Wild About Art

by | Dec 1, 2010 | Features

Assistant Professor Neal Harrington is a man who really loves his job. A printmaker and instructor for the Art Department at Arkansas Tech University, Harrington is the Director of the Norman Hall Art Gallery; “the best kept secret in the River Valley.”

“How many people can say they wake up excited to get to work each day? I do, and I’ve been on the faculty of Tech for almost ten years,” said Harrington with his just-won-the-lottery smile.
Harrington readily admits showcasing exceptional works of art in a state of the art facility is a way cool job. Prior to this new building, the Art Department was located in the oldest facility on Tech’s campus with a lobby gallery space in nearby Tomlinson Hall. Most of the exhibitions were displayed in closed cabinets severely limiting what could be displayed and how.
“You can imagine how exciting it is to go from teaching printmaking in a basement of an old building to this. Norman Hall houses the Art program and an opportunity to view artwork in person. Being able to get up close and personal with the artwork is important. Good art makes you want to interact with it. You can do that here,” said Harrington, who helped design the Gallery space.
Like other art galleries, Norman Hall puts on five or six exhibitions each year with exhibits by both students and well-known area/regional artists. “Openings are held for the exhibitions only if the artist(s) can attend so you can interact with them directly,” said Harrington.
The gallery presented its 4th annual Juried Student Exhibition in November. A juried show means that not all entries are accepted into the show and displayed, explained Harrington. “It is a lesson in learning how to accept the tastes of the juror because the juror might reject up to half of the art entered. Entering a juried show is a real wake-up call for our students. Some get rejected, others rejoice. It’s a great way for students to get real- world feedback on their work.”
Works in the show covered a wide range of mediums, each as unique as the student artist who conceived it. Works ranged from elegantly carved alabaster sculptures, to oil paintings, watercolors, original prints, photography, traditional drawings and a computer animated web site. A golden bust was constructed from 1000’s of bits of recycled plastic and metal that morphed into a larger than life self-portrait of the artist. Every piece in the exhibition was eye candy, free for the viewing.
According to show Juror, Rod Miller, Associate Professor of Art History at Hendrix College, the overall quality of the work done for this show was very high. “Those chosen this year reflect a high level of skill combined with an obvious amount of time dedicated to that work… More than just the technical acuity, the winners also managed to create works that provoke to good effect.”

Many works were for sale, too. “Buying student work is a smart way to get good art at a great price. Encouraging a future professional is fulfilling in itself,” said Harrington. “Our students are usually more than happy to have someone offer to purchase their work and it’s usually a good deal compared to works of similar quality found at commercial galleries and shows.”
The Norman Hall Gallery is the Tech’s first real permanent gallery, said Harrington, who learned the curator’s craft while working as a graduate student on the campus of Wichita State University’s Ulrich Museum.
The artistic vision of Professor Dr. Cathy Caldwell, Chair of the Art Department since 2002, was pivotal in developing the interior configuration of Norman Hall with architectural firm AMR, said Harrington, adding Caldwell has revitalized the Department and made our Art program the best and most current in Arkansas.
Normal Hall is Caldwell’s medium. “We wanted the building itself to be a catalyst for creativity,” said Caldwell. With 12 to 40 foot high windows to bring in natural light, the building has many components under one roof; a place to do large scale works, art spaces, safe chemical spaces, outdoor spaces where kilns are fired and a securely enclosed space for Mac computers, the standard for graphics.

“Much has been credited to the use of computers in art and design in recent years, but computers are just another tool to provide students with an avenue to represent and symbolize their ideas,” said Caldwell. Art students must still learn the basic traditional mediums and foundational processes before they can explore ideas on more sophisticated levels, she added.
While the majority of students major in Graphic Design, where jobs are plentiful, Art Education is also popular, said Caldwell. “Tech’s Art Education graduates have a proud tradition of teaching generations of Arkansas school children the joys of art,” she added. Since Caldwell’s tenure as Departmental Chair with Arkansas Tech University, enrollment of Majors in the Art program has risen from 70 to 200.

Students need to use a range of opportunities to express themselves in art, said Dr. Caldwell. “Artistic ideas are always the same. Developing the concept is what makes art unique. I am constantly amazed at our student’s creativity. They continually surprise me with their ideas. It’s a great place to be!”
To contact the gallery or learn more about the ATU Art program contact Neal Harrington, Office 213B Assistant Professor of Art Norman Hall Gallery Director 203 West Q street, Russellville, AR 72801. nharrington@atu.edu (479)964-3237 fax: (479)498-6002.


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