Archive for Sunday, November 2, 2003

By the time they get to Phoenix …

… these Lawrence artists, advocates and volunteers have devoted their lives to promoting creativity

November 2, 2003

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Remarkable.

That's the adjective that must be associated with one's name and accomplishments before one receives a Phoenix Award.

For the eighth year, Lawrence Arts Commissioners have narrowed a field of glowing nominations to seven they feel have contributed truly exceptional service to the Lawrence arts community.

Nominees were judged based on their creative achievement, the length and intensity of their arts activities, their leadership, and their contributions to the excellence and availability of the arts.

It's a diverse group. What follows is just an introduction to their achievements.

Chris Wolf Edmonds

Exceptional Artistic Achievement

Chris Wolf Edmonds' skill at re-interpreting other artists' work in the form of quilts catapulted her into the national art spotlight, but her individual artistic visions have kept her there.

Edmonds, a fifth-generation Kansan who graduated from Kansas University, became known for her appliqued fabric pictures during the 1970s, when she was commissioned by the Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping to reproduce already-existing works of art. She later worked with well-known New York painter Alice Neil, translating paintings into quilts.

Lawrence textile artist Chris Wolf Edmonds feels right at home on
the 80-acre rural plot west of Clinton Lake where she and her
husband are building a new home. The natural world has inspired
Edmonds' abstract quilt designs for the past several decades. She
is this year's recipient of the Phoenix Award for Exceptional
Artistic Achievement.

Lawrence textile artist Chris Wolf Edmonds feels right at home on the 80-acre rural plot west of Clinton Lake where she and her husband are building a new home. The natural world has inspired Edmonds' abstract quilt designs for the past several decades. She is this year's recipient of the Phoenix Award for Exceptional Artistic Achievement.

"But then I was getting a little tired of just re-interpreting someone else's work," Edmonds says. "I had enough ideas of my own I wanted to pursue. So I kind of quit accepting those kinds of commissions unless they allowed me more artistic freedom."

Edmonds' "Prairie Pioneer" was commissioned by the Lawrence Arts Commission to display in City Hall -- it has since been moved -- and was featured on the March 1983 cover of Quilter's Newsletter magazine.

Her work has since been featured on a dozen magazine covers, and her "Cherokee Trail of Tears" was named one of the 100 best American quilts of the 20th century. She has taught more than 200 workshops and seminars across the country and had her work pictured and reviewed in more than 300 books and articles

Edmonds learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother, who were constantly frustrated by her tendency to learn their techniques and then use them in unorthodox ways.

Edmonds made only one traditional quilt. After she abandoned the idea of rehashing other people's artwork, she switched from pictorial to more abstract quilts. She has spent most of her career since then piecing together painterly interpretations of nature, using fabric she hand-paints and dyes to exact just the right effect. She also uses hand-carved woodblocks to add pattern to fabric.

"It's like starting with a blank canvas instead of starting with a set of fabrics that someone else has chosen the color and design for," she says. "For me, I guess, the control from the very beginning is much more satisfying than working with commercial fabrics."

Edmonds exhibited a series called "Portraits of Trees" in 2000 at the Lawrence Arts Center and, most recently, a series called "Color Fields" at The Source Fine Arts Gallery in Kansas City, Mo.

Until this year, Edmonds had lived on a farm she and her husband, Steve, an investment broker, built near Eudora more than 30 years ago. The couple now resides temporarily in a barn guest house on 80 acres west of Clinton Lake while they are having a new house built on a nearby hilltop. The home will include a sizable studio for Edmonds.

In the meantime, she's been spending a lot of time outdoors -- the Edmonds raise American Paint horses -- where she gathers inspiration for her quilts, which long ago transitioned from being utilitarian creations for beds to hanging on home, gallery and museum walls as artwork.

She's honored -- but a bit surprised -- to be receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Phoenix committee.

"Someone called me just recently who was doing a book on quiltmaking from 1970 to 2000. I said, 'You want me to be in a history book?" she says, laughing. "I don't think of myself as that far along either in years or in my work. But I have been making quilts since the 1960s, so I guess I've been doing it a lot longer than a lot of other people."

-- Mindie Paget

Judy Billings

Chat about changes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau with director Judy Billings.

Chat about changes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau with director Judy Billings.

Special Recognition

Lawrence is known by many as the city of the arts.

And although that designation is sometimes taken for granted by those who have grown accustomed to the town's vibrant art community, the hard work and dedication of Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, helps keep the community in the arts spotlight, says Lawrence Arts Center director Ann Evans.

Evans nominated Billings for a Special Recognition Phoenix Award, hoping to recognize Billings for her tireless efforts to promote art events and programs to Lawrence visitors and community members.

"We are fortunate in Lawrence to have Judy because of how she represents and promotes the arts, not only in her professional capacity but personally as well," Evans says. "She goes to all the events and exhibits, whether it be the arts center, the Lied or whatever."

A graduate of the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in education, Billings has been in her current position since 1983.

"Lawrence is a fantastic community for the arts, and I want to continue to promote that," Billings says.

Besides her duties at the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Billings devotes time to a variety of arts endeavors. She has served as a member and past president of the Lawrence Arts Center board, Friends of the Lied Center board and Friends of the Spencer Museum of Art. She was instrumental in transferring the Lawrence Indian Arts Show from Kansas University's Spooner Hall to its new home at the arts center.

"The arts, to me, are a part of my personal growth and a part of my expression of myself," she says.

Through the CVB, Billings continues to promote the artistic flavor of the city to potential visitors. She publishes a visitors' guide to help ensure Lawrence maintains it reputation as the city of the arts.

"Our goal has been to help build the audiences for the arts organizations," she says, "and that solidifies the arts as an attraction for us to promote."

Artist and arts advocate Diana Dunkley won a Phoenix Award for
Visual Arts. Dunkley is pictured Tuesday at Fields Gallery, 712
Mass., next to one of her works on display.

Artist and arts advocate Diana Dunkley won a Phoenix Award for Visual Arts. Dunkley is pictured Tuesday at Fields Gallery, 712 Mass., next to one of her works on display.

-- Chelsea O'Neal

Diana Dunkley

Visual Arts

What's most striking about Diana Dunkley's Phoenix Award nomination is the number of categories in which she could have been recognized.

Since graduating in 1974 with degrees in sculpture and interior design from Kansas University, Dunkley has been a visual artist, arts educator, arts volunteer and ardent visual arts advocate.

"I really think that half the reason I was nominated for the Phoenix Award was because of my artist advocacy," Dunkley says. "What I've been working at ... is to build a stronger economic base for the visual artist community of Lawrence.

"One of the coolest things is I've seen some of my dreams come true."

The best example of that, Dunkley says, is the Lawrence Own-Your-Own art exhibition and sale, which she helped start three years ago along with other members of the Lawrence Committee for the Advancement of the Visual Arts.

In her own right, Dunkley has been creating art and exhibiting steadily since 1968. Her work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, Michigan, Mississippi, Chicago, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

She's a member of the Lawrence Art Guild and a founding member of the F.A.N. Club, a woman artists support group.

She works primarily in watercolor, creating both traditional nude figures and what she describes as allegorical, abstract metallics that draw on universal archetypes for their imagery. Examples of her work are on view at Fields Gallery in Lawrence.

Her most recent performance art installation, "The Title of This Piece Can Only Be Spoken #11," blends dance, construction of an altar, two- and three-dimensional imagery, the four elements, fragrance and recorded sounds and music. It was first performed in 2002 during the "Common Ground" exhibit in Ottawa, Ontario, and later at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Dunkley considers the piece the pinnacle of her career. Receiving a Phoenix Award ranks pretty high, too.

"I'm overwhelmed," she says. "When I found out that I had been nominated and Laurie (Culling) shared with me the number of people who had supported my nomination and said some pretty mind-blowing, overwhelming things about me, I was like, 'I don't care whether I get it or not. This is the biggest honor I've ever had.'"

-- Mindie Paget

Jennifer Glenn

Performing Arts

Jennifer Glenn wears many different costumes -- literally.

Jennifer Glenn won a Phoenix Award for Performing Arts. Glenn, an
actor, director, teacher and costume designer for the Seem-To-Be
Players, is pictured Tuesday in the Lawrence Arts Center theater,
940 N.H.

Jennifer Glenn won a Phoenix Award for Performing Arts. Glenn, an actor, director, teacher and costume designer for the Seem-To-Be Players, is pictured Tuesday in the Lawrence Arts Center theater, 940 N.H.

As an actor, director, teacher and costume designer for the Seem-To-Be Players, she has played cats and thunder, taught youngsters to express themselves on stage, and created costumes for monsters, cats, mice, giant ears of corn and even fictional fabric "phumps."

She loves all her roles.

"That's probably why I've been working with the Seem-To-Be Players since 1979," she says. "I get to direct, which I love. I get to act, which I love. I get to teach, which I really love. And I get to costume."

"We're a small company, so you have to do more than one thing," she continues. "Then that becomes a benefit rather than a hindrance."

Glenn got involved in theater at a young age when she took children's theater classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She got a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater at Southern Methodist University in 1976, where she worked in the costume shop.

"My grandmother was a tailor and a seamstress, so I learned to sew from her," she says. "I was never really interested in it. But when I was in college, you could get a job working in a costume shop. It was so much fun."

After a short stint at the Emporia State University costume shop, Glenn came to Lawrence and began her strong association with the Seem-To-Be Players, the Lawrence Arts Center's resident theater company. She also teaches preschool classes, instructs drama at the center and directs the First Saturday Players, a children's troupe that performs for other children the first Saturday of every month, as well as Summer Youth Theatre and productions at Central Junior High School.

She took on the largest costume-designing job of her life with last winter's inaugural performance of "A Kansas Nutcracker" at the arts center. She had to outfit some 120 cast members.

"That was huge," she recalls. "I never counted the costumes because I didn't really want to know."

Glenn's husband nominated her for a Phoenix Award in Arts Education, but she won it for Performing Arts, "which made me feel really good because I don't perform that much anymore."

Her last role was Lucy the Cat in "Cats and Bats: Lucy Gets Lost" -- a gig that exemplified why she loves children's theater so much.

"I get to do all the character roles -- I call them glamour roles," she says. "To me, that's a lot more fun. And the kids love you."

-- Mindie Paget

Jean Lominska

Arts Volunteer

If there's one word to describe Jean Lominska, it's modest.

Modest is her reaction to her nomination by Lawrence Civic Choir members for the Phoenix Award for Arts Volunteer.

Modest is her opinion of the time and space she has donated to the organization.

"It is very touching, and I appreciate it, but when I see the other people who are getting the award, I am in way over my head," Lominska says. "It's really nice, but I am still not sure I deserve it."

The members of the choir, however, saw it differently.

Jean Lominska won the Phoenix Award for Arts Volunteer for her work
with the Lawrence Civic Choir.

Jean Lominska won the Phoenix Award for Arts Volunteer for her work with the Lawrence Civic Choir.

Since joining the choir in 1980, Lominska has lent her voice, donated space in her two-story home to function as a library for the group's sheet music and acted as librarian.

"After I quit singing, I became the librarian," she says. "I had a room upstairs that was the right size to keep the music."

Before her 1977 retirement in Lawrence, Lominska lived on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., with a master's degree in education from Columbia University in New York, Lominska has been involved in singing and volunteering most of her life.

In 1980, she was approached by a member of the Lawrence choir, who invited her to accompany the group on a trip.

"He approached me and said, 'The civic choir is going to Poland, and with a name like yours, you might be interested,'" she recalls. "It is my husband's name, but I went with them anyway, and I have been going ever since."

Lominska, who also was a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church choir, had been devoting space in her home for the choir's music library until just recently, when the duties were taken over by other choir members. She hopes to continue her involvement with the choir in another capacity.

"I'll continue to be interested. If there is anything they want me to do, I will do it," Lominska says.

Rick Mitchell, gallery director at the Lawrence Arts Center, is the
recipient of a Phoenix Award for Visual Arts. He is pictured Monday
in the arts center gallery, 940 N.H.

Rick Mitchell, gallery director at the Lawrence Arts Center, is the recipient of a Phoenix Award for Visual Arts. He is pictured Monday in the arts center gallery, 940 N.H.

She says she's grateful for the recognition bestowed upon her by a choir for which, though she might not admit it, she's done a lot.

"They have always been so nice to me," Lominska says. "They have given me much more credit than I deserve."

-- Chelsea O'Neal

Rick Mitchell

Visual Arts

If a picture were worth a thousand words, Rick Mitchell could fill many books.

Mitchell, recipient of a Phoenix Award for Visual Arts, has spent the past decade in Lawrence photographing, teaching and enriching the community with his knowledge and passion for photography.

"I shoot every day," he says. "I like to teach. Everything I have done here has been met with encouragement."

Mitchell, gallery director at the Lawrence Arts Center since 1993, received a bachelor of fine arts in painting from Kansas University and a master of fine arts from Rutgers University in New Jersey. When Mitchell was a photography professor at Rutgers, the program was ranked among the top in the nation.

"I like to teach. I did it for a long time," he says. "When I moved back here, I continued to, but a lot of other opportunities came up."

In 1995, Mitchell became the first recipient of the Lawrence Arts Commission grant, which allowed him to complete a project that involved photographing original and older neighborhoods in Lawrence.

"I received a grant in '95," Mitchell says. "I was really surprised. I hadn't been back for that long. It was very encouraging."

Mitchell is involved in other aspects of the Lawrence arts community as well. He helps organize and then hangs the Lawrence Indian Arts Show at the arts center gallery. He's a visiting lecturer at KU. He's also chief organizer of the annual Lawrence Art Auction and publisher of the national literary review magazine, Cottonwood.

"Lawrence is a great community to work in," Mitchell says. "No matter what, I have always received so much support."

-- Chelsea O'Neal

Jim Ralston

Musical Arts

When Jim Ralston was a high school musician in the 1940s, his school's orchestra director fell ill. Ralston remembers being chosen to fill the podium, both in rehearsal and at a concert.

"I must have liked it," he recalls. "That's sometimes the motivation. Once you stand up in front of a bunch of people and feel like you're achieving some response and some results, that's very motivating."

Jim Ralston, retired director of choral activities at Kansas
University, won a Phoenix Award for Musical Arts.

Jim Ralston, retired director of choral activities at Kansas University, won a Phoenix Award for Musical Arts.

The experience was motivation enough to launch Ralston into a 32-year conducting and teaching career at Kansas University. Ralston, who retired from the university in 1994, first came to KU in 1950 as a student. By the time he left, he had earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in music education.

He later served as director of choral activities from 1976 until his retirement and started both the master's and doctoral programs in choral conducting.

"I always felt that I exposed a lot of kids to some great music," he says. "We probably didn't always do it as good as we should have, but we had some good performances. I always felt that was my major contribution to this world. I always felt proud of that."

Ralston retains fond -- sometimes quirky -- memories of his time at KU. He recalls being at a crucial point in Brahms' Requiem during a late 1960s concert with choirs and orchestra in Hoch Auditorium when the fine arts dean tapped him on the shoulder and told him the building would have to be evacuated because of a bomb scare.

In 1997, Ralston was inducted into the Kansas Music Educators Assn.'s Hall of Fame.

He has stayed active in what he considers Lawrence's "rich" musical community. He tries to attend most of the KU student concerts and frequently can be seen in the audience at Lied Center events. He sits on the boards of the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra and is a Friend of the Lied.

He also directs the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church. In fact, it was vocalists in that group who nominated Ralston for the Phoenix Award in Musical Arts.

"I've been doing these things for all this time," Ralston says of his 30-plus years in the Lawrence musical community. "Finally it's caught up with me maybe. It's a nice honor."

-- Mindie Paget

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