MOUNT OLIVE – It’s not every day that university art students have the opportunity to collaborate with a Peabody Award-winning writer, renowned naturist, and celebrated artist.
But then again, it’s not every day that the University of Mount Olive is one of three schools across the state chosen to represent the arts.
That is precisely what happened when the North Carolina Museum of Art invited UMO to represent the coastal plains region in a cultural outreach project that featured the work of painter and sculptor James Prosek.
Prosek, who hails from Connecticut, interprets and depicts the natural world through the lens of his personal experiences. His childhood fascination with nature led him to make sense of the environment around him through art. Painting and drawing became means for him to explore the planet’s immense biodiversity and push the boundaries of his imagination.
A fellow of the Vermont Studio Center, Prosek’s writings have appeared in the New York Times and National Geographic. In 2002, he was awarded a Peabody prize for his documentary about 17th-century author and angler Izaak Walton.
Larry Lean, UMO artist in residence and professor of art, praised the partnership, saying that the invitation for students to engage with Prosek was an honor and an indication of the University’s growing reputation as an institution that values excellence in the arts.
As a prelude to the collaboration, the University sponsored a lecture on the work of John Audubon, the revered American ornithologist and painter to whom Prosek is often compared. Joseph Covington, former director of the education department of the North Carolina Museum of Art, spoke to a crowd gathered in Southern Bank Auditorium on February 10.
Seven students — Alan Brinson, Destiny Hamilton, Amber Lane, Dane Magee, Juan Quirino, Brenna Prince and Jo Turner — later attended a workshop with Prosek in Raleigh.
They each produced oil pastel drawings based on coastal plain plants and animals. Prosek and other workshop participants critiqued them. The students then transformed their individual works into one large composite, which was enlarged and featured on a billboard that now sits at the edge of the walking trail at the museum. Five feet tall by twelve feet wide, the vibrant work is titled Vivid Coastal Plain.
“This type of involvement is critical to the development of our students,” Lean said. “It provides a ‘real world’ experience with a well-known artist. Few students would have opportunities to meet artists of Prosek’s caliber, let alone actively participate with them.”
Lean said he intends for the project to be an impetus for future collaborations with the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Prosek’s show, Field Guide: James Prosek’s Un/Natural World, runs through August 2, 2015 at the museum, where you can also see the UMO students’ billboard composite.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.