Lee’s Art Program Sees Continued Growth

Thursday, November 7, 2019 - by Merritt Jenkins, Lee University
From left, Lee art faculty Jordan Holt, John Simmons, Mary Mathias-Dickerson, and Rondall Reynoso in the newly renovated Drawing I Studio
From left, Lee art faculty Jordan Holt, John Simmons, Mary Mathias-Dickerson, and Rondall Reynoso in the newly renovated Drawing I Studio

The Lee University art program has been working hard to expand and increase its impact on both the community and its students. This year, new faculty have been hired, new resources added, and opportunities for student development abound.

“The program that we're building is designed to think forward about how art might change in 20-30 years,” said Jordan Holt, assistant professor of graphic design. “New media are born every year, and our goal is to train artists who have a flexibility to apply lasting principles of aesthetics and beauty across media old and new. We want to equip artists with an understanding of what makes art work, so changes in tech, tools, and culture can't make them obsolete.”

New assistant professor of art, Rondall Reynoso, was welcomed to the program this fall. He was involved with renovating the Drawing I studio, Painting Studio, and Advanced Drawing Studio since the summer. The work is nearly complete, and the faculty are excited about the improvements and future renovations on the horizon.

Mr. Reynoso currently teaches both studio and art history classes and works to improve the program by adding sophomore and junior reviews to the major, improving and expanding the curriculum, and planning art trips. He previously taught at the Graduate Theological Union, was appointed senior lecturer of the department of visual studies at the California College of Art in Oakland, and served as a department chair and assistant professor of the art department at Louisiana College.

"I believe Lee’s art program is in an exciting time,” said Mr. Reynoso. “There is a lot of energy focused on developing the program to the next level. I have been impressed with the quality of students both in the studio classes and the academic classes such as art history.”

The number of new art majors also suggests the program is getting attention and gaining momentum. There are currently 78 art majors, a significant increase from the eight art majors in 2011.

The art program is also making an impact outside of Lee. Mary Mathias-Dickerson, associate professor of art, recently presented at the Appalachian College Association 2019 Annual Summit: A Community of Collaboration. Ms. Mathias-Dickerson, who coordinates discipline-specific service learning for students in the art program at Lee, shared strategies for effective service-learning projects.

Her session, “Creative Collaborations: Learning that Benefits Students and Communities,” offered a challenge to more widely and effectively utilize discipline-specific community-based service learning experiences in academic institutions, and initiate interdepartmental conversations to determine how these ideas can be applied to benefit students and positively impact the community.

“I have found that these projects, whether extra-curricular, or embedded in a class, help students make cognitive connections between theory and practice, and can forge excellent relationships between the school and the community,” said Ms. Mathias-Dickerson. “Digging deeper into course or discipline material to benefit others can ignite a student’s passion for a discipline, inspire higher-level thinking, and result in greater classroom engagement and achievement. All of my examples were from service learning that I have done with art students, but I believe the concepts can be widely applied to many disciplines.”

Art related service learning projects have become a hallmark of the art program and a focus for the art club as well.

Lee University’s art club teamed up with the art club at Arnold Elementary to paint a large scale mural in the Arnold Elementary lunch room. The mural, designed by Lee art club president Payton Hayman, is still in progress.

Another community-centered project is handled by Anya Newell, an art education major. She is the art service program coordinator for the Youth and Community Action Project, where she plans new art projects for the children to create each week and organizes a team of Lee art students who volunteer to teach the lessons and build encouraging relationships with the children at YCAP. 

Each semester the art program offers an overnight trip to museums and galleries in the region.  During the fall semesters, trips will rotate between Nashville and Cincinnati, and in the spring, students will travel to Atlanta. Mr. Reynoso and Ms. Mathias-Dickerson coordinate these regional trips, which are open to all Lee students who are interested in art.

Students also frequent the Chattanooga Hunter Museum of Art as part of their education.

For many years, the art program benefited from the instruction of John Simmons, associate professor of art. After 35 years as a full-time faculty, he recently retired to teach ceramics as a part time adjunct. The Squires Library showcased a variety of his art this fall in the art gallery.

The Squires Library art gallery is currently displaying works by the other Lee art faculty.

For more information about Lee’s art program, contact Ms. Mathias-Dickerson at mmathias-dickerson@leeuniversity.edu or call 614-8690.

Mary Mathias-Dickerson, right, along with students Payton Hayman, center, and Kassidi McDannel painting a mural at Arnold Elementary
Mary Mathias-Dickerson, right, along with students Payton Hayman, center, and Kassidi McDannel painting a mural at Arnold Elementary

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