Creative Fellowship: Combining Art and Life

Published 10:30 am Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council will host a special exhibition of artwork from its Creative Fellowship artists from July 5 through 28.

The collection will be curated by Constance Pierce, a teacher at the arts council, and feature work by people from all walks of life. Artists in the exhibit will include a retired physician, a grant writer, a retired business executive, a human resources assistant, a university chemistry professor, a former radio disc jockey and English teacher, a preschool director who raises miniature donkeys.

The name “Creative Fellowship” comes from the atmosphere created in her classes, Pierce said.

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“When retiring from being a full-time academic, I decided to make my home in Oxford. I met Wayne Andrews and Andi Bedsworth who were extremely welcoming about my interest in teaching through [YAC],” Pierce said. “After a few classes, I began to gather a group of people who developed a great chemistry together and we began to experience a ‘creative fellowship.’ It has been immensely rewarding for all of us.”

Pierce has worked as a professor of art at St. Bonaventure University, been a visiting artist at Millsaps College in Jackson and served as a research fellow at Yale Divinity School, among other appointments.

Her experiences with different mediums and methods of creation is one reason her students love her classes so much, according to Dr. Susan Pedigo. Pedigo is a researcher and professor in the University of Mississippi’s chemistry and biochemistry departments by day, and an artist by night.

“Constance has opened a world to me that I was never in; only on the outside looking in,” Pedigo said in a recent news release. “I have spent my working life worrying about significant figures and standard deviations. 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 stroke alone is the point.”

Pierce said one of her favorite classes she’s taught over the last five years with YAC is titled, “Image Journaling: Creative Renewal and the Interior Journey.”

In the class, Pierce said she combines the healing qualities of journaling and image making to assist in navigating life transitions, in visualizing memoir and family history, and may also be a gift of self-care after trauma or loss.  

Kirstie Manning, a staff assistant in the Office of Human Resources at the University, is already an exhibiting painter, but said she was eager to explore creating an Image Journal to bear witness to her personal and cultural history.

“I am enamored with the faces of people who inspire me. The ‘truth-tellers,’” Manning said. “Their lives are a testament to the impact of African-American history and culture on the arts, literature, music and the character of our country.”

Some of Manning’s journal pages, as well as portraits she’s painted, will be included in the exhibit.

Also on view will be the imaginative and colorful journals of the late Victoria Smith, who participated in several of Pierce’s classes over the past few years. The exhibition is dedicated to Smith for the exuberant creative energy that she so generously shared with the other artists in this exhibition, Pierce said.

“Victoria was a one-of-a-kind imaginative writer and artist and she is deeply missed in our studio,” Pierce said.

In addition to Pedigo and Manning, the featured exhibitors are Ashley Brewer, Bobby Kennedy, Susan Phillips, Vicki Stevens, John Takerer and Lynn Wilkins.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Pierce will be offering an afternoon workshop on July 16 through 20 titled “The Magical Creation of a Fold-out Book,” specifically designed for teachers, adults and older teens. Continuing Education Credits are available for educators.

This week-long summer class in the Powerhouse art studio is designed to explore the visual collaboration of images and words through creative experiments in monoprint, watercolor, ephemera collage, decorative papers and expressive text. Participants will choose thematic content from poetry, lyrics, scripture and other literary sources or from their own personal writings. No prior art experience is required and novices are welcome. Those interested can register online at or at 662-236-6429.

To celebrate the Creative Fellowship exhibition, an artist meet-and-greet will be held on July 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Powerhouse Gallery. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can also be viewed during private events at the Powerhouse.