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Inside the Artist’s Studio: Laminda Miller

Inside the Artist’s Studio:

An Adventure to Owl Island,

The Fantastic Laminda Miller

By Derrick White

“I am a perfectionist and sometimes that has a tendency of getting in the way. I know what I want to convey with my work and how I want it to look, but there are times either the materials or the mechanics are uncooperative. Recently, I have learned sometimes it is better to go with the flow,” reveals local, East Texas sculptor Laminda Miller.

Beloved author Beatrix Potter (“Peter Rabbit”) wrote and illustrated “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” published in 1903. Potter’s celebrated story of a mischievous squirrel losing his tail is still popular. Squirrel Nutkin with his brother, Twinkleberry, and all their cousins travel to Owl Island to gather nuts until Old Brown, the petrifying owl warden of the island decides he has had enough. Potter’s amusing, animated stories and gorgeous pictures are childhood favorites. Potter created a series of anthropomorphic tales including Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, Benjamin Bunny, and Tom Kitten.

These types of beautifully illustrated, fantastic books had an influence on a young Laminda Miller, a talented and prolific artist. “My favorite artist is Beatrix Potter, a British children’s author. Growing up reading her books, I admired the art in her works and her books. My favorite was “Squirrel Nutkin.” Potter’s appreciation for nature is apparent by her attention to detail in her watercolor paintings of mycology subjects,” Laminda remembers. She continues, “I cannot recall any time I did not want to be an artist, as far as I can remember, I was determined to be an artist. As a young child, I would entertain myself by drawing, I was especially interested in the hand-drawn methods of 1930’s animation found in children’s films. My parents are artistic as well, so they have encouraged me in pursuing art, their support has been instrumental in my artistic pursuits.”

“The sculptures I make are animal forms found in nature. I use certain aspects of reality such as scale, anatomical features; however, the forms are gestural, so they are reminiscent of whimsical illustrations found in fairytales,” states the artist. Laminda Miller’s art pieces are showstoppers. It is hard to overstate how incredible these sculptures are. Perfectly postured and proportioned personified animal forms created from Styrofoam and epoxy clay with papier-mâché, are like storybook characters existing in our three-dimensional world and playing out narratives of mischief, trickery, and masked deceit. Her works are visually tactile, fantastical, and immediately create a Carrollesque storyline. Miller’s craft and attention to detail will keep one visually captivated for a long time. “I use Styrofoam and two-part epoxy clay. I use a heat knife to cut the Styrofoam into an approximate form. On the larger figures, I cut sections then fit them together for the next step. After a rough form is completed, I apply a two-part epoxy clay and sculpt the detailed features,” explains the artist. Recently, one of Laminda’s large-scale works, Once Bitten won both the People’s Choice award and Best of Show in Tyler’s Gallery Main Street exhibition ‘Alternate Perspectives’. The artist also exhibited work at the ‘Inconsistency’ art event hosted by the group East Texas Creatives, a local arts community promoting creative work and collaboration by visual artists, musicians, and poets. The event was held at the former True Vine Brewing Company location on Englewood. This group is trying to overcome some of the obstacles of trying to succeed as an artist by expanding networks and opportunities. “Unless artists have certain resources, it is difficult to get a foothold in the artistic community. Local art politics have improved a good deal. However, artists seemingly have to be politicians in order to promote their work, so I ask shouldn’t art speak for itself? As an artist who is not particularly political or business minded, I have found this aspect of being an artist rather frustrating,” describes Miller. She adds, “Art is a form of communication for me. Verbal communication has never been my strongest suit and has helped me in so many ways to communicate ideas, build friendships, show appreciation, and visualize what I want to say.”

A young Miller was mostly self-taught because her grade school did not offer established art classes. She also took private lessons from local artists. After graduating high school, Laminda attended Kilgore College, where she majored in art with a minor in education. She recalls, “It was there I learned formal components of art and how diverse art can be.” While attending Kilgore College, Miller worked primarily with two-dimensional media such as painting and mix media. “I had not developed an interest in sculpture yet, but one of my favorite assignments was a group assignment where the professor instructed us to create a society which included artifacts, lore, etc. I made a death mask and journal,” Laminda remembers. After Kilgore College, Laminda Miller enrolled at the University of Texas in Tyler. She states, “I did not have a discipline of art yet but with the encouragement of my professors, I developed an interest in sculpture and learned in-depth art history. My undergraduate work consisted of paper birds and small clay sculptures of other animal forms. After I graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I had been accepted for an internship at a private college in Lufkin, so I enrolled in the graduate art program at Stephen F. Austin University. I learned how to make sculptures on a larger scale. When my internship ended I moved back to the Tyler area and was accepted into the University of Texas at Tyler’s graduate program. By using what I learned from S.F.A. I built from experience to make sculptures larger in scale in comparison to my past works.”

Laminda’s interests outside of art include reading, theatre, puppetry, and historical European martial arts. She shares, “I enjoy fictional stories, especially the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I also like to read about Medieval and Renaissance history, in fact, Renaissance art history is one of my favorite courses. My family and I do annual performances for the children’s reading club at our local library which includes illusion, comedy, puppets, and ventriloquism. For recreation, I take sword fighting classes weekly with East Texas Historical Fencing, a martial arts group.” On my next quest adventure to Owl Island or wherever else, I’m asking Laminda to tag along to defend the group and talk to the animals if necessary.

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June 21st-22nd: The 7th Annual Junebug Summer Fair

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Mark your calendars for  June 21st, 22nd and 23rd when the 7th annual Junebug Summer Fair kicks into high gear. The family-friendly festival, which is located in the tiny art enclave of Ben Wheeler, Texas, highlights the work of artists, musicians,  and artisans from the Lone Star state. The festival will be held Friday, June 21st (7-10pm, VIP ticket holders), Saturday June 22nd (10am-12 midnight), and Sunday, June 23rd (10am-3pm).

Headquartered on the three-acre park-like property surrounding the Forge (a local restaurant, bar, and music venue), the festival will give attendees an opportunity to witness the creative process through “live art” displays as well as the chance to actively join in the process. Here are just a few of the fun events planned for the day:

Long Table Dinner

Kicking off the Junebug Summer Fair Friday night, June 21st from 7-10pm, The Forge will be hosting an intimate Long Table Dinner in the Grist Mill, serving local ingredients paired with local wines. The menu will show where each ingredient came from. You will also get a VIP preview of the art show and live music.

Farmers Market

The Forge will be hosting a Farmers Market both days of the festival to promote local farms and cottage businesses. There will also be a space reserved for vendors who sell goods and services based on health and wellness including Thai Yoga massage, handmade lotions and soaps, and other wellness-based businesses. This will be held Saturday June 22nd (10am-4pm), and Sunday, June 23rd (10am-3pm).

Live Music

Live acoustic music will run both days throughout the grounds, with a larger concert set for Saturday evening with Porters Bluff headlining. Bands on the Grist Mill stage start at 7pm Friday and Saturday.

Live Hands-on Art Demos

Live art stations will be set up where artists will show how they perform their particular craft. Last year, there was a live community loom where adults and children alike had the opportunity to add to the large woven piece. There was also a pottery wheel with artisans helping teach how to throw pottery and make simple pieces. The festival will also have weaving stations along with artist demonstrations.

Health And Wellness

There will be an area for health and wellness with Thai Yoga massage, organic soaps, handmade clothes, and other wonderful products and services with wellness in mind.

You may simply want to wander around the beautifully manicured herb gardens and grounds of the Forge, or grab a cone of homemade ice cream or an adult beverage from the Forge’s bar and settle into one of the many park benches and tables to listen to local musicians as they play their original songs.

For more info go to theforgebenwheeler.com/2019-junebug/ or email junebugsummerfair@gmail.com.

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Tyler Museum of Art: “Texas Birds” and “Floating Life: Mississippi River”

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The Tyler Museum of Art (TMA) is located at 1300 S. Mahon Ave. on the Tyler Junior College main campus. Regular TMA hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, and 1-5pm Sunday. The Museum is closed Mondays. For more info call the museum at (903)595-1001, tylermuseum.org, or email info@tylermuseum.org.

The Tyler Museum of Art ushers in the summer season with a visual celebration of the avian species that fly the skies over the Lone Star State in the new exhibition “Texas Birds: Works by Frank X. Tolbert 2.” The show continues through August 4th in the TMA’s Bell Gallery. Admission is free.

Organized by the TMA and curated by Caleb Bell, “Texas Birds” spotlights works from Tolbert’s ongoing Texas Bird Project – including a recently finished piece that never has been seen by the public. Started in 2014, this body of work includes drawings, paintings, and prints that highlight a wide variety of the bird species that inhabit the state. The series largely was inspired by early childhood experiences with the Lone Star State’s vast array of flora and fauna on trips the artist took with his father, Frank X. Tolbert Sr., as the elder Tolbert was writing his column “Tolbert’s Texas” for the “Dallas Morning News.” Work on the Texas Bird Project began when the artist was commissioned by Austin’s Flatbed Press & Gallery to create eight bird etchings. After the initial exhibition at Flatbed, Tolbert said he decided to continue the project indefinitely.

“Texas Birds” marks the first time works from the Texas Bird Project have been organized into a major museum exhibition. Tolbert’s work has been widely exhibited and is featured in numerous public collections, including the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He and his wife, artist Ann Stautberg, live and work in Houston.

Support for “Texas Birds” is provided by Collectors’ Circle-Gold Sponsors June and Steve Hillis, and Myrtis D. Smith.

TMA Plots New Course with “Floating Life: Mississippi River Drawings by Liz Ward,” Through August 25th

The Tyler Museum of Art explores the mystique of the South as seen through the eyes of a Texas talent with its next major exhibition, “Floating Life: Mississippi River Drawings by Liz Ward.” The show continues through August 25th in the TMA’s North Gallery.

Organized by the TMA and curated by Caleb Bell, “Floating Life” is the first large-scale museum exhibition of Mississippi River works by Ward, a San Antonio artist and professor of art and art history at Trinity University, whose work largely is informed by natural history and the environmental crisis.

The exhibition spotlights pieces from two recent bodies of work: “Ghosts of the Old Mississippi” and “Veritas Caput.” The works from “Ghosts of the Old Mississippi” are based on geological maps of the river’s ancient courses and inspired by the artist’s childhood memories from South Louisiana, where her great-grandfather spent a career as a riverboat captain. 

Pieces from “Veritas Caput” focus on the search for the source of the river by various explorers.

Ward’s work has been widely exhibited and is featured in numerous public collections, including the Tyler Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Support for “Floating Life” is provided by Collectors’ Circle-Gold Sponsors Betty and Dick Summers.

Summer Lecture Series Programs

TMA’s 2019 Summer Lecture Series will be held in the Museum’s Education Gallery. A small reception will follow each lecture. Admission is free, but seating is limited. To RSVP, call (903)595-1001.

  • “Divide and Conquer: An Overview of the Mississippi River’s Role in the Civil War” by Dr. James Newsom, Senior Lecturer in Political Science and History, The University of Texas at Tyler will be held at 2:30pm, Sunday, June 23rd
  • “I Knew Mark Twain” by Dr. Jim Richey, Professor and Department Chair of English, Tyler Junior College at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 21st

Special Events

Special events in connection with current exhibitions include a free First Friday tour June 7th, July 5th and August 2nd.

The first Friday of each month, 11am-12:30pm, the TMA offers a full day of free admission plus guided tours of its spotlight exhibitions.

Family Days will be from 2-4pm Saturday, June 8th, July 13th and August 10th.

Free admission, interactive art projects, light snacks, and a festive atmosphere for all ages are on the menu for the second Saturday of each month with the Tyler Museum of Art’s Family Day.

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Bright Stars, Birds, & Beasts: Art on View This Summer

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By Derrick White

Well, the heat has arrived. I’m sure you and yours need free, fun activities which will be stimulating to the senses and inside air-conditioned buildings, so check out these venues around town showcasing wonderful visual art.

Gallery Main Street, located in Downtown Tyler at 110 W. Erwin St., kicked off the summer by displaying the Caldwell Arts Academy Exhibit. The exhibition (which closed May 21st) featured 46 artworks by 42 different artists from Caldwell Arts Academy ranging from first through sixth grade. This was a great opportunity for these young artists to have their creations exhibited at a professional level in a real contemporary art space. The pieces were strong and showcased these youthful bright Caldwell Stars.

Gallery Main Street has been celebrating serving our community for the last 10 years with the “110@110” Art Exhibition and Fundraising Art Sale. 110 (10” x 10”) art pieces created by a select group of local artists will be available for affordable purchase at the grand opening on June 8th at 6pm. This runs through July 7th.

While you are Downtown, stop by ArtFix Cultured Studios around the corner at 112 S. Broadway Ave., where among the full walls of a variety of works by 13 gallery artists (including local talents Nyle Reams, Darby Blaise, and Cassie Bartley) you will find weekly workshops, classes, and events, now including a new recording studio booth in an old bank vault.

The Tyler Museum of Art exhibits “Texas Birds: Works by Frank X. Tolbert II” through August 4th containing artwork by the well-known Texas contemporary artist created for his ongoing Texas Bird Project. The exhibition contains drawings, paintings, and prints highlighting a variety of Texas bird species. The artist shows a range of his works and thought processes, from small-scale to large-scale, with colorful blasts, textured surfaces, exaggerated forms, complex compositions, and expressive lines.

Also on view is “Floating Life: Mississippi River Drawings by Liz Ward” through August 25th. This solo show by the artist and art professor at Trinity University in San Antonio spotlights pieces from two bodies of work – “Ghosts of the Old Mississippi” and “Veritas Caput” based on geological maps, river courses and sources, and childhood memories. The Tyler Museum of Art (TMA) is located at 1300 S. Mahon Ave. on the Tyler Junior College main campus. Regular TMA hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, and 1-5pm Sunday. The Museum is closed Mondays.

On view in the Meadows Gallery at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center,located at 3900 University Blvd, Tyler, is the 2019 “Juried Student Exhibition.” The show is on display through August 9th and is free and open to the public Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.

This year’s juror is Kate Borcherding (Sam Houston State University art professor and mixed media artist focusing on psychological narratives with the human figure). Her selections are impressive and engaging. The professional skill level, appeal, and powerful content coming from these emerging Texas contemporary artists is remarkable and speaks volumes about our East Texas art scene. We have powerful artistic voices here.

Some of the excellent eye catchers included in the exhibition are Laminda Miller’s “New Life” (aluminum and epoxy clay), a small and powerful sculpture of a dead mouse hanging on the wall. The piece speaks to the fragility of life and the meekness of the small, and its form casts some incredible shadows.

Jessica Sanders’ “Fold, Cover, Fold” (porcelain, stoneware and wire) is a colorful, quilted tapestry of tiny, individual, geometric ceramic tiles sewn together with copper wire. The result is an intricate colorful blend of patterns where rigid, hard forms become billowy with fabric-like pleats.

Stephanie Nickel has an interesting triptych of old, rustic typewriters (ink and acrylic on paper) entitled “Shift from the ‘Story’ Series.” The images are faded and fleeting, and speak to the seasons of life and passage of time.

Brittany Taylor has a showstopper with her small painting “Stroller” (acrylic on panel). This one draws the viewer in close to examine the exquisite detail. It provides one with the sense of happening upon a hole in the wall of time and space and getting to peek through to another world, similar in appearance but eerily unlike our own.

The exhibit also features strong porcelain works from Willow Lanchester; well-crafted and intimate relief and monoprint works from Maggie Pierce and Kelly Waller; a mixed media video installation (and perhaps the funniest title in the show) from Nora Schreiber, “Am I Turning Myself Into a House Plant;” quality, large-scale paintings by Lilah Shepherd, John Miranda, and Erick Rodriguez; a beautiful charcoal drawing by Lorianne Hubbard; and a bright and colorful organic form watercolor, monoprint, and collage piece by Katherine Finch. I enjoyed Jack Delaney’s (oil on canvas) painting “Paradise Suite, wherein a couple greet each other with a kiss inside an implied linear perspective interior, oblivious to both the fiery sky outside and the wildcats and other critters clustered around the home. The piece is technically proficient while maintaining a head-scratching woolly juxtaposition leaving one guessing. Leon Campbell has a solid piece in “Tetris Line Pattern, a linocut on marbled paper creating a disorienting optic effect of layers with geometric line work atop fluid, unforced, subtle colors.

Two of the works visually hitting me the hardest, with a “creepy in a good way” sense of wonder, are “A Bone to Pick” by Joshua Crockett and “Unwanted/Prized” by Katie Dawn Dukes. Crockett’s work is a meticulously sculpted tooth made from 2,399 toothpicks. The tooth is textured, weathered, and brown like it’s been pulled from an old, craggy smoker. Crockett committed to forming this piece the hard way, and all the nuances of surface really paid off.

And then there’s Katie Dukes’ equestrian-esque fetus beast distorted by the clear liquid inside its specimen jar (oven clay, aluminum, glass, and water). This work is beautifully crafted and hauntingly indistinct. It stands in both worlds, of being either some believable fantasy or a freakish reality. Regardless, it is a job well done.

The exhibition also showcases quality pieces from Lidia Alvidrez, Rachel Lynn Anthony, Megan Brewer, Brady Collings, Coy Lothrop, Mike Ohara, Mary Ann Post, Jamin Shepherd, and Jacque Yost.

I wish I had room to discuss them all, but I don’t so you will have to go see the art yourselves. Summer is a great to do and as usual, art is a part of East Texas.  So be sure to see as much as you can while you are out seeking any cool air conditioning.

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