CLEMSON — Last February, Brooks Center Business Manager Susan Kaplar partnered with Denise Woodward-Detrich of the Center for Visual Arts to assemble an exhibit titled “Tempos” that was displayed in the Brooks Center lobby. The endeavor was the result of her work with the University’s Staff Development Program and allowed her to explore her love of visual art.

Fast-forward seven months. Kaplar, who first developed an affinity for visual art in college, is now enrolled at Clemson as an art major while remaining the Brooks Center’s business manager. She credits Tempos with giving her a “nudge” to pursue her degree, and she has joined with Woodward-Detrich once again on a new exhibit: “Echoes: Decoding the Shape of Future Recollections.”

The new exhibition features abstract art from different artists and eras.

“Initially it was Denise and I deciding on what type of exhibit to have for fall semester,” Kaplar said. “Jackie Kuntz was Denise’s graduate student assistant, and so Denise assigned her the task of researching the available artwork from the Clemson Advancement Foundation, which is held in storage within Lee Hall. I also mentioned that Brooks Center Coordinator Sarah Edison expressed an interest in being involved with the project.” The exhibit’s mission is to prepare young children for encounters with abstract art later in their lives, and to help them think imaginatively and critically about what they see.

The title “Echoes” stemmed from the fact that the artwork spans four decades but remains relevant: Echoes of past generations of artists still speak to new generations of viewers.

“We want children to be able to make sense of and enjoy abstract art when they visit art galleries as adults,” Kaplar says, “which is why the subtitle is Decoding the Shape of Future Recollections. We want them to be able to engage with this genre instead of automatically saying, ‘I don’t get this.’”

The exhibit, now on display in the lobby, is the result of months of planning. Work began in July, when Kaplar and Woodward-Detrich started sifting through abstract work in the Foundation’s collection. They came across work that was decades old and had been in storage for years. South Carolina artists such as John O’Neil, Edward Yaghjian, Carl Blair, and David Freeman are represented here, as well as two artists, Bill Seitz and Robert Hunter, who were art professors at Clemson University.

The most difficult part was finding a common theme from the available artwork, Kaplar said. After she and Woodward-Detrich earmarked around 40 pieces, they brought in Kuntz to help whittle down that figure to between 15 and 20, and shared their ideas with each other through Powerpoint. Sarah Edison was invited to the next meeting as the group members discussed themes, pieces that really stuck with them, and possible activities. They met at Lee Hall to visually arrange the art and eliminate some due to condition, size, and other factors. The remaining works were transported to the Brooks Center Lobby, where space constraints reduced the exhibit’s number to 11.

Each piece was selected based on the overall theme of shapes. “While abstract art can take many forms,” Kaplar said, “we wanted to choose pieces that were conducive to teaching kids the basic elements of abstraction.”

The exhibit is organized from most literal to most abstract. Viewers begin with a painting in which they may most readily identify physical objects (Supermarket by Ben Shahn) to a work that requires the most interpretation of the artist’s intent (Sophie’s Parlor by David Freeman).

There have been two children’s activities in conjunction with the exhibit so far. One was an art creation exercise using shapes to build original works of abstract art. The other was a movement exercise, conducted under the direction of theatre assistant professor Kerrie Seymour and her acting class. They led children who attended a Bill and Donna Eskridge Tri-ART Series event in a movement-based exploration of the art pieces using the children’s own interpretations of the work.

“Viewpoints,” the name of the method Seymour used in the activities, “is a physical approach to theatre and staging,” she said. “So much of what I teach in my acting classes is a more inside-out or psychological approach, examining the objectives, needs, thoughts, history and relationships of a character.”

Therefore, the “physical approach” to theater often does not receive as much class time. This activity was a perfect opportunity for her students to explore physicality.

“I find that when you start to play around with ‘Viewpoints’ and other physical entryways into the work, it does open up a new window of creativity and freedom for many actors. Suddenly, the work can go beyond words and that can really allow many actors to play in a new way.  It forces them out of their literal minds and pushes them to explore uncharted territory.”

Not only is this beneficial for college theater students, but for young students as well. Seymour believes “Viewpoints” is a valuable way to respond theatrically to artwork “because so much of the experience of looking at art, for me at least, calls up so many of the viewpoints: spatial relationship, shape, repetition. Sometimes you look at a piece of art and it just seems still, other times a still image can give the sensation of movement, and suddenly you are thinking about the concept of tempo, whether you know it or not.”

Seymour and her students will reconvene on 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, the lobby for more movement work.

“I find that both my students and the children that have responded to the art in the Brooks Lobby have enjoyed the liberty of creating with fearlessness, and have experienced that wonderful moment of giving yourself permission to play and move and respond,” she says. “When work can go beyond words, I think many of us are loosed from that fear of not ‘saying the right answer.’ Suddenly you are just working with an organic response within your body, and how can that sort of response be wrong?  It just can’t.”

Tri-ART students pose with

Also occurring this month is an activity hatched by Brooks Center Coordinator Sarah Edison. Through Monday, Dec. 1, young students may participate in an exciting activity called “Art Detective” during Box Office hours (Monday through Friday; 1 to 5 p.m.), and before and after Tri-ART morning performances in the Brooks Center Lobby.

The idea for the activity came to Edison while deciding on a title for the exhibit. “We were talking about the title and the word ‘decoding’ came up,” she said. “I thought about the theme of educating kids, and said, ‘Well, who decodes things?’ I also remembered pretending to be a spy or detective when I was younger and thought this would be a fun concept!”

Students’ mission, should they choose to accept it, is to check out book bags from the Box Office containing supplies for various activities listed on a “Secret Mission” objectives sheet. Among these objectives are drawing and writing assignments in response to the displayed artwork.

“We often underestimate children as an audience for any type of art,” Edison says. “The kids are so creative. They come up with 50 different responses to the works. We kind of lose that as we get older, so I hope the whole family, not just children, finds different ways of looking at art.”

Kaplar has been overwhelmed by the positive response from patrons, employees, children, parents, and students. “I’m pleased we have another successful exhibit in the Brooks Center Lobby,” she said.

List of pieces/artists on display:

  • “Supermarket” by Ben Shahn
  • “Landshark” by Antoine Predock
  • “Master Cleaners” by Edward Yaghjan
  • “Summer Landscape II” by A. Stanick
  • “Summer” by Walter Hollis Stevens
  • “Signs of the Treegarth of Orthanc” by John O’Neil
  • “The Secret of a Guilty Cloud” by Bill Seitz
  • “Metamorphosis De Crigo” by Manley
  • “Unknown” by Robert Hunter
  • “Barron Briar II” by Carl Blair
  • “Sophie’s Parlor” by David Freeman