Editor’s Note: This story was written by Morgan Von Feldt.
Preston Lawing and Rob McColl’s shared art exhibit served as a final bow for the two art and design professors.
Lawing referred to the exhibit in Lillian Davis Hogan Galleries, located in the Toner Student Center on campus, as their “senior show.” Instead of celebrating an upcoming graduation, however, the gallery serves as a look back at Lawing’s and McColl’s careers as artists and professors over the last 24 and 23 years respectively as they both head into retirement.
Lawing began teaching at Saint Mary’s in 1997 after receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Florida. As a trained printmaker and hands-on artist, he said that the chance to develop a program drew him to Saint Mary’s. He wanted to incorporate more hands-on studio art in the department.
On the other hand, McColl did not begin his Saint Mary’s career by teaching. He received his master’s degree as well from Ohio University and started working with Campus Safety until a position in the art department opened up in 2002. Since then, he has been a full-time professor.
Although Lawing and McColl have different favorite memories from their time at the university, they both agree that their fondest ones include interactions with others.
Lawing recalled what used to be known as “brown bag lunches,” where faculty from different departments would give presentations during lunches every Monday about something they were working on and proud of. Although a professor’s primary job is to teach their students, “I’m always learning from everybody,” Lawing said.
McColl’s best memory involves interacting with all the different students. “When students come back, there’s all this energy and it’s just fun,” he said, in reference to students coming back to school from summer break. “Now that I’m retiring, I realize that’s where a lot of my energy has come from.”
Lawing and McColl agree that one of the rewarding parts of their careers as professors includes getting students excited and inspired about art. Lawing said that seeing the light come on in the students’ eyes is something that he will miss the most about teaching, as well as “the excitement that I did touch them in some special way.”
McColl similarly said, “I love being able to try to get students excited about art, so I’m gonna miss that.”
Junior digital graphic design major Sarah Phipps can attest to their care for the students they teach. In reference to McColl, Phipps said, “He was really helpful with making me feel comfortable, showcasing my art and helping me learn better approaches.” About Lawing, she said, “Preston has taught me that the most important thing to do as an artist is to always be doing something.”
In addition to interacting with the Saint Mary’s community, McColl and Lawing said that they would miss the campus gallery. The Lillian Davis Hogan Galleries has been a way for students and faculty alike to showcase their work.
Lisa Truax, associate professor of art and design, originally came up with the idea for Lawing and McColl to do a retrospective gallery of their work over the years.
“It was great for me because I’ve seen a lot of their work over the last 10 years, but I obviously haven’t seen the old stuff yet,” she said. “It’s really nice to see the development of their work over time and getting to see that all together.”
This gallery feels particularly special to McColl and Lawing because they were able to work on it together after teaching aside one another for over 20 years. “We’re definitely very close friends so it’s always fun to be able to share a space like that and to be able to see artwork that’s developed,” Lawing said. “It’s been neat to be beside him as he’s painted and designed those pieces.”
While they both agree that heading into retirement right now is bittersweet, they look forward to taking a step back to focus on their families and their personal art. Lawing said, “I want to get up and fix a cup of coffee and immediately go out into my studio and work until supper. That would be the happiest time for me.”
McColl looks forward to continuing making art after retirement as well and plans to continue working alongside Lawing. He said, “Preston and I are actually hoping to, dreaming to, find a building in town and have a shared studio.”
McColl and Lawing both have one final lesson for their students and young artists alike. McColl emphasized the importance of connections in the art world. He said, “No one does it the same way as you will and you need people so you don’t get lost.” Lawing advised that students should keep learning, asking questions, and ultimately following their dreams.
They both look forward to the future growth of the art department at Saint Mary’s and take with them the connections they have made during their time as professors.