Ten illustration students will leave SUU this spring with much more than just a diploma, thanks to a summer trip with their art professor that took them behind the scenes of museums, art studios and auctions, and culminated in the publication of a book—Moon Goddess, an art compilation by the SUU students released for sale on Amazon.com last Thursday.
The final project, so to speak, from the fall senior seminar class, the Moon Goddess project gave the students firsthand experience with the entire publication process, from brainstorming to book sales.
Ann Middleton, a senior illustration student, served as the producer over the project, selected by her professor and fellow students because the position was most fitting to her future aspirations in arts administration.
“I knew I was pretty well suited to oversee the project,” said Middleton, “But I didn’t know I’d like it as much as I did.”
That sentiment—the quiet confidence going in that then blossomed into pride and heightened expectations—echoes across the other students’ experiences as well, thanks to a class that Dr. Ron Spears intentionally structured to place all ownership on the students.
“My job was just to stay out of their way.” Spears said his role was simply to advise and knock down any barriers but that his students really did do all the work. “The whole point of this project was to teach them how to carry the process through to completion. You can’t teach that unless you let them experience all the stops and starts along the way.”
Though the book is tangible evidence of the students’ success, the entire class, which spanned two semesters and as many states, was structured simply to “get students out of Cedar City and out of the classroom,” said Spears.
“I wanted them to walk away with something to show for their work, which is why they compiled the book, but more than anything, I wanted to expose them to the different applications of their talents. I wanted them to see professionals working in the field in many different ways and come away with a better sense of all the possibilities ahead of them.”
To that end, Spears took his students to Reno, Nev., where they met with designers and artists within three major gaming companies, an international casino chain, and Turkey Stremmel, executive director of the famed Stremmel Gallery. In addition to gallery and company tours, the students were able to spend a full day with each company’s top executives and artists, discussing the ins and outs of the field and the specifics of each industry’s work processes and utilization of art.
“They were really granted full access to everybody in the company, from artists to musicians to writers and the decision makers. It was a great dialogue.”
The students each presented their work with the Moon Goddess project to each of the companies with whom they met, gaining valuable feedback and direction, as well as their first opportunity to impress potential employers.
“It was a very intense but awesome week, just the most incredible trip,” said Middleton.
The students were also given tickets to the Couer d’Alene Art Auction, the largest western art sale in the world. There, Middleton said they saw a Norman Rockwell painting sell for $3.8 million in less than one minute, which she described as any artists dream, obviously.
“We got to do and see things we wouldn’t normally be able to see. I think we all went there and identified with different artists and the things they were doing. It was so helpful to see how each artist was doing very different things.”
Drawing upon the wealth of inspiration, the students also spent ample time in their summer course trip drawing and painting themselves—the beginning stages of Moon Goddess in production.
The book now published for the world to see, its creators are settled back in on campus, working through their final semester before the next big step, with objectives as varied among the ten artists as the people and things they saw while traveling.
Meanwhile, the original Moon Goddess artwork is on display in the Braithwaite Gallery, in a show curated by Middleton as an end cap to her administrative responsibilities over the group.
Among Middleton’s Moon Goddess colleagues in both the gallery collection and the book: Dre Freden, Jordan Green, Brian Heritage, Jenessa Lingard, Andrew Mitchell, Emily Mitchell, Rachell Ross, Rylie Savage and John Taylor.
Beyond experience and published rights, Spears hopes to keep the momentum of this class going.
“It was an amazingly effective classroom, and I hope I can do it again for future students.”