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Department History

Department of Art

The Art Department is very grateful to Lucy Millsaps, Professor Emerita of Art, for writing the following account of the department's history from 1941-2001.  The more recent history has been updated by Art faculty.

The first listing of art courses at Millsaps College was in the 1941-42 catalogue. The instructor was William Hollingsworth, who wrote about his teaching career at Millsaps and his life as an artist in Hollingsworth: The Man, the Artist and His Work, a diary edited by his wife Jane Hollingsworth. After his tragic death in 1944, Karl Wolfe began to teach art at the college. Since there was no major in art at that time, courses in studio art were elective. Twelve hours in art could be counted toward a degree. Studio courses were offered in drawing, design, color theory, and watercolor. In 1957 Mildred Nungester Wolfe, Karl's wife, began teaching a one-semester course in art history, and in 1964 she added a course in block printing and lithography.

In 1966 Millsaps received a Ford Foundation Challenge Grant of one and a half million dollars, and over the next three yearsMillsaps raised an additional sum of almost four million dollars to meet the challenge requirement. President Benjamin Graves stated that part of this amount would be used to add a fine arts program and to build an academic complex. The music and art departments were to be housed on the second and third floors of the new building. Music courses had been offered at Millsaps for many years but art courses were relatively new and were to be expanded and taught in the studio area on the third floor of the academic complex. Also included on this floor would be an art gallery. Karl Wolfe was instrumental in the design of the north windows in the gallery and studio space of the new building. In 1968 William Rowell, an instructor of art at Mississippi State College for Women was hired while the new building was under construction. At this time, art courses were taught in certain areas of Galloway, a men's dormitory.

Lucy Webb Millsaps was hired in 1969 to teach art history, drawing, and printmaking. In 1971 the art department moved into the Academic Complex. Karl Wolfe preferred to stay in his original location, the kitchen of Galloway. The studio area in the Academic Complex was composed of two parts, the smaller area for ceramics (an addition to the curriculum) and the larger for painting, design, and printmaking. The only interior walls at that time were those that contained the gallery. While the area was aesthetically pleasing to the eye it proved to be impractical in containing the separate classes. Nevertheless, the new space was inspiring and there was a healthy interest in art courses.

In 1974 while the art department was growing it experienced the untimely death of William Rowell, who had become chair of the department. Lucy Webb Millsaps served as acting head until Rufus Turner was hired in 1976. He built a darkroom and partitions for classes in the department, and also added photography to the curriculum. In addition, a proposal for an art major was presented to and passed by the faculty in 1976. In 1978, the first two art majors graduated from Millsaps.

When Mr. Turner left in 1981, Ms. Millsaps acted as chair until Jack Agricola was hired in 1983. During the tenure of Dr. Agricola courses in art were expanded and sculpture was taught for the first time. In addition, when Dr. Elise Smith joined the department in 1987, initially as an adjunct instructor, courses in specific periods in art history began to be offered. In 1991 she became chair of the department after Dr. Agricola resigned his position. Beth Ann Handzlik taught studio courses in 1992-93, and Collin Asmus was hired in 1993 when Ms. Handzlik left the department. During these years of college-wide reform of the curriculum,courses in art were reconfigured and expanded and a concentration in art history was added. Constance Pierce augmented the art curriculum as visiting artist in 1993-94. Sandra Smithson (now Murchison) joined the faculty in 1999 upon Ms. Millsaps' retirement, and Mr. Asmus became chair in 2001. 

Collin Asmus left to join the faculty at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts in 2004, and Kelly Mueller was hired in an interim position (2004-05), followed by Michelle Acuff (2005-07).  The department revised its curriculum in 2007 to offer two majors, Studio Art and Art History, as well as two concentrations, Digital Arts and Museum Studies, and Brent Fogt was hired as the department's first tenure-track Digital Arts and Sculpture instructor in that year.  The department also received a major anonymous gift in 2007, which allowed us to hire a part-time gallery director, reconfigure the Lewis Art Gallery, renovate our computer facilities into an 11-station Mac lab, add a studio for Sandra Murchison, and hire a series of Art History Teaching Fellows (Maline Werness, ABD from the University of Texas for  2008-2009, and Abigail Susik, Ph.D. from Columbia University, for 2009-2011).  Brent Fogt left in 2010 to pursue his art-making in Chicago, at which time Colleen Keough came for a one-year position. (See the departmental News and Faculty pages for more information.)