consume a portion of the item.”

The spectrometer, a Bruker Tracer housed at the UM School of Engineering, is an apparatus that knocks electrons loose from their atomic orbital positions via an X-ray beam. The resulting burst of energy yields an elemental fingerprint that the instrument categorizes by element.

During the course of all this knocking, yielding and categorizing, the instrument ejects a minimal dose of radiation right above its “eye.” It is a “really safe” level, Yarbrough said. Still, he wears a radiation badge dosimeter just as a precaution.

His advice? Don’t stand over the spectrometer while it is beaming.

While handling the relics, Antonelli and Cook have their own safety precautions, wearing either white cotton gloves or blue industrial nitrile gloves when carefully positioning the articles over the “eye” of the spectrometer. Once the instrument starts lighting up yellow to red, everyone stands back and awaits the elemental composition percentages to calculate on Yarbrough’s laptop.

A scan takes a minute or two from positioning to final percentages.

Having answered the questions about the elemental composition of the two inscriptions, Antonelli, Cook and Yarbrough soon get curious about the composition of other museum artifacts, including ancient arrowheads, a jug and a ladle, which is found to be a surprising 67 percent silver.

The trio is having fun with its work, letting scientific inquisitiveness run wild for a while, but what they are uncovering is also valuable information to be used by future researchers.

“Understanding the composition of the artifacts helps us determine whether it may be modern or ancient since it is harder to visually date metal artifacts,” Antonelli said. “As the University of Mississippi Museum, we strive to be accessible for all scholarly research and to educate the public about our collection with the most accurate information possible. Any new information aids in this mission.

“So much of the antiquities collection could benefit from further scientific study. In the past, doing this kind of testing would have necessitated sending the artifact to another university. It’s wonderful that we have this technology on campus, and that Lance has been such a collegial partner readily willing to help Brad with his research.”

Museum Unveils 2018 Keepsake Ornament

Collectible allows Ole Miss faithful to show off the Grove in their holiday decor

The 2018 University Museum holiday keepsake ornament features the Grove, the iconic heart of the Ole Miss campus. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses has unveiled its 18th annual holiday keepsake ornament, celebrating one of the university’s most beautiful spaces and time-honored traditions, the Grove.

“Whether it be memories of football Saturdays, the pride of receiving a degree or just lounging on a sunny afternoon, the Grove holds a special place in the hearts of the entire Ole Miss community,” said Kate Wallace, the museum’s membership, events and communications coordinator. “The UM Museum is honored to celebrate the most beautiful space on one of the most beautiful campuses with this year’s keepsake ornament.”

The 10-acre green space in the center of campus, officially named the Grove in 1935, was first envisioned and implemented by Robert Burwell Fulton, UM chancellor from 1892 to 1906. When the university was building its first library, Ventress Hall, in 1889, Fulton extended the campus east, outside the “inner circle” toward the train depot, and planted trees and shrubs to beautify the campus.

During his time as chancellor, Fulton worked to grow and preserve the lush landscape.

In the 1950s, under the coaching of John Vaught, the football Rebels were a national power, and the Grove began to transform into the tailgate mecca it is today. Students moved their pregame festivities from sorority and fraternity houses to a more centralized location on campus.

Fans parked cars, trucks, buses and RVs under the trees on game days until a massive rainstorm in 1991 forced the university to ban vehicles in the Grove completely.

Today, the Grove is more than just one of the country’s best football tailgates. It hosts year-round community events, including the annual Summer Sunset Concert Series, and is the main venue for the university’s annual Commencement ceremonies.

The Grove commemorative ornament is available for $25 in the Museum Store. Ornaments can be purchased in the store or by phone at 662-915-7073. Shipping within the continental U.S. is $7, and all shipped orders must be placed by Dec. 10 if needed by the holiday. All sales are final.

“Sales of the annual ornament provide much-needed support for the collection and programming we offer throughout the year,” Wallace said. “As always, we are blown away and appreciative of the support we receive from the Rebel faithful.” 

Collectible ornaments from previous years, which are still available, include the Old Skipwith House, Brandt Memory House, Ventress Hall, the Lafayette County Courthouse, Oxford City Hall, the Ole Miss Women’s Basketball Jersey, the Theora Hamblett House, Theora Hamblett’s “Christmas Trees,” the Walk of Champions, Oxford’s Double Decker Bus, the Herakles Neck Amphora and the Barlow’s Planetarium. Previous years’ ornaments are $20 each.

Museum members and Friends of the Museum get a 10 percent discount on all merchandise in the store. To become a member, visit or stop by the museum.

The UM Museum is at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street. Holiday hours for the museum store are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays.

Museum gallery visiting hours will remain the same, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. To learn more about upcoming events, exhibits or how to support the museum, visit or call 662-915-7073.

UM Museum Art Bidding in Progress

Online action will give way to silent auction at eighth annual Harvest Supper

The 2018 Harvest Supper, set for the grounds of Rowan Oak, will feature an auction of art from 18 artists. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The artwork of several well-known artists, along with that of a few rising talents, is being bid on in an online auction to raise funds for the University of Mississippi Museum.

Each year, Friends of the Museum hosts the event to raise funds and awareness for the University Museum and Historic Houses. The online auction continues online through Oct. 17. It will transition to a silent auction at the Harvest Supper at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 on the grounds of Rowan Oak, home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner.

“This year the friends board carefully selected works from 18 artists for auction at Harvest Supper,” said John Hardy, president of Friends of the Museum. “These works come from some of the most established and well-respected artists as well as up-and-coming artists from our region.”

Artists featured in the 2018 auction are Bill Dunlap, Jonathan Kent Adams, Langdon Clay, Maude Schuyler Clay, Ke Francis, Randy Hayes, Phillip Jackson, Terry Lynn, Robert Malone, Brooke White, and Carlyle Wolfe. New to the Harvest Supper auction this year are works by Billy Solitario, Charlie Buckley, Maysey Craddock, John Haltom, Ed Croom, Ashleigh Coleman, and Melanie Munns Antonelli.

All the art is on display at the UM Museum.

“These artists have the same goal as Friends for the Museum, and that is to benefit the museum and to share the art and collections held there,” said Diane Scruggs, Harvest Supper chair.

Jackson, Malone and White are on the faculty in the UM Department of Art and Art History. Antonelli is collections manager at the museum and coordinator of the art auction.

“Both the returning artists and the newer ones have connections to the University of Mississippi, which is why they donated some of their work,” Antonelli said. “We’re thrilled to have such artistic support of the museum.”

The online auction expands and supplements the Harvest Supper silent auction and provides those who might not be able to attend the event an opportunity to buy desirable art, unlike previous events that featured only a live auction at the event.

“The addition of the online auction is a win for the Museum and Historic Homes, a win for the artists who gain even more exposure through the online auction and a win for art lovers and buyers who desire to acquire work by the quality artists represented in this year’s Harvest Supper auction,” Hardy said.

Annually, Friends of the Museum gives more than $100,000 to support exhibitions, programming and collections, a good amount of which comes from the auctioned art, said Kate Wallace, the museum’s coordinator of membership, events, and communications.

“The museum is so fortunate to have the Friends’ support,” Wallace said.

Harvest Supper is sold out; however, tickets may become available. To be added to the wait list, contact Kate Wallace at 662-915-7073 or

For more information about 2018 Harvest Supper items or to place a bid, visit For more information about the UM Museum, its collections, events and programming, visit

The UM Museum and Historic Houses are open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free.


UM Museum Gears Up for Busy Fall Programming

Variety of events will provide something for everyone

The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses’ educational programming reaches thousands of children and adults. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses is ready for another semester of events and activities for children and adults. Each year, the UM Museum’s educational programming reaches more than 10,000 children in north Mississippi, providing valuable exposure to the arts and beyond.

There is quite literally something for everyone, from the youngest learners – Buie Babies is a stroller tour program for ages 0-2 – to Milkshake Mash-Ups for middle school students and teens, amd special adult studio workshops.

“Fall is an exciting time for Oxford and the university, and we always look forward to bringing to life our new special exhibitions with innovative programming for all ages,” said Emily McCauley, the museum’s curator of education. “We will be exploring the sculptures of George Tobolowsky, marveling at the mysterious photography of Jaime Aelavanthara and so much more.”

Below is a full list of what is happening at the museum this fall. For more information about dates, times, registration, Traveling Trunks, tours and more, visit, contact the museum at 662-915-7073 or contact McCauley directly at

Yoga in the Gallery – Every Monday at 8:30 a.m., starting Sept. 10, the UM Museum and RebelWell host a free group yoga class in the museum galleries. The free class is appropriate for all skill levels and runs about an hour. Bring your own yoga mat and get stretching, surrounded by the museum’s beautiful exhibits.

First Friday Free Sketch – Every first Friday of the month, free sketching materials, generously provided by the Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow, are available in the museum lobby from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This ongoing, self-guided program is free to the public. Dates: Sept. 7, Oct. 5, Nov. 2 and Dec. 7.

Mini Masters @ the Museum and Powerhouse – These fun, drop-in workshops for toddlers and a parent/guardian will be offered on alternating dates at the Powerhouse and UM Museum. Pre-registration is not required; the cost is $5 per family. All Mini Masters classes are 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Powerhouse Dates and Themes:

Sept. 20 – Print It Up! Printmaking with All Sorts of Items

Oct. 18 – Wayne Thiebaud: Donuts and Gumball Machines

Nov. 15 – Collage: Paper Hamburgers and Pizza Slices

Museum Dates and Themes:

Sept. 27 – Little Pigs Sculpture Building

Oct. 25 – Georgia O’Keeffe Desert Painting

Nov. 29 – Mini Museums

Milkshake Mash-Ups – On the first Monday of each month from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., middle school students and teens, grades 6-12, are invited mix two artists or themes into one fun art project. All materials, including milkshakes and toppings, are included. The cost is free, but donations are accepted. Space is limited; be sure to pre-register by emailing Emily McCauley at to reserve a spot by the Friday before each mash-up. Dates: Sept. 10, Oct. 1, Nov. 5 and Dec. 3.

Buie Babies – The museum’s free stroller tour program for children age 0-2 is a partnership with the LOU Excel by 5 Coalition. Families with babies and toddlers are welcome to join in on a Saturday morning playtime and tour of the museum’s exhibits. Buie Babies is from 9 to 11 a.m., with a guided tour at 9:30 a.m. Dates: Oct. 13 and Dec. 8.

Family Activity Days – This fall, the museum has scheduled three family activities days throughout the semester. All family days are suitable for all ages, including special areas for young learners ages 0-2. All family days are free, drop-in events at the museum.

  • 27, 10 a.m.-noon – Mysteries of Nature Family Day: Families will be inspired by Jaime Aelavanthara’s exhibit “Where the Roots Rise” and other artists who use the natural world in this fun, mixed media family day.
  • 10, 10 a.m.-noon – Wire Wonders Family Day: Families will work together to create sculptures using a variety of fun materials inspired by the museum’s special exhibit “A Long Road Back” by sculptor George Tobolowsky.
  • 1, 9 a.m.-noon – All Aboard! Winter Express Family Day: Formerly known as Santa’s Workshop, this special family day allows participants to create seasonal projects and explore as the museum comes to life with sneaky collections elves, a holiday market and more.

‘A Long Road Back’ Breathes New Life into Found Metal

Latest UM Museum exhibit showcases sculptures by George Tobolowsky

Internationally-acclaimed sculptor George Tobolowsky oversees the installation of one his sculptures at The Inn at Ole Miss. Tobolowsky’s metal sculptures will be on display inside and around the University of Mississippi Museum, as well as throughout Oxford and the UM campus, through Dec. 8. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Discarded machine parts, scrap metal, and other found objects serve as the inspiration for the University of Mississippi Museum‘s latest exhibit, “A Long Road Back,” by Texas-based sculptor George Tobolowsky.

Tobolowsky’s metal sculptures will be on display inside and around the museum, as well as throughout Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, through Dec. 8.

This series of steel and stainless steel sculptures ranges from abstract winding forms to representational subjects and elaborate menorahs. The incorporation of bold colors and found metal scraps create unexpected outcomes that pay tribute to the modern art movement.

“I make abstract metal sculptures from steel and stainless steel ‘found objects,'” Tobolowsky said. “These found objects, however, are not of the everyday sort, but rather bulky industrial metal castoffs that I scour scrap yards and fabrication plants to find.

“I rarely alter these metal pieces, but instead work to fit the individual scraps together, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into a balanced composition. My sculptures are one part assemblage and one part recycling.”

A Dallas native, Tobolowsky received degrees in business and law with a minor in sculpture from Southern Methodist University in the 1970s and then focused on his corporate career for more than three decades.

In the years following, he remained active in the local arts community but did not have his first solo exhibition until 2006 at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Dallas. His work immediately captured the attention of the art world, and he began shifting his focus to his art.

Since then, Tobolowsky’s work has been displayed across the globe, including the International Exhibition of 12 Texas artists at the National Academy of Art in New Delhi, India, in 2015, the Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art in 2017, and most recently at the Venice Biennale for Architecture and Sculpture in Italy in 2018.

“The University of Mississippi Museum is highly honored to present this fall the work of internationally exhibited sculptor George Tobolowsky,” said Robert Saarnio, museum director. “Mr. Tobolowsky first exhibited in Oxford with a piece in the inaugural Yoknapatawpha Sculpture Trail installation in Pat Lamar Park.

“From large-scale floral motifs to menorahs, and from figural to abstract works, these steel sculptures possess dynamism and a multihued vibrancy that compels attention and rewards viewing from multiple vantages. In addition to our museum gallery installation of George’s smaller-scale work, we are excited to exhibit works by the artist in the outdoor environments of the campus, the museum landscape and multiple outdoor Oxford business locations.”

Besides the museum grounds and the Walton-Young house, Tobolowsky’s works can be seen around Oxford at Rowan Oak, The Graduate Hotel, The Inn at Ole Miss, Oxford Canteen, FNC’s offices on Office Park Drive, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, South Lamar Court and the Green Roof Lounge.

Museum collections manager Melanie Antonelli and preparator Taylor Kite led efforts connected to the installation, exhibition design and layout. Sculptures sited around the city were installed with assistance from local artist Earl Dismuke.

The UM Museum will host an opening reception at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 and an artist talk with Tobolowsky at 6 p.m. Nov. 8. The museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Admission is free.

More information about the UM Museum and all its exhibits can be found at

UM Museum Named to List of 51 ‘Most Astounding University Museums’

Facility in national spotlight for fourth time in five years

The University of Mississippi Museum has been named one of EdSmart’s ‘51 Most Astounding University Museums.’ Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum and its extensive collection of art, scientific equipment and Greek and Roman antiquities are in the national spotlight once again, this time being named to EDsmart’s list of “51 Most Astounding University Museums.”

The latest recognition is the fourth time in five years the museum has been named to an esteemed ranking of national academic museums. It came in at No. 17 on the EDsmart list, one spot ahead of Princeton University’s facility. Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History ranked No. 1 on the list. 

The museum was the highest ranked Southeastern Conference institution on the list and only one of three SEC schools mentioned. Auburn University’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts was listed as No. 22, and the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History came in at No. 26.

Robert Saarnio, director of the University Museum and Historic Houses, is proud of the recognition, which he said is entirely a credit to the “brilliant professional staff and the ecosystem of support and goodwill” that surrounds the museum on campus and in the community.

“The exceptional strengthening of the museum in recent years is notably a tribute to highly supportive university leadership, to the Friends of the Museum board and all of our members, and of course to our team here for such dedicated commitment to our well-being,” Saarnio said. “Suffice to say, the campus-based museums that appear in these rankings are those whose parent institutions understand the power of arts and culture to enrich and augment a teaching, research and service mission.”

EDsmart said it recognized university museums that provide a gateway to the past and to culture, and choose to house important objects from science, art and more. Each and every object weaves a thread into a tapestry of humankind’s history, EDsmart said. These museums also add research opportunities to the universities they inhabit. 

“The University of Mississippi Museum is located in Oxford and offers a wide variety of collections, which include 19th-century scientific instruments, such as telescopes and models,” EDsmart said. “You can also find a collection of American Art, which includes items from Mark Tobey, John Marin, Arthur G. Dove and many others.

“You will also find several paintings, folk art and more at this museum. One of the highlights this museum offers is William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak.” 

Earlier this year, the UM Museum was named to College Rank’s 50 Most Amazing College Museums in the country, which was then the third time the museum appeared on national rankings lists in five years – a first in the museum’s 78-year history.

The museum provides the campus and Oxford community with unique collections, annually rotating temporary exhibitions and acclaimed educational programs for lifelong learners of all ages. Its programming for children, schools and families reaches 14,000 young north Mississippians each year.

The Seymour Lawrence Collection of American Art includes an exceptionally significant Georgia O’Keeffe painting, as well as work from other 20th century artists including Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley.

Students learn about Barlow’s Planetarium at the UM Museum. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The museum’s collection of Greek and Roman antiquities contains more than 2,000 sculptures, terra cotta and bronze artworks, decorated pottery and coins, and a variety of artifacts that date from 1500 B.C. to 300 A.D. The majority of this internationally renowned collection was donated to the university by archaeologist and professor David M. Robinson in 1958.

The Millington-Barnard Collection of Scientific Instruments originated with the university in the 19th century. About 500 instruments that were used to teach Ole Miss students from 1848 to 1861 are housed in the museum.

The museum also has a collection of Southern folk art from the late 19th to 20th centuries by artists using a range of nontraditional materials. The permanent collection contains work by Theora Hamblett, Sulton Rogers, James “Son” Thomas and Pecolia Warner, among many others.

Also part of the museum are historic houses, including Rowan Oak, home of Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Faulkner. This iconic site has attracted visitors from all 50 states and 58 different countries in a recent 12-month period.

Besides its collections, the museum also offers many educational opportunities for members of the community through lectures, adult studio workshops, family activity days, children’s art classes and summer programs.

For more information about the museum, its programs and scheduling a visit, go to

‘Where the Roots Rise’ Reflects Connection of Humanity to Natural Life

Latest UM Museum exhibit showcases creative photographs from alumna Jaime Aelavanthara

‘Mother Moth,’ a photograph by Jaime Aelavanthara, is among many of her pieces in the ‘Where the Roots Rise’ exhibit at University Museum. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The distance between humanity and nature is much smaller than we realize, and the latest exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum serves as a reminder of that perception.

“Where the Roots Rise” by photographer Jaime Aelavanthara is a series of photographs that have undergone photochemical blueprinting known as the cyanotype process. The photographs are set in natural areas of life, death, growth and decay in the natural landscapes of several Southern states.

“Experiences outdoors lend me an awe-filled view on the world, which is a feeling I am interested in the viewer experiencing when they see the exhibition,” she said. “As children, we tend to see the world as a magical place, an outlook that is often lost in adulthood.”

Aelavanthara’s work chronicles the relationship of a woman and her natural environment. The cyanotype process transforms the colorful landscapes and subjects of the photos into patterns and textures in the images. Her addition of tea staining dulls the blueness of the images, adding warmth.

The combination of these processes with the printing on Japanese Okawara paper, which is vulnerable to tears and wrinkles, displays the deterioration and impermanence of nature.

The exhibit opens to the public today (July 24) in the museum’s Lower Skipwith Gallery, in conjunction with the Oxford Arts Crawl. It will be available for viewing through Dec. 1.

Aelavanthara, an Ole Miss alumnus, earned her bachelor’s degree in imaging arts in 2011. She grew up in rural Mississippi, which inspired her creative work and illustrates the connection she formed with nature.

From 2015 to 2017, she was an instructor of art in the UM Department of Art and Art History. Aelavanthara is an assistant professor of art and design at the University of Tampa.

The fine art photographer specializes in alternative photographic processes, which she learned at UM.

“The photographs capture a sense of place while exploring how we are all connected – plants, animals, humans,” she said. “A lot of the photographs are self-portraits, constructed with various found objects collected from nature. I am contemplating metaphor and how I can give new life to an ordinary object we might encounter in the everyday: a turtle shell, plant life, an animal bone.

“Ultimately, I’m interested in the human condition and what it is that connects us. There is also an element of myth and a lyrical nature to the photographs, an influence I attribute to the vibrant literary community of Oxford and Ole Miss.”

Her work has been exhibited around the country at venues including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. This exhibit showcases work that has never been previously displayed.

“It is rewarding to know I’m showing work at the place where it all started, remembering the quality experience I had in the art department at Ole Miss and the late nights spent in the darkroom or meandering Meek Hall,” she said.

“The University Museum is thrilled to welcome back to Oxford Jaime Aelavanthara, whose ethereal photography in ‘Where the Roots Rise’ consists of exquisite tea-stained cyanotypes, set in the swamps and woods of Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida,” said Robert Saarnio, the museum’s director.

“Our University Museum is in a period of celebration and exploration of the imaging arts, whether from our permanent collection or the work of a notably experimental and nationally emerging photographer such as Ms. Aelavanthara. We welcome our campus and regional community to experience this innovative assemblage of photographic prints.”

The museum will host Aelavanthara for an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 22. An opening reception of the exhibit and an artist-led gallery walkthrough is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 23.

UM Conference Explores ‘Faulkner and Slavery’

Annual event to draw hundreds from around globe to Oxford, region

OXFORD, Miss. – “Faulkner and Slavery” is the theme for the University of Mississippi’s 45th annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, coming up July 22-26.

Five days of lectures, panels, tours, exhibits and other presentations will take up the question, “What did slavery mean in the life, ancestry, environment, imagination and career of William Faulkner?” Besides four keynote lectures, the conference program will include panel presentations, guided daylong tours of north Mississippi and the Delta, and sessions on “Teaching Faulkner.”

Speakers include Edward Baptist of Cornell University, a distinguished historian of slavery and American capitalism addressing Faulkner’s work for the first time; John T. Matthews of Boston University, a renowned Faulkner scholar; Tim Armstrong, author of a book on the logic of American slavery in 19th-century literature; and Stephen M. Best, a scholar of 19th-century African-American literature and law who has traced how the legal dilemmas surrounding the enslaved person have informed American law, literature and popular culture throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Obviously, the South that Faulkner writes about, even in his novels and stories of the 20th century, is to a significant degree a product of African slavery,” said Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies who serves as conference director. “What makes this topic even more timely than it would ordinarily be, however, is that this August marks the beginning of the 400th year since African slavery was introduced into the English-speaking colonies of North America.”

This year’s conference program features several events organized for the first time, Watson said.

“There will be a session on the history of slavery at the Robert Sheegog residence (also known as Rowan Oak) featuring architectural historians and archaeologists who have extensively researched and studied the site,” he said. “Another session will focus on the history of slavery at the University of Mississippi, which is, of course, an important setting in several Faulkner novels and loomed large in his local world.

“A third session will provide deep background on histories of slavery in Oxford, Lafayette County and north Mississippi. Our hope is that these sessions will give our audience deeper insight into the actual legacies of slavery that Faulkner grappled with in transforming his north Mississippi environment into art.”

A new guided tour is also being offered. Led by Jodi Skipper, UM associate professor of anthropology, this tour focuses on the “Behind the Big House” project, which is a research and continuing education-oriented program that focuses on slave quarters and other structures where slaves lived and worked in Holly Springs.

“This tour won’t focus on Faulkner sites and legacies so much as sites and legacies of African slavery and African-American history in one particularly well-documented and preserved north Mississippi environment,” Watson said.

The conference begin at 1 p.m. Sunday (July 22) with a reception at the University Museum, after which the academic program will open with two keynote addresses, followed by a buffet supper on the grounds of Rowan Oak. Over the next four days, a busy schedule of lectures and panels also includes an afternoon cocktail reception, a picnic at Rowan Oak, guided tours and a closing party on the afternoon of July 26.

Throughout the conference, the university’s J.D. Williams Library will display Faulkner books, manuscripts, photographs and memorabilia. The University Press of Mississippi will exhibit Faulkner books published by university presses throughout the United States, and collaborators on the Digital Yoknapatawpha Project, a database and digital mapping project at the University of Virginia, will present updates on its progress at a special conference session.

To register or for more information, visit

‘UnstillLife’ Exhibit at UM Museum Showcases Work of 38 Painters

Collection encourages viewers to re-examine ordinary and overlooked objects

‘Transitory Spaces: Flower and Fragments,’ by UM professor Philip Jackson, is part of a private collection. The painting is on display at the UM Museum as part of ‘The UnstillLife’ exhibit. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A still life painting exhibition that goes beyond the ordinary is open at the University of Mississippi Museum. “The UnstillLife,” a collection by the painters’ association Zeuxis, features the many possibilities of still life with an eccentric take on the perspectives of 38 artists.

The museum will host an opening reception for the exhibit at 6 p.m. Tuesday (May 15).

“The University Museum is exceptionally pleased to exhibit this remarkably wide range of still life paintings, in the exhibition developed by the Zeuxis organization and called to our attention by art faculty member colleague Philip Jackson,” said Robert Saarnio, museum director.

“Notable for the definition-broadening nature of the show in its inclusion of diverse styles that one might never think of as falling with the ‘still life’ category, the show is hung beautifully in our Temporary Exhibition Galleries.”

“The UnstillLife” exhibit has been displayed at galleries in Wilmington, Delaware; New York City; and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Jackson, UM associate professor of art and a member of Zeuxis, was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to Oxford.

“I knew the quality of the work that would be presented and thought it would be a great opportunity for our community to see,” he said. “This exhibition revitalizes the genre with fresh interpretation.

“The uniqueness of this exhibition is about the clarity in which we see things and understand them. They are not your grandmother’s still life. Each artist reaches for ways to see anew their small world within our fast-paced culture while redefining the use of the still life.”

Still life painting has always been a second-hand genre and is rarely recognized for its contributions to our culture, Jackson said, noting that he hopes viewers will take a closer look at the works presented.

“I hope our viewers are able to see into the intimate world of these artists,” he said. “It’s a plea to re-examine the world around us, paying close attention to the overlooked.”

Jackson, who has focused on painting still life for 18 years, has two paintings in the exhibit from his “Transitory Spaces” series, both of which are now in private collections, where he examines the fleeting change of life.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Jackson will host a community lecture on “Still Life for the 21st Century” June 7 at the museum. The event is free and open to the public.

He also will host an adult studio workshop, “Painting the Light,” on June 15-16. The workshop costs $35 per person and includes a gallery talk and sketching session on Friday evening, followed by a still life painting studio session Saturday. It’s open for adults of all experience levels, and online registration is available at

Zeuxis was founded in 1994 by artist Phyllis Floyd along with several colleagues, including Rita Baragona and Tim Kennedy. Work by all three artists are part of the exhibit.

“In the 1990s sometime, I began to assess the condition of still life painting in the climate of the post-modernist art world,” Floyd said. “Prospects looked bleak. It was time to rally my forces, and I drew in still life painters one by one with the object of mounting group exhibitions.”

Since then, Zeuxis exhibitions have appeared in more than 50 galleries and museums across the country. For more information about the association, visit

The UM Museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission to the museum and all its exhibits is free. For more information, visit

Registration Open for UM Museum Summer Camps

Weeklong sessions available for children from preschool to middle school

Elementary school students create their own artwork in a summer camp at the UM Museum. Registration is open for a variety of weeklong camps. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Registration is open for a series of educational day camps for children of all ages throughout June and July at the University of Mississippi Museum.

Each weeklong camp session is broken into age groups to teach children about art, art history and the museum while allowing them to create their own works of art inspired by exhibitions in the galleries. For museum members at the Family level or above, the cost per week is $65 for each participant. For nonmembers, the cost is $85.

“Summer is an exciting time, but it’s also a time where many children face summer learning loss,” said Emily McCauley, curator of education. “Our goal at the museum is to engage children through art and educational experiences to combat that learning loss in a fun and innovative way.”

The camps are not just for Oxford residents, but also for other children who visit family members in Oxford during the summer months.

“Our camps provide a fun, enriching morning activity during their visit” McCauley said.

Here is the full schedule of camps:                            

For Children in Preschool and Entering Kindergarten

Mini Masters Explorer Camp, 9-11 a.m. June 25-29 – This camp for ages 3 to 5 allows children to create their own masterpieces inspired by museum art and toddler stories. All children much be accompanied by an adult, but one guardian can supervise multiple children. Coffee and snacks will be provided for parents and guardians.

For Children Entering Grades 1-5

Art from the South, 9 a.m. to noon June 4-7 – Students will learn about historical and modern artists from the American South and will create art inspired by the work of those artists.

People, Places and Things in Art, 9 a.m. to noon June 11-15 – Besides learning about the museum’s collections and experimenting with painting, sculpture and other art forms, students will learn about nouns in art.

Art Discovery: Science and Animals, 9 a.m. to noon June 18-22 – Each day will begin with a science experiment and students will create their own works inspired by chemistry, biology, space and other areas of science.

Myths, Monsters and Faraway Lands, 9 a.m. to noon July 9-13 – Students will explore ancient civilizations, mythology and stories from cultures around the world inspired by the museum’s David M. Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection.

Photography and Storytelling in Art, 9 a.m. to noon July 16-20 – Participants will learn about the storytelling elements of art and photography. Students will explore forms such as photography, painting and book illustration.

For Children Entering Grades 6-8

All About Art: Middle School Edition, 9 a.m. to noon July 23-27 – Middle school students with artistic experience of all levels will have opportunities to experiment with drawing, illustrating, painting, sculpting and mixed media through a week of activities inspired by the museum’s collections.

All art supplies and snacks are included in the cost. A limited number of scholarships are also available. Families can request scholarship information by contacting McCauley at 662-915-7205 or

Space for each camp is limited and registration is available only online. Parents can register their children here.

For more information, visit