Alumni Art Show Displays Homegrown Talent

Jackie.jpgWith a few weeks left to see the Winter Wonders exhibit at the Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art, time is running out to view some of the best works by Central Methodist University alumni artists.

The exhibit may only run until the first of April, but the impact of these alumni artists at CMU will continue long after all the paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures are returned to storage.

“We’re always trying to use as much of our permanent collection as we can,” said Dr. Joe Geist, registrar of the Gallery. “We wanted to find a new way of showing off some of the collection.”

And what better way to show off a collection of art at Central than with a show of Central artists?

The first time the Gallery did an alumni show was for Homecoming 2001, when 43 artists’ work was on display, dating back all the way to 1892. Unlike that show, which borrowed works from numerous private collections, the current exhibit concentrates on 24 CMU graduates with all the works in the show coming from the Gallery’s permanent collection.

“The hardest part was deciding which Edna Schenk works we wanted in the show, which Tom Yancey we wanted in the show,” said Geist. “We tried to show as much variety as we could.”

And it isn’t just the most well-known and prolific Central artists like Schenk ‘35 and Yancey ‘54 that are prominently featured this time around. There’s also the likes of Virginia Monroe ’70, Eugene Weathers ’58, and Frank Steinman ’36.

Then there’s George Potter, a 1963 graduate who first came to Central to major in math before entering the Air Force but eventually embraced his natural talent as an artist and became an art teacher instead.

“I never really took it seriously,” Potter said of his artistic skill that he began honing as a child. “I’d always just been good at doing visual things with my hands and making things.”

When he got to Central, though, Potter had the opportunity to take his skills and love of art to the next level, and the rest was history. He took a drawing class as an elective in his sophomore year and did well, inspiring him to take more art classes and eventually major in art. From there, he went on to graduate school, earning a master’s degree in drawing and later in sculpture. Five years after graduating from Central, Potter moved to Macomb, Ill. to begin teaching sculpture at Western Illinois University, where he helped others realize their dreams in art the way his alma mater helped him.

“Everyone has a God-given ability,” said Potter. “It’s just about finding out what that is and going after it. Then you’re following your dream, and that can carry you through some pretty difficult times.”

Nancy Nesvik, right, with Penny Jones Selle and Dr. Joe GeistAnother Central alum featured in the Winter Wonders show would likely agree with Potter’s statement. Nancy (Morrison) Nesvik ’78 followed her dream of being an artist and was able to use her gift to help others find beauty in the wake of a disaster. Following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Nesvik, who lives in Pensacola, Fla., designed a custom Christmas card featuring Santa Claus flying over homes covered with blue tarps, emblematic of the area’s struggles following the storm. The card became so popular and successful in the area that it led her to establish a freelance business, which along with her coastal-themed Christmas cards provided designs for logos, murals, and other art.

But Nesvik, like Potter, didn’t come to Central with a plan to be an artist. Originally, she only intended to stay for a few years before entering a health program in St. Louis, but she says she “liked the campus and art classes so much that I did a complete turn and decided I’d aim for art education.”

Part of the Central experience that appealed to her then and still stays with her now is the personal connection between students and professors. Nesvik recalls returning to Fayette with her husband for her 20-year class reunion, when the Ashby-Hodge Gallery was relatively new to campus. When she and some friends entered the Gallery and were greeted personally by professors Geist and Yancey, her husband, who graduated from a much larger institution, was “blown away” that the teachers knew who their former students were even after so much time.

“All of us looked at him like, ‘Well, of course they would, why wouldn’t they?’” Nesvik recalled. “That was striking to me, that not only did I feel like I carried their influence with me, but I felt that we left our influence with them also.”

The influence of former students undoubtedly lives on in the hearts of CMU faculty and others still on campus, but it has taken on a tangible form now that the Gallery has so many of their works on display, something that neither Potter nor Nesvik take for granted.

“It’s quite an honor [to be featured],” said Potter. “I hope the people that see the work enjoy it.”

“One of the things I value is the connection that I’ve been able to maintain with Central through my friendships and keeping up with professors,” Nesvik added. “And to know that I’m in an art show makes me feel like I’m still there somehow.”

To check out works by these artists and more than 20 other CMU alumni, visit the Ashby-Hodge Gallery from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, on the first floor of Classic Hall. Special tours are also available by contacting Denise Haskamp at 660-248-6304 or Social distancing is practiced in the Gallery, and all visitors are required to wear face coverings.

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