Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brushes With Color

This article appeared in The Sketch Book of Kappa Pi, the official publication of Kappa Pi National Honorary Art Fraternity, in Spring 1952.

Someday when you are tired of working and feel like neglecting tomorrow's assignments, why not wander over to Presser Hall for a visit to the art studio? Visitors here are numerous and always welcome. Borrow a paint-smeared smock, stick a few paint brushes behind your ear, and mingle with the gang.

But remember--if you want to be accepted as a member of the family, kick off those moccasins and leave 'em outside. Never does one hear the click of heels across the hardwood expanses of this studio. It has long been the generally accepted opinion that chances of being artistic are small if you insist on wearing footgear in the art lab. It just isn't done.

The newcomer is immediately impressed by the unique atmosphere of the studio. Uninformed visitors smile and breathe soft exclamations sprinkled with words like 'rarified', 'inspiring', 'uplifting'. With a little investigation you can find out what the art students have always known. It's just the pleasing combination of spaciousness, light, and the blended odors of turpentine, leather dye, glue, oil paint, wet clay, charcoal fixative, new leather, and numerous other materials that the artist finds useful.

Another factor contributing to the all-over effect is the constant background of music drifting in through the big windows from the practice rooms on the lower floors.

Displayed on the walls are works in watercolor, oils, and aquatints by art instructors Marion Hebert and Ruth Collins. Sunny landscapes, flower arrangements in rich colors, and the cool, darker tones of the aquatints lend interest and warmth to the big room.

You'll find the clay-modeling class to the left, as you enter. Afternoon visitors watch students working before green-topped tables, chatting busily while nimble fingers shape lumps of grayish clay into anything from grasshoppers to angels or queer little animals called "wooflepoofs".

On a typical day you might observe one student anchoring a bullfrog to a lily pad, another placing a tiny hymn book in the hands of a fat little choir boy, and still another trying to persuade a lean, lanky cowboy that the head he seems determined to keep shedding would really look better on his shoulders than rolling about on the table.

In another section of the studio you will see the oil-painting class concentrating on getting the paint on the canvas instead of themselves, a feat never quite accomplished. Across the room, the students of leather tooling may be found turning out everything from coin purses to saddles. And in another corner the life-drawing class is arranged in a half-circle around their swim suit clad model.

Not all the work is done indoors, however. Those of us who have resided here for a time know that spring is heralded at MH-B, not by robins on the premises, but by members of the watercolor class. On the first sunny day of the new year, they scatter over the campus setting up easels and campstools. If your curiosity is up to par, you won't be able to resist the impulse to stroll about and peer over a few shoulders. Just be careful not to step on any of the little tubes of paint lying about.

In the days when a certain campus personality was quite innocent of the knowledge that artists do not call colors by their rightful names such as red, yellow, or green, as we do, but speak instead of cadmium, ochre, thalo, etc., she enjoyed watching pictures taking shape, and often spent the afternoon observing until the day a young artist waved a brush under nose and wailed plaintively, "You've mashed my burnt umber!" The offender retreated hastily murmuring embarrassed apologies. It was bad enough, she thought, for the poor girl to have a burnt umber without her stepping on it. She felt better when she learned she had done nothing worse than wreck a tube of brown paint.

There have been some muttered suggestions from art students that this class should count as a physical education course as well as art. On a typical painting excursion, the student is burdened with easel, drawing board, brushes, palette, paper, tacks, erasers, pencils, campstool, a jar filled with water, and a large ragged paint cloth. You don't have to be good in mathematics to know that not even an art major has enough hands to carry all that equipment. However, by learning to juggle, and mastering the art of balancing a campstool on top of the head, the student manages to hike to some point of scenic interest. By the end of the semester, she not only has a collection of paintings, but has acquired a dandy set of muscles also.

Art students are a talkative lot, and they enjoy company. Don't hesitte to amble over to the studio and get acquainted some afternoon. You can absorb some of the relaxing informality, breathe deeply of that "rarified" atmosphere, and notice the view from the south windows. You might even find yourself making room in your schedule for an art course next semester.

Presser Hall was and is the Fine Arts center of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The right side of the building, shown on this postcard, contains the recital hall. The first floor contains practice room after practice room and there is almost constant faint piano music. The art department was upstairs and I did visit the cavernous studio a time or two while I was a student. It was a fascinating place. My only experience in taking a class in the building was a Music Appreciation course, but I snuck in to practice on a piano now and again.

Mother was an English major but one of her roommates, June Surber, was an art major so Mother had plenty of exposure to the art community at MHB. I suspect that this article was first printed in The Bells, the college newspaper, as a promotion for the art department. June painted Mother's portrait and it still hangs in our home.

Mother was no slouch as an artist herself. I'm betting she spent quite a lot of time poking around that studio.


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