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Professor Cultivates 'Hope,' 'Peas(e)' On Canvas, In Classroom

July 21, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Marissa Nunez

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Edie Wells, who teaches University 1301 courses and will teach "Intro to Visual Arts" in the fall, draws from her experiences in both her art and classrooms. She also will soon be working with art students on a track for art education majors. Above, she is pictured with a work from her "Cultivating Peas" collection, an untitled piece that that turns black-eyed peas into abstract art. —Photos by Brian Blalock

 

Armed with a paintbrush, a camera, and her passion for the earth, Sam Houston State University adjunct professor Edie Wells draws inspiration from personal experiences and the world around us to help illustrate important issues to new students.

Through her love of art and community, Wells said she aims to show students “a bigger picture of the world and how we live in it,” by helping students develop the skills to be successful college students, while also encouraging them to think about their local and global community and how to live responsibly in it.

Inspired by work done by activists such as Annie Leonard, photographer Chris Jordan, and local builder Dan Phillips, Wells’s First Year Experience and art classes demonstrate the urgent need for protecting the environment and create an awareness of important social justice and ecological issues.

“Jordan takes these mind-blowing statistics about garbage and mass consumption and turns them into something we can comprehend,” said Wells.

Some of the larger lessons that Wells hopes her students will learn in her classrooms could be considered hard-learned lessons that Wells, herself, learned through her personal experiences. These have become the focus of the art that was recently displayed in Lowman Student Center exhibits.

One exhibit, “Cultivating Peas,” looks at “the tiniest visuals of growth” through macro-photography and paintings, which illustrate Wells’s passion for growing our own foods and becoming more tied to the Earth.

This “habit of gladness,” as she refers to it, is very important for students, and her art invites the viewer to take a moment to appreciate the little details of the natural world.

Wells’s own appreciation for the “little details” of the natural world, perhaps, came from the experiences that led to her first LSC exhibit, “Reclaiming Hope: A visual conversation about war and healing,” which she displayed in February.

“Reclaiming Hope” tells the story of a brutal 14-year-long civil war in Liberia, West Africa, told through the eyes of an 11-year-old survivor named Faith Lackay.

Reclaiming Hope

The exhibit, which Wells considers a collaboration between her and Lackay, includes a book of drawings that serve as a diary of Lackay’s experiences during the first two years of the war (later presented as a gift to Wells) and paintings by Wells that are inspired by Lackay’s experiences, as Wells followed news footage about the war.

Wells lived and worked for two years as an artist for a publishing house in Monrovia, Liberia, where she met and was captivated by Lackay, a then-9-year-old girl who would dance with her playmates for Wells.

“The children wrapped themselves around my heart with their spirited flailing arms and wiggling hips. Those two years changed me forever,” she said.

A week before she was scheduled to leave, a small groups of rebels invaded the northern part of the country, just several hours away from Monrovia, the capital city.

“We didn’t think much of the invasion because things like that have happened before, and since Liberia was already in a little bit of turmoil we thought the government would handle it,” Wells said. “I returned to the states and within six months Faith, her family, my friends, and thousands of other Liberians faced a brutal civil war that lasted 14 years.”

Day-to-day news coverage depicted the vividly horrible scenes of bombs detonating and street fighting between the rebels and Liberia’s national army. For Wells, the footage was overwhelming.

“I couldn’t sleep, I had lost touch with all my friends and couldn’t communicate with them in anyway so I began having these dreams where I would see myself and them, running and diving to miss the bombs. It was really hard,” she said.

While working on “Reclaiming Hope,” Wells researched art created by children during times of hardship.

“I was researching works created during the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda, so it was a part of my critical discourse,” she said.

The exhibit took about two years to complete.

Wells explained that the process was very therapeutic for her, but, more importantly, she wanted Lackay’s story to be told.

“The exhibit was about seeing war through the eyes of a child, giving a visual voice to pain was a process of healing as well as a path to hope,” Wells said.

By using her artwork, and other artists’ works, as media to demonstrate very important issues, Wells hopes students will gain a bigger picture of the world and how we live in it.

This is one reason why she finds the “Intro to Collegiate Studies,” the University 1301 course, so important for new students.

“As an educator and an artist, I see so much value in the course. The holistic approach touches on various topics, such as relationships, sexual health, money management, and appreciating diversity, as well as critical thinking, developing good study habits, writing and speaking skills, and so much more,” Wells said. “I wish they had had a class like this when I was a freshman in college.”

Through University 1301, students also can explore the SHSU academic community, look at various fields of studies and areas of interest, and acquaint themselves with different learning tools, programs, and resources available on campus.

The class also offers a chance for students to meet other first-year students with similar academic or general interests through specific Freshman Learning Communities sections of the course.

Students in each community attend the same core classes and support each other academically through study group, as well as socially, outside the classroom.

“One section I teach is the education cohort for freshmen who want to be teachers, so what we do is take what they are beginning to understand about themselves and how they learn, and applying it to when they will be teachers,” Wells said.

This fall, Wells also will teach two “Intro to Visual Arts” classes in the SHSU art department and plans to continue involving students in creative thinking and activities, such as trekking down to Houston to volunteer at Smither Park; visiting a wildly fun green space in progress, designed by Dan Phillips; or joining her at the Hospitality House as she teaches art classes to children of prisoners.

By “requiring rigorous exploration of concepts and ideas, and the ability to argue and articulate those ideas,” Wells said she hopes to influence her students to become more thoughtful, productive, and engaged citizens.

 

 

 

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