Archive for Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shift in perspective: Artist hopes teaching in the Middle East will spark new artistic endeavors

Artist Henri Doner-Hedrick, who lives on Lake Dabinawa near McLouth, will move to Jordan next week to teach art. The Kansas University graduate has worked as a graphic designer and medical illustrator through the years.

Artist Henri Doner-Hedrick, who lives on Lake Dabinawa near McLouth, will move to Jordan next week to teach art. The Kansas University graduate has worked as a graphic designer and medical illustrator through the years.

September 7, 2008


Henri Doner-Hedrick walks into her garage-turned-studio and grabs an almost-life-sized painting of an elderly woman taking a shower.

It's part of a series Doner-Hedrick painted about elderly issues, her social commentary on the lack of respect our society gives older adults.

She peels back the plastic covering the work, looking at the intricate wrinkles on the woman's face and body. She wonders aloud how a piece of artwork like this might be received on the other side of the world.

"I'm going to be hesitant to show my work," she says. "I don't mind critics. But I don't want to offend anyone."

That's because Doner-Hedrick next week will move to Jordan to teach art in the Middle Eastern country. At age 55, she's excited to start a new chapter of her life and to learn about a new culture she admits she knows little about.

But she's also a little nervous.

"The only thing I have is to give them my perspective on the U.S., and skills so they can go out and make a living in the arts," she says.

Looking for work

Doner-Hedrick, who lives on Lake Dabinawa near McLouth, has been on the hunt for a full-time teaching job since she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Kansas State University in 1999.

She's worked as a graphic designer and medical illustrator through the years, and she's served as an adjunct professor at Washburn University, the Kansas City Art Institute and Johnson County Community College, among other institutions.

"It makes it very hard to make a living," she says of piecing together adjunct work at colleges and universities. "If you haven't built a name for yourself, that hurts you."

Last year, she met Robert Michael Smith, who oversees the Middle East programs of the New York Institute of Technology. When a faculty position opened in the institute's expanding computer graphics program this summer, Doner-Hedrick was quick to apply.

In some ways, the international opportunity fits both her own background and artistic leanings. She has both Filipino and American Indian heritage, and her artwork often explores the melding of cultures.

She credits her time studying under former Kansas University art professor Roger Shimomura for her view on cultural art.

"My work, especially after working with Roger, I struggle with things, and I'm satisfied when I get to a point in my work when I bring cultures together," she says.

And that has Doner-Hedrick wondering about how own artwork as she begins a three-year assignment in Jordan.

Cultural experience

The computer graphics program at NYIT's Jordan campus, which is in the capital of Amman, was established five years ago. It now has about 75 students and, with the addition of Doner-Hedrick, three full-time faculty members, in addition to three adjunct professors.

NYIT expanded its international campuses after 9/11. Many international students wanted an American education but found it more difficult to gain admission to the United States.

Smith, who directs the Middle East programs, says Jordan is one of the most Western-friendly of the countries in the Middle East. Most of the computer graphics classes are taught with the same curriculum as courses taught in New York.

"The only difference is there are slight cultural differences," Smith says. "They're not as great as one might think. Generally, it's more sensitivity issues dealing with Western arts, primarily dealing with the nude. In figure drawing, we don't involve nude models."

Still, Smith says, the technology being used in Amman, as well as the basic needs of print and Web design for corporations and other entities, isn't that different from the needs in the United States.

New sensitivity

Doner-Hedrick is counting on those similarities for her stint in Jordan.

"I'm so excited," she says, "because I can teach anywhere."

Her husband, John, plans to join her in a year, once he retires from the U.S. Postal Service, but for now she'll largely be on her own in a foreign land.

She admits to being somewhat concerned about her security, but she says, "I'm not going to worry about it until something happens."

With the remaining few days until her moving day, which is Sept. 15, Doner-Hedrick plans to continue reading books and doing Internet searches to learn as much as she can about Jordan.

And she's still not sure how her own artwork will change when she's there, other than hoping it adds new depth to her pieces when she comes home.

But, no matter the challenge, she's ready for the adventure.

"I know I'm going to have to change, not only as an instructor but as a person," she says. "I'll have to be sensitive to a totally different culture, both in my way of thinking and my art-making."


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