Mazmanian Gallery’s latest exhibitions capture the community

Maddison Behringer / THE GATEPOST

By Caroline Gordon

Arts & Features Editor

Art professors Tim McDonald and Keri Straka exhibited their artwork, “Internal Blooming and the Ancient Future” at the Mazmanian Gallery Opening Reception Nov. 16.  

McDonald said his interest in art began as a child. His grandmother gave him cardboard boxes used to hold his grandfather’s dry cleaning. 

In addition to the cardboard boxes, McDonald was gifted small pencils, which his grandfather used to write his golf scores with.   

He said the Peanuts comics he read in daily newspapers were the inspiration behind his illustrations. 

“I owe my art career to Charles Shultz,” McDonald said. 

He said as a child, he did not know one could make an art hobby into a career. Once McDonald attended college he realized, “Oh, I could do that.” 

Prior to graduate school, McDonald said he taught art classes at an alternative high school in Providence. 

As he lived in the Providence area as a child, he said beginning his career at FSU “was like coming home” as he moved to New England from Tennessee. 

He said art education is crucial because “it’s a thing that humans need in one form or another.” 

“If you look around you, everything you see is designed by somebody. We don’t necessarily pay attention to it. Artists of all stripes remind us that things have meaning,” he said. 

McDonald said it is important for an artist’s work to “be their own.”

During January 2021, McDonald began creating the drawings now on display. 

He said in addition to the drawings displayed, he painted during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

McDonald said the time he spent painting was a coping mechanism to deal with the “noise of the 2020 election.”

He said the isolation period of the pandemic did not affect him as creating artwork is a “solitary” practice. 

“The lack of distraction allowed me to really focus and figure out what I was doing. And, take it [artwork] in a direction I didn’t particularly expect,” he said. 

He said the most profound challenge of his project, titled “stackshrinesnowswamps,” was “letting it stand.

“I wanted to let that hand that learned how to draw from looking at Peanut cartoons have its way. And, to not refine it and make it look too nice,” McDonald said. 

He said the show “inhabits the space between nature and culture.”

“The whole project kind of addresses how we are in the world. I think the idea of nature itself is a cultural construct. We understand it with language. We describe it with language. We project onto it. It [nature] doesn’t recognize any of that stuff,” McDonald said. 

Art professor Keri Straka’s passion for art began with a bar of ivory soap. 

“I began creating art as a young child. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful mother who has always supported my creativity. The first thing I remember sculpting is a whale that I carved out of a bar of ivory soap,” she said. 

Straka explained she appreciates how she is able to “play” with art materials and not have a “preordained destination” for her creations.

She said she enjoys the “physicality,” “the possibility of dual meanings,” and the “disorientation of perceived boundaries” artwork offers. 

Straka said she accepted a position at FSU because of the sense of community within the art department. 

“I have truly phenomenal colleagues who I love and respect very much. My students are deeply creative intellectuals who are passionate about what they are creating. This makes coming to work every day very fulfilling,” she said. 

Straka said her portion of the exhibition was created over the span of 2020 through 2021. Most of her work was created last summer. 

Straka said the inspiration of her portion of the exhibition was from her interest in the biological processes of the human body. Additionally, the “tiny dramas that play out in the intimate space of tide pools” influenced her work. 

Her sculptures are made from a combination of soft and hard materials. Straka said she is proud of that combination. 

Straka said she believes art education is important because art is an outlet for the understanding of human experiences. 

“As a species, we are going to have to cultivate creativity if we are going to survive. Artwork has the ability to say the things we can’t find the right words for sometimes. And, the voice within a piece of art isn’t bound up by the perimeter of language,” she said. 

Ellie Krakow, director of the Mazmanian Gallery, said every few years exhibitions from faculty are included. 

She said displaying faculty work is crucial as it engages students. 

Krakow said both exhibitions reference the natural world and our interactions with it.

She said as the Mazmanian Gallery has a central location on campus, she considers the impact each exhibition has on the community. 

“Given everything that is going on with the climate right now, both works, particularly Tim’s, ask us to address climate change and the political situation around it,” Krakow said. 

She continued, “That’s an important conversation to have on campus.” 

Krakow said she “loves” both McDonald’s and Straka’s work. 

Krakow said she visited the Mazmanian Gallery while the exhibitions were being arranged. She was “so inspired to see the integrity of their creative processes” and the “depth” of their work. 

She said prior to the exhibitions being open to the public, people were gazing through the windows. 

Krakow said art education is important because it teaches creativity and problem solving. 

“We are in an unprecedented time where things are getting more and more complicated and harder to navigate. A department where creativity and problem solving is taught is what’s going to be called for in this next period of time,” she said. 

“The things you can do in the arts about expressing your own experiences of the world and contemplating what we are looking at, is an important part of being a human being.”