So, what do you do with a degree in art?
UT School of Art alumni succeed in widely varied careers, from designing STEM visual aids to directing history museums.
Caroline Bowen (’16) started her business, Eigenstuff, to design and sell math and physics visual aids that double as pieces of art. Bowen describes herself as a “27-year-old sculptress in rural East Tennessee with a part time job in a gunsmith shop and a full time job trying to disrupt the state of educational visual aids in STEM.”
Bowen spent her first three years at UT as an art major, and then became interested in meteorology after a close encounter with the Superstorm of April 27, 2011. It was not long before she decided to declare a physics major and pursue a master’s degree in meteorology. Her art-making instincts, however, stayed with her throughout her new course of study.
“I’m bringing mathematical beauty to the masses,” Bowen says.
Bowen made sculptures for an open-ended assignment in a math and art graphic design class to gain insight into topics from Calculus III.
“The process of deriving concepts through drawing was central to my learning process right out of the gate,” she says.
Bowen graduated from UT with double major in math and academic physics with a minor in studio art. Now living in Louisville, Tennessee, she’s devoted herself more fully to studying and bringing her designs to life. And, she says, “I’m still a big weather nerd.”
Justin Helton (’07) is the owner of Status Serigraph, newly located on Jackson Avenue in Knoxville. Helton, who earned his BFA in printmaking at UT, specializes in graphic design and posters for the music and entertainment industry. His clients include Bonnaroo, Phish, The Avett Brothers, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Sierra Nevada, and HGTV, among others.
In an interview with the UT Knoxville Alumni Program, Helton described the impact of the UT printshop on his education.
“They have such an amazing workshop, so I always had the tools to create whatever I wanted,” he says. “At UT, I learned how to print my posters by hand, and that is really what helped me to push my career forward.”
Paris Woodhull (’17) and Elijah Fredrick (’17) both earned their BFA degrees in studio art at UT. Woodhull makes hand-illustrated paper goods, city maps, and “apparel with a purpose” through her business Paris Woodhull Illustrations. Since getting her start at Rala, she’s expanded to markets and other local shops, most recently the UT VolShop. Fredrick hand-paints vintage clothing under his brand ecmf designs, and sells his pieces at local art exhibitions, online, and at Rala. Fredrick told the Daily Beacon that he hatched the idea for painting clothing while searching for new direction in his work. His daily sketchbook drawings and a conversation about silk painting led him to consider ways to subvert the private nature of a sketchbook.
“Sketchbooks are about intimacy. Clothing is about outward expression,” Fredrick says. “I am interested in exploring what happens when those worlds collide.”
Alison Oakes (’09) is an artist, cross-fitter, chef, and nutrition expert who founded her own training and nutrition business in Knoxville. A Knoxville native, Oakes earned her undergraduate degree at the Columbus College of Art and Design and returned to her home city to teach art at the Knoxville Museum of Art and to earn her graduate degree in painting and drawing.
Oakes says her experience as a student at UT was “pretty life altering, both in education and the relationships I formed.”
After graduating, she taught art at Pellissippi State Community College for several years while also becoming a personal trainer. Nutrition coaching soon became her passion. Oakes began by cooking healthy meals for her busy clients, which led to the foundation of Naked Foods in 2014.
Eddie Crim (’06) is the new assistant director of capacity building for the Alliance for Better Nonprofits, a training, consulting, and resource center for the nonprofit organizations of East Tennessee. Crim earned his BFA in studio art at UT and his master’s degree in digital photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He will receive his MBA from UT in December 2018. Crim taught photography courses at UT and Pellissippi State Community College for five years, worked as a landscape photography artist, and previously owned and operated a historic restoration and remodeling business.
Autumn Parrott (’01) earned her BA in art history and master’s degree in college student personnel and began her career in development with the University of Tennessee in 2003. She joined the development department of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in 2007 and eventually became their director of development. In 2016, she was named vice president for institutional advancement and board relations at Watkins College of Art, a four-year art and design college in Nashville.
“My art history professors taught me to think critically and analytically, to be curious and open-minded, and to write and communicate clearly,” Parrott says.
“All of these skills have served me well in my career in development and I feel fortunate to use my degree from UT to advance the work of museums and artists.”
Hao (Chov) Land (’06) opened Landing House in 2017, a restaurant in a 100-year-old home near Suttree Landing Park in South Knoxville, together with her husband, Zach. The Lands, who are residents of South Knoxville, originally considering buying the house as a family home, according to Inside of Knoxville.
“Opening a small business is probably the most challenging thing that I’ve experienced,” Hao says. “It’s been great getting continual support from my professors at the UT School of Art who have become fans of our food and place.”
Barron Hall (’08) is the owner and operator of Mighty Mud, a community ceramics studio, materials supplier, and gallery that offers a wide range of art classes and workshops. Hall earned his BFA in sculpture from the University of South Florida and his MFA in ceramics from UT. He teaches ceramic sculpture and handbuilding workshops at Mighty Mud and ceramics and sculpture courses at Maryville College. Hall’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida, and Alabama.
Ericka Ryba (’15) is an instructor at Mighty Mud. Her pottery company, Providence Road, is present at local markets, pop-ups, the Knoxville Museum of Art, and on Etsy. She also teaches fourth to seventh grade art in Maryville, Tennessee. Ryba received the 2017 Tennessee Art Education Association’s First Year Art Educator of the Year Award.
David Harman (’15) founded Knoxville business Native Maps while a graduate student at UT. His interest in hyper-local observations informed both his paintings and his drive to create a functional, minimal neighborhood map of his hometown, Dallas, Texas.
“What started as a healthy distraction from ‘real’ studio work quickly became a viable business and livelihood for me and my family,” Harman says.
He now screenprints maps of more than 20 cities and sells the prints online and in retailers across the country. His wife, Rebecca Harman, is his business partner, printing assistant, and a master’s student in Soil Science at UT.
Harman quickly learned that the entrepreneurial learning curve was steep, especially for art school graduates, and he started to look for ways to build community and share knowledge and resources. A year after graduating, he co-founded The Maker City, in partnership with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, to provide educational resources, meetups, and advocacy for the maker community in Knoxville. The third annual Maker City Summit, which took place September 23 at the Mill and Mine, brought to Knoxville keynote speakers, panel discussions, and expert sessions for makers and creative solo-preneurs.
Cameron Kite (’16), BFA sculpture alumnus, and Joshua Shorey (’17), MFA sculpture alumnus, jointly operate a fabrication studio, Kite Flight and BAPO Design, specializing in legacy-quality custom furniture and interiors. Their shop is located in the Vestal neighborhood of Knoxville.
Peter Riesing (’10) opened Printshop Beer Co. in May 2018, together with UT political science alum Adam Luttrell (’11), civil engineering alum Josh Baines (’06), and Jim Civis. The brewery and taproom is located on the South Knoxville waterfront in a building that was formerly occupied by Stubley Knox Lithography. Riesing, who earned his BFA in printmaking, named his business after that printshop, which was owned and operated by Gib Ingram. When Ingram found out about the brewery and stopped by, Riesing was surprised to learn that Ingram had donated many of his lithography stones to the UT printshop, which Riesing must have used as a student.
Riesing’s parents are artists Marcia Goldenstein, professor emerita of painting and drawing, and Tom Riesing, former professor of painting, who both taught at UT while Riesing was a student.
Lately, Riesing has been focusing his artistic efforts on design for Printshop’s beautiful signage, interior, glasses, website, and more. He is preparing the taproom to double as an art gallery with a focus on printmaking, and he plans to host pop-up print sales in collaboration with local printshops such as Striped Light and Status Serigraph, both owned by School of Art alums. Riesing hopes to have the space ready for Knoxville’s First Friday Art Walk in fall 2018.
Karly Stribling (’05), BFA sculpture alumna and founder of Soil & Steel, has been designing, fabricating, and blacksmithing since 1998, when she was still in high school. Though she was pushed to go to an art institute, she’s glad she chose to continue her studies at UT.
“When you’re provided with knowledgeable, passionate professors and such great facilities, your college experience can be what you make it,” Stribling says.
After working in restaurants for several years after graduation, she started Soil & Steel in 2010, after the birth of her daughter. Her paintings and public art can be seen around Knoxville, including a gate at the entrance to James Agee Park and ironwork on Market Square.
“The hustle is hard,” she says, “but being out there on your own and making your art is incredibly fulfilling. It’s been well worth the hard work, sweat, and worry. There’s nothing else I would rather be doing.”
Ashley Brown Howell, Lori Ann Terjesen, and Alisha Kerlin have built impressive careers in history and art museums.
The Tennessee State Museum reopens October 4, 2018, at its new location in Nashville, and at its helm is Ashley Brown Howell (’98), who was appointed executive director in April 2017.
Howell earned a BA in art history and an MS in communication from UT and went on to receive an MBA from Boston University with a certificate in museum studies. She served previously as deputy director at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Howell has also worked in development at UT and in public relations at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
A native of Nashville, Howell says, “As a child, I visited the Tennessee State Museum. From early museum visits, I have taken my love of history and art and built a career around museums.” Howell is also a member of the UT School of Art development council.
Lori Ann (Martin) Terjesen (’01) recently was appointed director of education for the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) in Alexandria, Virginia. Terjesen completed her BA in art history at UT in 2001 and went on to receive an MA in museum studies from Seton Hall University, as well as a post-baccalaureate certificate in nonprofit organization management, and a doctorate in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University.
“The School of Art provided me with a sound foundation for my future studies and pursuits,” Terjesen says. “It was as a student at UT that I was introduced to the engaging field of museology, and I’ve joyfully immersed myself in the field ever since.”
At the NWHM, Terjesen will develop and oversee programs and projects that interpret the museum’s mission to research, collect, and exhibit women’s contributions to the social, cultural, economic, and political life of our nation’s history.
Alisha Kerlin (’05) graduated from UT with a BFA in painting. Invited to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as an artist-in-residence in 2012, she began working for UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, and was promoted to interim executive director of the museum in 2016. She is now the permanent executive director. Kerlin has played a vital role in the Barrick’s transition from UNLV’s “hidden jewel” into an award-winning university art museum.
As the former assistant curator and collections manager, she introduced practices that brought the organization of the visual art collection into line with international museum standards. As interim executive director, she rebranded the institution by adding “of Art” to the name, solidifying the fifty-year-old museum as a gathering place for the creative community. Committed to making the Barrick an accessible resource for all, Kerlin has created initiatives that target both the academic community and K-12 schoolchildren. During the 2017-18 academic year, her Bus to the Barrick campaign brought more than 1,000 visitors to campus, most of them for the first time. She is currently developing new positions for a museum researcher-in-residence and community engagement artist-in-residence, providing opportunities for UNLV scholars and expanding the definition of research and community engagement throughout the student body and across the Southern Nevada region.
Kerlin recently received one of three UNLV inaugural Top Tier Awards, which recognize work that has a significant impact on research, education, and community. She was selected for her ability to connect art, science, math, and humanities through interdisciplinary collaborations and community programming. For example, a conversation between Kerlin and Rochelle Hines, an assistant professor in UNLV’s psychology department, led to psychology students using art in the Barrick collection to study how the brain processes illusions.
A graduate of the Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts, Bard College (MFA), Kerlin connects the UNLV to a top-tier cohort of emerging scholars and artists. Her own artwork has been shown at institutions ranging from P3Studio at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas, to the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 Museum in New York. She has more than a decade of museum and gallery experience in addition to her professional practice as an artist, educator, curator, and researcher. She received the UNLV College of Fine Arts Outstanding Administrative Faculty of the Year award in 2017.
“Alisha Kerlin is an extraordinary UNLV citizen who has a deep understanding about how to bring the university and the community together,” says Nancy Uscher, dean of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts.
“The paths of these alumnae illustrate the ways that a degree in art history or art can serve as a foundation for a range of different careers in museum work,” says Suzanne Wright, associate professor of art history.
“At UT, we are helping students pursue their career goals by facilitating internships at local institutions and by introducing new courses related to museum studies.”
Complementing Fine Food
Before she graduated from UT in 2009, Leanne Moe-McQueen was already planning her pottery business. While still an undergraduate student, she designed her first kiln with Frank Martin, associate professor of ceramics, and opened a small studio at 212 East Harper Street in Maryville, Tennessee. Within a few years of earning her BFA, McQueen had moved Studio 212 into a much larger building, expanded her business to offer community art classes, and established her brand, McQueen Pottery.
Her tableware, which has been featured in The New York Times and on the cover of The Art of Entertaining Relais & Châteaux, recently toured the globe with Chef Joanne Weir on her PBS show Plates and Places. Launched in February 2017, each episode follows Weir, a James Beard award-winning chef, as she travels the world to research the key ingredients of extraordinary dishes and culminates with Weir preparing and presenting the dishes on McQueen Pottery.
McQueen’s handcrafted dinnerware is no stranger to fine food. Her pottery is on the tables at In Situ, a Michelin-star restaurant inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Sean Brock’s Husk, with locations in Nashville, Savannah, Georgia, and South Carolina, features her pottery. McQueen’s dinnerware is also featured locally at Blackberry Farms in Walland and J.C. Holdway in Knoxville.
Garden & Gun, which named McQueen a runner-up for the 2016 “Made in the South” award in craft, describes her Speckled Ware: “Tiny brown flecks of clay peek through the dishes’ soft gray glaze, and naturally undulating edges complement instead of compete with the food they hold.”
McQueen values how the UT ceramics program encouraged her to experiment with materials.
“Clay is something that takes time, practice, and patience, a lot of patience,” McQueen says. “Some of my fondest memories are of my failures and how they pushed me to figure out the problem and work it through. That exploration of materials, whether successful or not, promoted growth in my work.”
“Leanne’s success is no surprise,” says Sally Brogden, professor of ceramics. “While at UT, Leanne was a very determined, hard-working student. Going out on one’s own to start a pottery business is a huge undertaking and it involves a lot of risk. It’s been wonderful to watch her success continue to grow and it will be really exciting to see how her studio business evolves.”
It Runs in the Family
The Bensons are a family of artists, of Tennessee natives, and of University of Tennessee alumni. In spring 2017, The Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture and the University of Tennessee Potter’s Club featured their work in Common Lineage: The Bensons.
The newest alumna, Mary Benson Carbonell, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ceramics in 2013, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in art education at UT. Her older brothers, Aaron and Zac, earned their degrees in ceramics and sculpture, respectively. Zac, who graduated from UT in 2009, went on to earn his MFA in studio art from the University of Maryland, College Park. Aaron graduated in 2007, received his MFA from New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred, and is now an assistant professor of art at the University of North Alabama, teaching ceramics/sculpture/3D.
Their father, Lee Benson, earned three degrees from UT—BFA in studio art, BS in art education, and MFA in ceramics in 1989—and is a professor of fine arts in sculpture and ceramics and chair of the art department at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Lee met his wife, Elizabeth, while in graduate school, and together they started Benson Sculpture LLC.
Working collaboratively with their children (including daughter Sarah Benson), they create large-scale public sculptures out of timber, earth, and stone, which have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Recently, the Bensons have developed a relationship with Habitat for Humanity and Habitat for Humanity International to repurpose materials used in their sculptures to build homes in the community where the sculptures were exhibited.
The Bensons work well together, but as the Ewing Gallery exhibition demonstrated, they each have a distinct artistic vision and approach. Aaron, who works mostly in ceramics, describes his work as “using reductive forms and essential materials to span the gap between the present and the eternal.” Zac often re-purposes found materials to make large sculptures that offer searing commentaries on current events. Mary exhibited large-scale photographic prints, and Lee works with a variety of materials, including sugar, gold leaf, VHS tape, and money.
Whether working individually or as a group, the Benson family is driven by their religious faith and moral convictions to create art that addresses social challenges. Their years spent at UT were not only important skill-building times, but also inspired each member of the family to celebrate and uplift the communities in which they work.