11:45 a.m., Jan. 2, 2003--It's a busy and exciting time for Aimee Miller of Atlanta, the first Spelman College graduate to pursue a master of fine arts degree at UD under an historic agreement signed by the two institutions that creates educational opportunities for students and faculty at both places through UD's Paul R. Jones Collection of African-American Art.
|Aimee Miller: "I had to admit that my dream was to pursue an MFA, but I just didn't think I could do it."
In addition to the agreement, the institutions share relevant art exhibitions and pieces from the collection itself.
Jones, an Atlanta resident, said it was part of his dream in giving the collection to UD that it would foster interaction among the institution and historically black colleges and universities.
Spelman, he said, showed great vision in being the first historically black college to step forward.
While attending Spelman, Miller was one of 10 art students who studied in an art program jointly offered by Spelman and Morehouse colleges.
Up north for the first time and at a much bigger campus, Miller said she finds the UD experience exhilarating.
"It's my first big move and I was a little hesitant to step out at first, but now that the semester is in full swing I feel really good about my decision to come here," she said. "At home everyone had the same three things to say to me. They'd say, 'Why art?' 'Why Delaware?' and 'Don't you know it gets cold up there?'"
Miller credits Amalia Amaki, curator of the Paul Jones Collection, with inspiring her both personally and professionally.
"My plan was to go to school in Philadelphia and study interior design," she said. "But the summer before I was to graduate from Spelman I had a chance to work with Mr. Jones and Dr. Amaki cataloging the collection. One day Dr. Amaki sat me down and said, 'You really want to be a painter, don't you?'
"I had to admit that my dream was to pursue an MFA, but I just didn't think I could do it."
Listening to Amaki changed all that, and now, as one of only eight painting students accepted in UD's MFA program, Miller has her own sunny studio in the Recitation Hall annex.
An abstract expressionist influenced by the works of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, Miller said she likes to be physical with her work and that she enjoys working on large canvases and experimenting with color and texture. She foregoes the usual artist's easel and likes to roll paint onto oversized canvases laid on the floor.
"It can really give you a workout. It can make you wish you worked on smaller things," Miller said, noting that between her active work and walking back and forth to the studio from her graduate housing, she has lost weight.
Abstract expressionists are somewhat rare among artists of color, Miller said, because there is always some thought that "there should be social issues addressed in our pieces."
Her work is intended to be spiritual in nature, and thought-provoking for those who view it, she explained. Two of her pieces are in the Paul Jones Collection, and she said she hopes they provide viewers "with another example of work by an African American."
Miller said the support of her parents and twin sister, a violinist in Atlanta, has been important to her. At UD, in addition to Amaki, she said, Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Chair of Law and Public Policy, and Melva Ware, coordinator in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education, have become second parents to her, and she has had support from Suzanne Alchon, acting chairperson of the Department of Art, as well.
Her painting professors, Larry Holmes and Robert Straight, and the other MFA students also work hard to create a welcoming and nurturing environment, she said.
"I got the scoop from some of the second-year MFA students and knew it was beneficial to come to campus early and get my studio set up," she explained. "What I didn't realize was that as soon as my parents left town I didn't have a car and I still had things I needed to get. I needed wood and canvas, a desk--all things I had to haul by car.
"I was a little hesitant to ask for help because all of us artists can be selfish. We need to work and we need our studio time, but I found the other students here who do have cars were more than willing to help. They all said, 'Hey! We'll help you build it, we'll help you move it.' It was just great.
"It's a close-knit community. I imagine it will be hard when it comes time to critique each other's work, but you have to expect that and learn to separate it from your personal relationships."
"Someone once told me the trick to getting an MFA is to go ahead and tell yourself you already are an artist. Then, you can relax and use the time to explore and grow into yourself. You can't reinvent the wheel, but you can find your own voice. That's what's awesome about being here. It's a wonderful experience that I can't take for granted. I appreciate it every day."
Article by Beth Thomas
Photo by Kathy Flickinger