Gautier after Bingham, Stump Speaking (detail), c. 1856, engraving.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Exhibitions Celebrate the Art of Missourians Living with Disabilities

Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for. – Georgia O'Keeffe

Artists use color for many purposes: to replicate reality, to create depth and space where there is none, to express their vision of the world. The artists showcased in the exhibition, “Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities,” use color and form as expressive factors. Color can create multiple moods and evoke all sorts of emotions in a viewer; color is a tool for communication between artist and viewer.

Two new additions to the Missouri Student Unions art collection are on display for the first time on the first floor of the Missouri Student Center. Janice Atkins, an artist from Kansas City, painted the two still life compositions. Atkins was born in California and moved to Kansas City when she was eighteen. In high school, Atkins was diagnosed with schizophrenia and experienced her first major episode at twenty-seven. She received a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1981.  Her work is included in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and she has been featured in many gallery shows in the Kansas City area.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that occurs in one percent of the general population.  The disorder may be caused by an interaction between genetic factors and environmental factors that affect the chemistry and structure of the brain. Symptoms of schizophrenia can include hallucinations and delusions, thought or movement disorders, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. People with schizophrenia manage their disorder through lifelong treatment with medication and psychosocial therapy.

Red Roses in a White Vase (undated) is categorized as a still life, an image depicting inanimate objects, either alone or in a group, as the primary subject matter. With the dawn of Modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century, painters Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse used still life compositions to explore the relationships between form, color, texture, and space.  These artists were exploring the concept of art itself rather than mimetically reproducing objects as they appeared.

Like the Modern painters, Atkins uses the still life genre to uncover the beauty in the patterns and colors of a commonplace scene of flowers in a vase. Like Cézanne’s famous still lifes of fruit on a table, Atkins abstracts the image, releasing it from the bounds of strict representation of a real space.  She skews the perspective of the surface under the vase in order to emphasize the brightly colored pattern of the tablecloth. Her use of vivid colors recalls the abstract collages of Matisse’s later career. The vivid red and green of the stylized roses openly contrasts with the white of the vase and background. The abstract blue outlines converse with the blue cross designs in the tablecloth continuing the rhythm of color radiating around the composition.  Atkins’ composite style blends abstraction and the figurative in order to push the viewer to see the beauty in the ordinary.

Janice Atkins (American, b. 1947), Red Roses in a White Vase (undated), 22 3/8" x 15", acrylic, ink, watercolor on paper, Missouri Student Unions purchase, 2014.030

Atkins uses still life to symbolize an abstract concept – beauty. She also uses the still life genre to discover the potential of pattern and color as aesthetic elements, tools for communicating the concept of beauty. In Irises in Chinese Vase – For Richard (2005), her use of shallow perspective forces the objects – vase and blanket – forward into the viewer’s space, presenting their decorative patterns as amalgamations of color, lines, and spaces. The patterned shapes in the background can be read as floating, alien characters in a green-gold sky. The bat design on the candle holder enhances the whimsy of the bright color scheme.

Janice Atkins (American, b. 1947), Irises in Chinese Vase - For Richard (2005), 22 3/8" x 15", watercolor, ink on paper, Missouri Student Unions purchase, 2014.029

A painting by David Kontra, Rainfall (2013), is the accompaniment to the works by Janice Atkins.  Originally from Ohio, David Kontra lives and works in rural south-central Missouri in the small town of Norwood. Kontra is legally blind. He was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa when he was still a child and began drawing as a way to cope with depression. 

In Rainfall, Kontra creates a dynamic composition that showcases the gestural quality of his brushstrokes. The white paint, representing rain, rhythmically dances across the vibrant abstracted landscape that depicts a pond and a house in the distance. In addition, the rhythmic quality of his brushstrokes produces an aural effect that evokes the sound of rain. Kontra often paints as a means of releasing his frustration with politics and the world around him, especially ignorance and discrimination towards people with disabilities. Kontra, who is himself legally blind, is an advocate for inclusivity and accessibility of the arts for people with visual impairments.  For more information on David Kontra, please see our previous blog post:  David Kontra: Blind Missouri Artist

“Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities” will be on display on the first floor of the MU Student Center through the end of December, 2014.

"Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities" at the MU Student Center until December

The 2014 Director's Creativity Showcase

Also on display at the Missouri Student Center, the “Director’s Creativity Showcase,” a traveling exhibition supported by the Missouri Mental Health Foundation (MMHF), features the artwork of people served by the Missouri Department of Mental Health.  Patty Henry, the executive director of the MMHF, explains that “making the art available for public viewing is just one of the ways we can help reduce stigma associated with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addiction disorders. The artwork is inspiring and shows the amazing talents of many individuals faced with mental health issues.”  The “Director’s Creativity Showcase” is on display in the Lower Lounge of the MU Student Center until October 31, 2014.
2014 Director's Creativity Showcase, Lower Lounge, MU Student Center, now through October 31, 2014
These exhibitions are presented as part of Mizzou’s Celebrate Ability Week. Celebrate Ability Week, organized by MU’s Disability Center, began as recognition of the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and continues to allow the MU community to promote inclusivity and awareness of people who are differently abled. For a schedule of events and more information, please visit

Blog post authored by Sarah S. Jones, Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Celebrating Latino Heritage at Mizzou in 2014

September 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month. In celebration of the event, the Missouri Student Unions has installed an exhibition showcasing the history of Hispanic and Latino students at Mizzou. Hispanic American heritage has been recognized nationally since 1968, but Hispanic and Latin American students have had a presence on our campus since the mid-nineteenth century.

This year’s exhibition highlights notable alumni of Hispanic and Latin American descent and campus organizations that support and advocate for students whose heritage is based in the Latino culture.

Here are just a few of the people who have contributed greatly to the history of Hispanic and Latino heritage at Mizzou.

(Photo credit: Kalamazoo College, Boiling Pot, 1981)

Dr. Betty Rita Gomez Lance of Costa Rica attended MU in 1949 as a graduate student. She went on to become Professor of Romance Languages and Literature at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Amongst her publications is Vivencies (1981), a volume of poetry in Spanish. 

(1930 Savitar)
An international student, Sucre Perez (PhD Journalism ’31) returned to Ecuador after completing his doctorate and became the director and managing editor of El Universo, Ecuador’s largest newspaper. During his time at MU, Perez was active in the International Club and the Spanish Club. 

(MIZZOU Magazine, Winter, 2003)
Dr. Christina Vasquez Case (PhD Rural Sociology ’04; Lt. Col. Army National Guard) researches studies of diversity and demographics.  She also works to find wealth-building strategies in the Latino community. Case is now the director of Alianzas for the University of Missouri Extension, a group that advocates for Hispanic/Latino Missourians and works to ensure the recruitment and retention of Latino faculty, staff, and students. 

(1924 Savitar)
The Spanish Club was first organized at MU in 1920. While many students in the early years joined the club as a way to practice Spanish as a second language, some were native Spanish speakers. The Spanish Club’s president in 1924, Manuel Marcelino Mortola (B.J. ’25), was an international student from Argentina.  Mortola was also the president of Sigma Delta Pi, a national honorary Spanish fraternity, and editor of the Gold and Black, a Spanish language student magazine.  After receiving his degree, Mortola returned to Argentina where he became an executive in one of the first international offices of the J. Walter Thompson Agency, a world-renown marketing firm.

Missouri Student Association Officers (1976 Savitar)
Linda Martinez (B.A. ’76 - top left) entered MU as pre-med hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico for his medical residency where he met and married her mother, a nursing student. It was only later that she realized law was her true calling. While at MU Martinez was very involved in student government (shown here with the Missouri Students Association). In 2009, Governor Jay Nixon appointed her director of the Missouri Department of Economics. Martinez has worked as an attorney in St. Louis for the last three decades.

Celebrating Latino Heritage at Mizzou is on view now until October 13, 2014, in the University of Missouri Student Center.

You can view the exhibition in Lower Lounge of the MU Student Center to learn more. For information about MU’s diverse community, visit the Multicultural Center on the ground floor of the MU Student Center or at

Also, read about our previous Latino Heritage exhibition at:

Authored by Sarah S. Jones, Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions

Friday, August 1, 2014

Student Organizations - Life Outside the Classroom at Mizzou

As you may have heard, Mizzou is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. It made me think about all the different aspects of being a student and what daily life might have been like for those first students so long ago. What did they do outside of attending class? In which social events did they participate? Were they as busy as the undergraduates of today who work and participate in extracurricular activities?

One thing that we, the students of the twenty-first century, have in common with our nineteenth-century forebears is being a member of a club or team. Student involvement is common among Mizzou students of all levels, from first year undergrads to PhD students. According to the Organization Resource Group (ORG), the campus office that assists student organizations with their administrative needs, there are over 750 recognized student organizations at MU.

Our latest exhibition in the Traditions Lounge, Student Organizations: Life Outside the Classroom, highlights the long history of student organizations on our campus. From the Athenaeans, a literary society formed in 1841, to the Mizzou Quidditch team members, who play a sport developed from the Harry Potter novels, Mizzou students participate in an eclectic array of organizations that engage their talents, help them develop new interests, and add a little fun to college life. Below are just a few of those organizations that inhabited the halls of Mizzou.

Savitar 1904

Clubs at MU have ranged from serious to silly. The early 1900s, for example, saw the founding of such clubs as the Pirate Crew and the Zoo Club, that latter of which nick-named their members after wild animals and claimed Rudyard Kipling as an honorary member.

Founded in 1912, The Pirate Crew, a social club, lived by the purpose “To capture the priceless treasures—good fellowship, fidelity and fraternal unity” (Savitar 1918).

Music-making occupies the time of many Mizzou students, whether for fun or as an academic pursuit. Many MU musicians have become recognized for their extraordinary talents which were fostered during their college years in musical ensembles like the Men’s Glee Club and the Singsations.

The Savitar of 1896 features the University Glee, Banjo, and Mandolin Club, lauding it “unique and variegated.” In the 1900s, the club split into a more traditional Glee Club and a separate Mandolin Club (Savitar 1896).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Singsations, a jazz ensemble, performed around the state and even traveled to Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Notably, in the 1980s, the group boasted a young Sheryl Crow among its ranks. Shown above, Sinsgsations members are costumed and ready to perform (Savitar 1974).

Some students with the same major gather together, creating clubs that celebrate and support their as their academic program.

The Freshman Medical Society class of 1910 describes their meetings as thus: “Everybody gets in on the wind-up, which consists of something good to eat and plenty of it, something good to drink (not the headache kind), toasts, boasts, rips, roasts, ghosts, discussion, percussion, and the merry ha ha” (Savitar 1907).

MU’s annual Farmers’ Week provided opportunities for members of the Agriculture Club to compete in various judging contests and to share their interests with other university students. Pictured above, Farmers’ Week in 1919 hosted the Missouri Corn Growers’ Association’s corn exhibit held in Jesse Hall. Despite the heavy toll taken by the recent war and influenza outbreak, this event attracted a record-breaking number of participants (Savitar 1919).

The Forestry Society, founded in 1912, limited its membership to only those students enrolled in the Department of Forestry. The above photo features four students embarking on their first Forestry class (Savitar 1912).

Sports bring together many MU students in pursuit of physical fitness and friendship. 

The MO-maids, Mizzou’s synchronized swimming team, was established on campus in 1926 and is featured in the yearbook through 1980. The group was originally dubbed the Missouri Mermaids, but became the MO-maids in the mid-1950s. The 1968 yearbook extols the group as “the water ballerinas of the University,” and describes their annual shows as involving elaborate costuming, arranged songs, strobe lights, and even slide projectors (Savitar 1968).

Formed in 2001, the Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team has earned international recognition. Current head coach, Ron Lykins, also coaches the US men’s national team and Carter Arey, MU team captain, was named the Player of the Year by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Intercollegiate Division for 2013-2014 season (Photo Courtesy of MIZZOU magazine and MIZZOU Alumni Association).

The Aero-Tigers Club allowed any student or faculty member interested in flying an opportunity to learn with both an instructor and the equipment needed to earn their pilot’s license. The members were co-owners of the planes and their dues paid for gas and insurance. The Aero-Tigers existed from the mid-1950s to 1970 (Photo courtesy of University Archives and Savitar 1957)

Students also mobilize to cheer on our MU Tigers sports teams, creating a spirit of unity and support for our student athletes.

According to the 1931 Savitar yearbook, every MU freshman enrolled in the 1920s and 30s automatically became a member of the Thundering Thousand booster club. Before every home football game “this group assemble[d] at the Columns and marche[d] to the Stadium in lock step.” Shown here, beloved professor Jesse Wrench leads the Thundering Thousand to Rollins Field before the 1922 Homecoming game (Savitar 1923).

The exhibition also includes student clubs that arise around a common cause or social group. Social justice clubs like the Legion of Black Collegians, the Femme Forum, HALO, and the Triangle Coalition allow African-American, female, Latino, and LGBTQ students, respectively, an avenue for advocating for diversity on campus. Clubs for international students offer fellowship for those students living outside of their home cultures. Other clubs form to provide programming for university students, such as the Student Union Programming Board and the Tiger Claws.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at just a few of the groups in which Mizzou students have participated in the last 175 years! Visit the Traditions Lounge on the second floor of the MU Student Center to see all the clubs highlighted in the exhibition. Please feel free to share your own memories of participating in organizations and clubs during your time at MU in the comments section below! 

Blog authored by Sarah S. Jones, PhD Student, Art History and Archaeology