The great 8: Phoenix Awards honor visionaries in Lawrence arts scene

Barbara Brackman, Phoenix Award in visual and literary arts.

They make films, take photos, create quilts and design giant teapots. They publish poetry, sculpt bronze, star in plays and paint on canvas.

And now, these eight Lawrence residents can also call themselves Phoenix Award winners.

The Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission will bestow the awards during a ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 23 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

The awards, the 13th annual, recognize “outstanding artistic achievements in the Lawrence community.” The winners receive an award crafted by local artist Kristin Morland.

Though they all have different backgrounds and talents, this year’s winners all are adding to the cultural vibrancy of the city.

Barbara Brackman

Barbara Brackman was taking an art history course at Kansas University in the 1960s when she stumbled upon what would become one of her lifelong pursuits.

“I was sitting in the back of the room because I talk too much, and I opened one of the drawers and it was full of quilts. I just loved the patterns,” Brackman says.

Discovering that “nobody else was interested in them,” she began to invest herself in the history of quilts.

Her specialty is indeed quilts, and she has written numerous books about the subject, including “The Encyclopedia of Pieced Patterns, Encyclopedia of Appliqué” and “Clues in Calico: A Guide to Indentifying and Dating Antique Quilts.”

A New York City native, Brackman earned her undergraduate degree in Art Education and masters in Special Education from KU. This led her to being the honorary curator of quilts at the Spencer Museum of Art. She’s also an inductee of the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in Marion, Ind. But she says the high point of her career is when she organized a quilting symposium at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1990s.

“It is rare to find someone with such an enduring passion for a subject, and rarer still that their achievements benefit both a national audience and the local community,” says Deb Rowden, who nominated Brackman.

Over the years, Brackman has developed strong reputations as an author, historian, curator and designer. With which profession is she most comfortable?

“I think I like to be an author the best,” she admits. “I’ve written for magazines on tight deadlines, but now I get to write a couple books a year. It’s fun to write.”

— Jon Niccum

Lee Chapman

The great part about running a one-woman literary press, Lee Chapman says, is there’s nobody to disagree with your taste in writing.

“It’s really totally subjective,” Chapman says. “It’s whatever excites me and seems fresh and new, or takes me someplace I’ve never been before.”

Chapman has been involved in the Lawrence literary scene since the 1960s, and she began publishing the First Intensity literary journal in 1993. Though Chapman published her final journal earlier this year, she continues to publish books of poetry, short fiction and essays through the First Intensity name.

Judy Roitman, who nominated Chapman for the Phoenix Award, says Chapman’s drive comes down to “love of literature — pure and simple.”

“There are many literary communities in any community, and Lawrence is no exception,” Roitman says. “Lee is kind of a linchpin. Her presence brings people together, and that’s how communities are sustained.”

Chapman herself doesn’t write creatively — she leaves that to those submitting work to her. Her creativity comes out through visual arts.

“I don’t know of any other editor who doesn’t also write,” she says. “I seem to be the only one. The cool thing about it is I don’t have anything to gain by publishing this person over that person.”

Chapman says though the Internet has changed the publishing world somewhat, she believes there will always be a role for literary presses.

“Most poets — especially poets — still prefer to have the book in the hand,” she says. “And to get the book in the hand, it’s not as easy as throwing your stuff on a Web site.”

— Terry Rombeck

Annette Cook

Annette Cook is well-known in community theater circles in Lawrence and Baldwin City.

But she still runs into people who don’t know about her pre-small-town life, when she spent 13 years acting in New York and working as an assistant agent for the William Morris Agency, handling duties for celebrities such as Pearl Bailey and Bill Cosby.

When she reunited with her high school sweetheart, Chris Cook, 15 years after graduation and moved back to the Midwest, she thought she was done with theater. She was so wrong.

Cook has spent nearly 20 years acting in Lawrence Community Theatre productions. She also has designed costumes for the group and spent nearly a decade, ending in 2007, as its director of children’s programs, developing the popular “School’s Out, Theatre’s In” series.

In addition, Cook has spearheaded theater in Baldwin City, where she previously lived, directing shows such as “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Grease.”

“Of course, all the stuff I learned then (in New York) I’m able to apply now,” Cook says. “I’m very blessed because I’ve gotten to do more leading roles than most actresses.”

Annette’s 15-year-old daughter, Emma, nominated her for the award. Emma says her mother has learned to share her love of the stage.

“She has made the art of theater attractive, instructive, entertaining and do-able for thousands of people in the Lawrence community,” Emma Cook says.

Though she’s not acting for money now, Annette Cook has spun off a company from a theatrical venture. She used to make chocolate pizzas for fellow cast members as “break-a-leg” gifts. Two years ago, she started the Amore Pizza Company, selling those pizzas to a larger audience.

— Terry Rombeck

Anne Patterson

For her day job, Anne Patterson teaches Kansas University architecture students how to design buildings.

But she spends her evenings making things like, well, giant teapots.

“I love making giant objects,” she says. “I love making absurdly large teapots and other unexpected things.”

That teapot, for an “Alice in Wonderland” production at Bishop Seabury Academy, is a perfect example of the type of volunteer work Patterson does throughout the Lawrence community. Her set design work has been seen at productions at Seabury, Central Junior High School and the Lawrence Arts Center. And her handiwork has been seen on a variety of other projects, including yearbook designs, Fall Fling decorations at Hillcrest School and others.

Christina Hoxie, the Kansas City architect and friend who nominated Patterson, sums up her roles this way: “She is an artist, mother, wife, friend, teacher, architect, magician, child-at-heart, baker, set designer, set builder, costume designer, seamstress, joke-teller, go-to girl and community stabilizer.”

Patterson, a native of England, moved to the United States in the early 1980s to finish architecture school at KU. Now, she’s teaching first-year students there about the concepts of space and how it relates to architecture.

But she keeps plenty busy with requests from the community to use her talents as a volunteer.

“I grew up making things all the time,” she says. “I can’t stop making stuff. It may be a disorder.”

In addition to that teapot, her creations for stages have included mushrooms, castles and dragons.

“I love to make things that make people crack up,” she says.

— Terry Rombeck

Celia Smith

Celia Smith is already intimately familiar with the Phoenix honor.

She was selected to paint the actual award in 2005.

Now the Lawrence artist will have one of her own — though it will be created by fellow artist Kristin Morland.

“Being an artist is a very personal thing,” Smith says. “It’s something that you feel like you have to do because if you don’t do it, you are not happy. You are sort of miserable or distressed. For me, when I paint I am happy. Painting is happiness.”

Originally from Malaga, Spain, Smith relocated to Lawrence in 1967 when her husband took a job at KU.

It didn’t take long to enmesh herself in the city’s art scene. By the next year she would show pieces in both Art in the Park and the Lawrence Art Guild’s Holiday Art Fair — Smith’s yearly tradition for four decades.

Smith says composition is her greatest skill.

“I love that challenge,” she says. “Facing the canvas and trying to make something aesthetic and meaningful out of it, that’s a very interesting thing for me.”

Marianne Wilkinson, who nominated Smith, says, “The Lawrence arts community has been enriched by the talent, the gentle presence, the optimistic outlook, the consistency, and the participation of Celia Smith.”

“When there is an art activity taking place in Lawrence, Celia is there.”

— Jon Niccum

Elden Tefft

Lawrence High’s Chesty Lion. Moses and his burning bush. Strong Hall’s guardian Jayhawk.

Each stand staunch in their bronze beauty as heavy, longtime residents of Lawrence, sprung from the brain of the same man: Elden Tefft.

Tefft has left his indelible bronze mark on Lawrence, Kansas University and Lawrence High School.

Still making artwork at age 88, Tefft is a longtime Lawrence resident who is a living legend in the world of sculpture. He is currently working on a statue of basketball pioneer James Naismith.

“Elden Tefft has done (a lot) for sculpture, not only in the Midwest, but across the country and around the world,” says Karl Ramberg, who nominated Tefft.

Tefft spent about five decades at Kansas University teaching and studying methodologies for bronze casting and sculpture. In the 1960s, he put together a sculpture conference that was hosted in Lawrence. The conference eventually grew into the International Sculpture Center, which has more than 3,000 members, says nominator Myles Schachter.

Tefft, himself, is pretty much flabbergasted by the honor.

“Well, that’s kind of weird, don’t you think? I suppose I am (excited),” he says, laughing. “Don’t you think I should be? When finally my fellow man decided I did something right? After all those years.”

— Sarah Henning

Kevin Willmott

When Kevin Willmott was a boy, he was considered a bit odd by other family members.

“I have been obsessed with making films since I was a kid,” Willmott says. “My brother, Lee, recently told me he knew I was strange when I asked for the soundtrack to ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ for my 10th birthday.”

Since then, Willmott has turned his “strange” nature into a career in film that can only be described as thought-provoking. He makes films that aren’t run-of-the-mill confections, but rather, pieces with uneasy, real-life themes that engage the mind just as well as sitting through any of the classes he teaches as an assistant professor at Kansas University.

Those films have included, “C.S.A.: Confederate States of America,” “Bunker Hill” and “Ninth Street,” which hit topics ranging from the Civil War, the politics of fear and the poor. He is in post-production on a film called “The Only Good Indian” about Native American boarding schools and is working on “Wilt of Kansas,” a movie about basketball great Wilt Chamberlain’s days at KU.

“I try to make films that matter — films that challenge audiences and society,” he says. “Often my films deal with identity, race and justice. Those are very important to me.”

Clare Doveton, who nominated Willmott for the award, says that his work has made a huge impact on the arts in Lawrence.

“Kevin Willmott is an unique leader in the arts — more specifically the emerging independent film scene,” Doveton says. “His decision to remain in the Midwest and create a viable film scene here, outside the boundaries of the traditional film bases of the coasts, gives him the independence to create work closer to his vision. His steadfast rule to include students, actors and film talent from the community that he lives and works in, defines his activism and philosophy.”

— Sarah Henning

Mike Yoder

Day in and day out for nearly 25 years, Mike Yoder’s art has come to life in the Lawrence Journal-World.

From celebrations, to school children, to powwows and people on the street, Yoder has captured the spirit of Lawrence with the precision of a strict journalist and the flair of an artist. For that, Yoder was named this year’s Phoenix award winner for photography.

“Mike captures the extraordinary in the ordinary — juxtapositions, expressions and luminosity in what might otherwise be considered everyday scenes and situations,” says nominator Laurie Ward.

In addition to his daily newspaper work, Yoder has taken his personal time to document the long-running Vinland Fair in the book, “Vinland Fair: In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Fair 1907-2007.” He also has contributed to many books and seen his work in various exhibitions.

“Having admired Mike and his work for years, it is harder to answer why we didn’t nominate him earlier,” says nominator Gayle Sigurdson. “His dedicated attention to capturing life in and beyond Lawrence has been consistent over decades.”

Yoder plans to continue those long-term projects.

“Well, I’m sure I’ll have another photo assignment tomorrow for the newspaper,” Yoder says. “But outside of my job, I do want to continue to pursue personal photo projects like I did documenting the Vinland Fair and doing a book. I want to pursue some shorter projects. But I do have an idea for another long-term project. I’ve been reading books and looking at the photography collections of the Farm Security Administration photographers who documented America after the Great Depression. The country seems to be at a similar crossroads and I think it would be interesting to re-visit and photograph some of the same locations and subject matter that the FSA photographers documented.”

— Sarah Henning