Each year, Nashville’s own Vanderbilt University gifts one of the most impressive undergraduate art prizes in the country. The Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award, or “The Hamblet” as it’s known colloquially, awards a $10,000 prize to the runner up, and $25,000 in the form of a travel and research award to the winner. Since 1984, this prize has been given by the Hamblet family to allow for graduating art students to travel and make work that was inspired by their experience abroad. The department brings in three outside jurors, all of whom are respected practicing artists and academics in their own mediums. This year, the Tinney Contemporary’s own Carol Prusa was selected as one of the three jurors who had the responsibility of choosing the recipient of this impactful award.
Prusa is a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and has been represented by the Tinney since 2010. Prusa’s work is both intricate and otherworldly. Her silverpoint methods are dazzling in their technical application, and she continues to push the limits of her work, incorporating three-dimensional forms, as well as multi-media aspects in many pieces. Prusa was joined on the judging panel by Billy Renkle, of Austin Peay State University, and John Douglas Powers of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It is notable that Powers was a winner of the Hamblet Award in 2001 as a Vanderbilt graduate.
This year’s show was a beautiful and ecclectic gathering of works that represented the diversity of the art department at Vanderbilt. As a B.A. program, the department requires that students take courses in each of the mediums offered. From meditative video, to complex and immersive installation, to portrait painting and photography, the show reveals the essence of the department’s character. As many of the students major in other departments as well as the arts, the influence of other academic and social interests was apparent. This year’s winner, Alexis Jackson, impressed and challenged the viewers in the gallery with her piece 1,437,201,654 Black Lives. Her poignant discussion of the history of racism in this country, as well as events in recent years was powerful yet non-confrontational. The work consisted of photographic prints depicting recent young victims of racial violence done in the iconic style of the Obama “Hope” campaign posters. These still pieces were accompanied by a running video of portraits of black individuals throughout history, with soundtracks running from racial protest events. The second place winner, Emily Neal, displayed her piece Clonal Colony in the very center of the gallery. This three-dimensional work incorporated an actual tree stump in an installation depicting relationships of time and organismal ancestry.
Altogether, this show was a strong display of well-developed student work. It is exciting to see the abilities of these young artists, as well as to know that they are receiving critique and guidance from such well-established and talented artists. As the concepts discussed in their shows become more developed, it is almost certain that the research and time invested into the work will compound to produce even more impressive pieces. Make sure to watch for the return show for the winner held at Vanderbilt’s Space 204 gallery this coming January.