Sweet Briar’s studio art faculty to exhibit paintings, photographs, ceramics

Laura Pahris, dress painting
Laura Pharis, “Dress With Small Clicking Noises,” acrylic on canvas, detail

Sweet Briar College’s upcoming Studio Art Faculty Exhibition will feature works of art by professors Medford Taylor, Laura Pharis and Shawn O’Connor. The show opens with a reception and artist talks at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in Benedict Gallery, and will run through June 3.

“Sweet Briar is proud to showcase works of art by its studio art faculty,” said Annie Labatt, galleries and museum director and associate professor of visual arts. “In addition to teaching and guiding the students at Sweet Briar, these three professors also maintain a robust artistic output. This exhibition is a special opportunity to appreciate and remember the rich talents of these artists, and to see what they are working on when they aren’t working with students.”

Each professor represents a different artistic discipline — photography (Taylor), painting (Pharis) and ceramics (O’Connor).

“Living on campus at Sweet Briar has afforded me the opportunity to photograph the natural beauty of over 3,000 acres of forests, fields, lakes and events in the daily life of the student body,” Taylor writes in his artist’s statement. “I believe that it is incumbent upon me as a teacher of photography to provide my students with evidence of the myriad possibilities of meaningful images to be made on this exceptionally beautiful college campus.”

Taylor has been an adjunct professor of photography in the visual arts program at Sweet Briar College since 2016, but he was no stranger to Sweet Briar then. Guest lectures in the studio art department, a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2009 and an exhibition titled “‘Silent Journey’: A Photographer and Millions of Butterflies Travel to the Heart of Mexico” brought him to campus often, as did his friendship with the late Lincoln Brower.

Medford Taylor, crows
Medford Taylor, “As the Crows Fly,” photograph, 2018, detail

Born in Conway, N.C., Taylor attended High Point University in his home state, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree. After completing five years as a naval officer, he continued his education in graduate school at the University of Missouri, majoring in photojournalism. Following his schooling, Taylor became a staff photographer for the Houston Chronicle and subsequently the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. While based in Washington, D.C., he freelanced for TIME and Newsweek. Taylor has been a freelance photographer for the National Geographic Society since 1984. His assignments for National Geographic Traveler magazine have included stories on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Newfoundland, the Everglades and Big Bend National Park. He has also contributed to National Geographic magazine articles on the Australian outback, Lake Superior and the Madeira Islands, among others. His photos also appear in several National Geographic books. Taylor has won numerous awards from the Virginia News Photographers Association and the White House News Photographers Association. His work has been published in international and national magazines such as French and German GEO and Air and Space. Taylor is currently working on publishing a book of photographs of the Sweet Briar campus and community.

His colleague, Laura Pharis, has been a professor in the studio art program at Sweet Briar College since 1990. She received a B.F.A. in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, a director’s certificate from the Association Montessori Internationale, a diploma in special advanced studies in printmaking at the Central School of Art and Design in London, England, and an M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. During this time, she held several jobs, including managing the Richmond Printmaking Workshop for seven years.

Pharis was a founding member of One/Off, a group of printmakers who exhibited together for more than 30 years, and has traveled to work in printmaking workshops in London and Ireland. In 2000, she was named Virginia Artist of the Year by the Richmond Women’s Caucus for the Arts. Her art has appeared on the CD covers of Robbie Wells, Mike Seeger, Elke Baker and Nicolas Ross, and covers of books of poetry by Allison Seay and Susan Hankla. In January 2019, she had a solo exhibition at the Academy Center for the Arts in Lynchburg. Pharis is also an enthusiastic traditional musician, singing and playing the fiddle.

Shawn O'Connor, Salad plates
Shawn O’Connor, “Salad Plate Installation,” 2010

The newest member of the Sweet Briar studio art family, Shawn O’Connor has been teaching ceramics and working as a curatorial assistant in the galleries at Sweet Briar College since August 2018. O’Connor was born and raised in Minot, Maine. He completed his B.F.A. at the University of Southern Maine in 2005. After his undergraduate studies, O’Connor was a resident and staff member at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine. He also completed a six-week residency at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation on Westport Island, Maine. In May of 2010, O’Connor received his M.F.A. in ceramics from Syracuse University. The main focus of his research in graduate school revolved around wood firing. While at Syracuse, O’Connor designed and constructed a train-style wood kiln. He later went on to publish an article about his kiln in the “Log Book,” an international journal devoted to wood firing. O’Connor attended an artist-in-residence program at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and his work has been shown nationally in numerous exhibitions.

Benedict Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, email Labatt at alabatt@sbc.edu.