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Unique Graduate Finds More Than Masterpieces At SHSU

May 20, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

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Emma GarnettWhile some graduates walk across the stage into adulthood, 73-year-old Emma Garnett’s walk at Sam Houston State University’s 2010 graduation ceremony marked her arrival at a different destination.

It was the fulfillment of a dream she had held for more than 50 years.

Now 74, SHSU has given her the chance to achieve another dream—to return to Huntsville during her upcoming art exhibit on campus, May 31 through June 10.

For Garnett, it will be about more than the drawings and paintings on display. It is her chance to reunite with the university that gave her back a love of art that she had forgotten many years ago, she said.

Born in 1937, her artistic passion was sparked by an admiration for her father, a draftsman for a local engineering firm. She fondly remembers mimicking his watercolor sketches as a young girl.

“I would sit there for hours and try to do just what he did,” said Garnett.

According to the artist, it was because of him that she was never caught without a pencil, which earned her the nickname of Deedle during her girlhood in Houston.

Yet, eventually, the drawings came to a stop. During her teenage years both of Garnett’s parents died. The tragedy led to many life changes and eventually the passion she had for drawing and painting was gone.

It was then that her pencils were replaced with textbooks, as Garnett enrolled in Sacred Heart Dominican College to study nursing at the age of 18.

According to Garnett, she loved the college atmosphere and all the new friends. Slowly, she found herself recovering from her childhood misfortunes.

However, she was never able to earn her degree because during her schooling she met her husband, John. The couple married in 1958, and shortly after, she became the mother of four children. It was during those happy times, that Garnett said she began to feel the presence of her inner artist.

“My children were the true inspiration for my earlier work,” said Garnett. “I’ve always adored them.”

Garnett said she can recall several times when she weighed the option of returning to study art, but her children always remained her first priority.

It was not until years later when her last child moved out that Garnett said she began to acquire a more serious approach towards obtaining her college degree.

One day, after doing her routine dishes and laundry, she decided to take the 35-minute drive to College Station, where she casually walked to the administration building at Texas A&M University amongst a sea of young adults.

When asked what she based her decision upon when choosing what college to attend, her lighthearted answer demonstrates her soft, artistic nature.

“It was just the prettiest drive,” Garnett said.

Upon her acceptance into the university, she began her freshman year at the age of 60. During her course selection, Garnett was quick to inform her academic advisers of her intentions.

“I told them, ‘all I want to take is art’ and, of course, they politely told me it wasn’t going to be that simple,” she said.

Because the university did not offer the studio arts degree she had dreamed of, her academic advisers convinced her to study theatre arts. Garnett says she was content with merely studying some type of art and happily agreed.

She quickly grew to love the fine arts. The soft-spoken Garnett jokes about how she surprised her new peers by being an active participant in her theatre arts performing classes.

“Nobody could hear me, of course, but it was wonderful,” said Garnett.

Upon earning her degree in 2000, Garnett felt she still wanted to do more. In response, her academic advisers suggested she study architecture and English. Though she said she liked parts of each, neither fields of study could satisfy her desire for art, she said.

That all changed when a friend recommended she should look into a college a little further down the road—Sam Houston State University.

Garnett was unfamiliar with SHSU but enrolled upon learning the university offered a degree in studio art. According to her, the classes were fabulous and she was thrilled to finally be learning about art.

According to Garnett, the younger generation at SHSU was especially accepting of her.

“I came into this expecting to be known as the 70 year old who talks a lot, but I cherish all the friends I made at Sam,” said Garnett.

A favorite memory of her courses at SHSU occurred at the end of her studies when her class traveled to various locations in the city of Huntsville and painted each place in watercolor.

“It really made me realize how beautiful Huntsville is,” said Garnett, “I knew I wanted to come back here one day.”

Now, a year after her graduation, her return marks the fulfillment of that wish.

Her first exhibit as an SHSU alumna is simply titled “Emma Garnett” and will showcase her passion for all different types of art. Pieces will include works of animal art and a series of paintings on the history of Greek theatre, inspired by the fine arts classes she took at A&M.

Garnett, who has bragged to her Aggie professors that she is now a Bearkat, continues to hold her time at Sam Houston close to her heart.

“I’ve drawn everyday since I left SHSU,” said Garnett. “I am so thankful that everyone there rekindled my love for art.”

A reception for Garnett’s exhibit will be held on May 31 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Lowman Student Center Art Gallery, where free refreshments will be provided.


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