Category Archives: Faculty/Staff

Pellissippi State Foundation receives civil rights-themed art donation

When Herb Rieth traveled the highways of Mississippi in 2005, he was doing so as an art teacher and as a son. Rieth was at that time serving as an art instructor in Starkville, and he frequently made the 150-mile drive to Coldwater in order to visit his mother and stepfather.

Seven years later, Reith, now an art instructor at Pellissippi State Community College, has donated a mixed-media fabric piece to the school through the Pellissippi State Foundation that was inspired by those drives.

“Savage from the Outside: An Ode to Mose Wright” is 110 inches by 119 inches.  It was created by Rieth to pay homage both to Mose Wright, the great-uncle of Emmett Till, and to the struggles for civil rights that took place in communities across Mississippi.

The August 1955 death of the 14-year-old Till and the murder trial that followed one month later served as catalysts for the emerging Civil Rights Movement.

A famous photograph of Wright testifying during the trial in Sumner—taken by photographer Ernest Withers despite a judge’s orders prohibiting photographs—shows Till’s great-uncle pointing as he identifies a defendant in court. Wright’s testimony was believed to be the first instance of a black person’s testifying against a white defendant in a Mississippi courtroom.

Rieth’s art combines history and his own firsthand impressions of the Mississippi landscape. During his visits to Coldwater, he encountered the nearby community of Savage. Rieth knew the history of the Till events, yet he was struck by the geography of the Mississippi Delta region and the area’s role as the setting for strife and, eventually, monumental change.

“Savage is just a bump in the road,” said Rieth. “That area’s flatness is only broken by running tufts of large live oaks and cottonwood trees that serve as windbreaks.

“The roads border decaying towns that lay like broken shells of a great postwar American culture. The sharp contrast in geography that I saw while driving brought home the rupture in culture that riveted the country during that hot summer 50 years before. That was the inspiration for ‘Savage from the Outside.’”

Rieth decided to donate the piece to the Pellissippi State Foundation on behalf of the college, and it is now displayed in the McWherter Building on the Hardin Valley Campus. Students, faculty, staff and visitors can enjoy the art as both a beautiful addition to the facility and as an ode to the personal stories that helped shape the Civil Rights Movement.

This is not the first time the Foundation has received an art donation. Ed Harmon, a Blount County native and art collector, gave the school 20 paintings and prints. The pieces represent the works of local artists who focus on the landscapes of the Appalachian region.

An anonymous donor also gifted five pieces of art for the Library at the Blount County Campus. Donations to the college are coordinated by the Foundation, which works to support programs that directly impact students.

“Part of our mission is to provide opportunities for life, civic and cultural enrichment,” said Peggy Wilson. “We appreciate Herb Rieth’s willingness to share his beautiful and meaningful art with the entire community, and the Foundation would certainly encourage others to contact us regarding such gifts.” Wilson is executive director of the Pellissippi State Foundation, as well as vice president of College Advancement.

To discuss the possibility of making a donation, call the Foundation at (865) 694-6528 or email foundation@pstcc.edu.

Pellissippi State instructor helps students overcome fear of public speaking

When it came time to present her speech, Meaghan Marsh sang.

The Pellissippi State Community College student belted out the first line of “O Canada,” the national anthem of Canada, and that was enough to get her started.

In Larry Dearing’s public speaking class on Wednesday night at the college’s Blount County Campus, the speeches ran the gamut: travel, addiction, work, disease, health-care precautions, the dangers of texting while driving. Like Marsh’s humorous musical opener, the other students’ props and approaches were unique and creative.

Dearing, who has taught public speaking at Pellissippi State for more than a decade, sat in the back of the room listening, making notes. During the day, the adjunct faculty member works full time off campus, and four nights a week, he teaches public speaking for Pellissippi State.

That schedule can make for a long day, but when Dearing sets foot in the classroom, he gets a second wind.

“When I get in class, I’m energized. All that tiredness goes away,” he said. “The day job is work—the night job is not.”

One of the reasons Dearing likes teaching in the evening, he says, is the mix of students: Students returning to college to finish a degree after several years’ hiatus from the classroom. Younger students and adults who juggle jobs, family and school. Career changers who work at jobs in which they see little hope for advancement or growth.

Returning to school after a hiatus can be a struggle. And public speaking can be especially daunting. That was something Dearing and the class addressed early in the semester.

“When we first started, we each talked about how this class was going to be for us, or how hard it was going to be for each one of us, because a lot of people have a problem with public speaking,” said Marsh, a Pellissippi State freshman and 2010 Alcoa High School graduate who wants to teach art.

Dearing has had students step in front of the class for the first speech and grow so nervous that they shake and turn red. Sometimes they apologize for the way they sound. He remembers his first public speaking class at the University of Tennessee, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theater and speech.

“I see me up there the first time and recall how hard it was for me,” he said.

Dearing started teaching public speaking initially in 1978, in the evenings at the Division Street Campus. He taught part time for three years and then embarked on a career in business. Twenty years later, he was still thinking about the classroom.

Ten years ago, Dearing started again in the place he originally taught: Division Street. He returned as an adjunct faculty member, and it all seemed as familiar as his first teaching experience at Pellissippi State.

“You know, Thomas Wolfe was wrong,” said Dearing. “You can go home again.”

With the semester nearly halfway over, his students seemed to have overcome many of their initial fears and appeared relaxed on Wednesday night. Marsh opened with the song and made the transition into her speech about work. She is not shy, but beginning with the song helped her get over the first hurdle.

“Yes, it was kind of like breaking the ice,” said Marsh. “Also, [Mr. Dearing] tells us that we need to have an introduction that draws people in, so I always try to start with something that makes people pay attention.”

Pellissippi State writer-in-residence to read poems from new book

Ed Francisco
Ed Francisco

In his ninth book of poetry, Ed Francisco’s search for the perfect words and expressions to illustrate his thoughts and experiences takes him through America, England, Finland and beyond.

Francisco, English professor and writer-in-residence at Pellissippi State Community College, reads from his newest poetry volume, “Only the Word Gives Us Being,” at two venues the week of Feb. 13.

The first reading is on the 13th at 11:50 a.m.-12:40 p.m. in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. The second is on Feb. 18, 2-3 p.m., at Union Ave Books, 517 Union Ave. in downtown Knoxville.

The book was released in December by Birch Brook Press. It is available to purchase at www.birchbrookpress.info, the Pellissippi State Bookstore and Union Ave Books.

Francisco’s essays, poems and short fiction have been published in more than 100 magazines and journals. He most highly acclaimed books of poetry are “The Alchemy of Words” and “Death, Child, and Love: Poems 1980-2000.” His novels include “Till Shadows Flee” and “The Dealmaker.”

He is also principal editor of “The South in Perspective,” an anthology of Southern literature that has been adopted by colleges and universities across the country. He is a member of the Oxford Roundtable at the University of Oxford, England.

The public is invited to attend both of the free readings. For additional information, contact (865) 694-6400.

To request accommodations for a disability at the Pellissippi State event, contact the executive director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action at (865) 694-6607 or humanresources@pstcc.edu.

Nine Pellissippi State art faculty featured in downtown exhibit

“Forward,” an exhibit by nine of Pellissippi State’s art faculty, opens Feb. 3 at Emporium Center’s Balcony Gallery. Pictured: Jennifer Brickey’s “It’s a Stretch” (pen, ink, acrylic on watercolor paper).

Their chosen working materials vary, from fabric and metal to acrylics and mixed media. What the nine diverse artists have in common is that all are members of the studio art faculty at Pellissippi State Community College, and all are featured in a three-week exhibit at downtown’s Emporium Center.

“Forward” features the creations of Randy Arnold, Jennifer Brickey, Jim Darrow, Brian Jobe, Anne Kinggard, Jeff Lockett, Alison Oakes, Herb Rieth and Mike Rose. The “Forward” theme implies “toward or at a place, point or time in advance.”

Pictured: Jeff Lockett’s “Free Moral Agency” (ceramic).

The multi-artist exhibit debuts on Feb. 3 and is one of the events featured at the monthly Knoxville’s First Friday. A special opening reception takes place that evening, 5-9 p.m., in the Emporium Center’s Balcony Gallery.

The exhibit remains on display through Feb. 24. The Emporium Center is located at 100 S. Gay St. Gallery hours are weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with special First Friday hours on Saturday, Feb. 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Pellissippi State offers a full spectrum of art courses in ceramics, design, drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture in a studio setting under the guidance of practicing professional artists. For more information, visit www.pstcc.edu/departments/visualarts or call (865) 694-6400.

Late Kentucky poet laureate’s cufflinks return to family via Pellissippi State

Ed Francisco, left, Pellissippi State English professor and writer-in-residence, recently presented to the family of the late Jesse Stuart a set of cufflinks that once belonged to the Kentucky author and poet laureate. Pictured with Francisco are, from left, Gary North; his wife, Marty North (Stuart’s niece); and their son, Mike North. Mike North is assistant dean of Pellissippi State’s Division Street Campus.

A pair of cufflinks recently united the Pellissippi State Community College community with relatives of the well-known Appalachian author Jesse Stuart. Stuart (1907-1984), Kentucky’s poet laureate in 1954, is most famous for his novels “Taps for Private Tussie” and “The Thread That Runs So True.”

On their decades-long journey, the cufflinks, a ruby-eyed fish design, passed through the hands of three well-known Appalachian writers: Stuart, George Scarbrough and Edward Francisco.

Francisco, English professor and writer-in-residence at Pellissippi State, is the author of several books of fiction and poetry. He is also a member of the Oxford Roundtable at the University of Oxford. It was Francisco who arranged the gathering at which he presented the cufflinks to Jesse Stuart’s niece, Marty North. Marty lives in Farragut with her husband, Gary North.

Francisco tells the story of how he came to have the cufflinks that were originally owned by Stuart.

“Jesse had a writer friend, George Scarbrough [1915-2008], who admired the cufflinks one day,” said Francisco. Stuart, in turn, presented the set to Scarbrough as a gift. Scarbrough went on to become famous in his own right, with a novel and five major books of poetry, one of which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990.

“Years later, George and I became friends—we both taught at writing conferences,” Francisco said. “One day I complimented him on his cufflinks, and he said, ‘These belonged to Jesse Stuart, and I’m giving them to you. You wear French cuffs and I don’t, and probably never will.’”

About 15 years after receiving the cufflinks, Francisco says, he discovered that a Pellissippi State co-worker, Mike North, was one of Jesse Stuart’s great-nephews. The assistant dean of the college’s Division Street Campus is also the son of Marty and Gary North.

Francisco decided then that the cufflinks needed to be returned to the Stuart family. The transfer was recently completed at the Pellissippi Campus.

Marty North recalls her many childhood visits to W-Hollow, Jesse Stuart’s home outside of Greenup, in the northeast corner of Kentucky.

“So many people would just walk up to the door,” she said, “hoping that Uncle Jesse would be there and they could see him. Aunt Deane was so gracious. If he was busy writing, she’d explain that, but many times they’d invite people in.

“Jesse loved people and was quite a talker. He was a very outgoing, boisterous, interesting man, and Aunt Deane was a gentle, calm, elegant lady who edited everything he wrote. They cared very much for each other and their daughter, Jane.

“I was very delighted to get the cufflinks from Ed [Francisco]. It is really a treat to have those of Uncle Jesse’s.”