Wednesday, May 8, 2013

a good year

A few weeks ago, in the blur that was the last week of school, Lander held it's Academic Awards Ceremony.  Faculty were asked to attend and to march in with their academic regalia.  In the hours before the event, I had a final critique in one of my classes and as soon as it was over, I helped a few advanced sculpture students put the finishing touches on their bug sculptures that were to be installed the next morning.  

Thirty minutes before the Awards were to begin, I was helping Sam move her giant steel dragonfly so she could touch up the paint.  During the delicate moving operation, the sculpture broke.  The kind of broke where big, important parts fall off.  

Fifteen minutes before the Awards and we were dragging the sculpture back inside to the welding area for repairs.  At some point in all this we tripped a breaker and I had to sprint down the hall to get a key to unlock the room with the all important electrical box.  It was at that moment that I thought I might not make it to the Awards.  

My Dean saw me sprint past her going in a direction that was not toward the faculty line up and she quickly asked if I would be able to make it.  This, of course, meant I needed to make sure I was there.  I flipped the breaker back and sprinted to return the key before giving Sam the bad news that our sculptural surgery was going to be delayed.  I swabbed the sweat from my head and ran upstairs to grab my gown and still had a couple of minutes to spare before the faculty line moved inside the auditorium.  

Lots of students were recognized for various achievements and Dr. Pitts and I cut up a little.  I think we were both in mid laugh when they announced that I had won the Young Faculty Teaching Award.  I was apparently shocked.  As I found my way up on the stage to grab the plaque I was later told I had a mean look on my face.  I guess that was my surprised face.  All I could think of while I was up there was, "it's a good thing I didn't skip this".

Sam's response was appropriate.  "Oh, you won an award?  That's great, now hold this."  Minutes later I was covered in sweat again, holding up a very heavy dragonfly while Sam burned tiny holes in my skin with the sparks from the welder.  

And yes, I've already been told that this is the last time I'll ever be referred to as "young".

Jeff Lagrone from PR was nice enough to write an article about the award.  He does such a good job of helping us let the community know about our art events.  The article appeared on  I've copied and  pasted the article below.

5/7/2013 2:45:00 PM

Doug McAbee: Spreading Sculpting Fever at Lander

Thanks for reading GwdToday - Everyday!

GREENWOOD — Students who believe it’s possible to take a sculpture course from Doug McAbee without developing an interest in the subject don’t have a hope.

“I love sharing what I know about sculpture with my students because I think it’s exciting, and my excitement rubs off on them at some point,” the Lander University assistant professor of art said. “They begin to get excited about their new skills and the results of their hard work, and it snowballs through the semester.”

Proof of McAbee’s ability to generate excitement in the classroom can be seen in the Young Faculty Teaching Award for 2013 that he recently won.

The Spartanburg native, who joined Lander’s Department of Art in 2010, expresses the view that learning can — and should — be fun.

“I’m a big believer in using humor in the classroom,” he said. “It lightens the atmosphere and makes difficult tasks easier to bear. It also allows me to create a rapport with my students that allows me to push them farther and challenge them more.”

McAbee, who earned an M.F.A. from Winthrop University in 2003 and taught there as an adjunct for eight years before coming to Lander, believes that learning is a two-way street.

“I watch my students and learn as much about their personalities as possible. This helps me know how to move them forward,” he said.

Moving them forward is often challenging, as some of them have never laid hands on a table saw, chainsaw, plasma torch or welder.

McAbee acknowledges that transforming a sheet of steel, his material of choice, into three-dimensional objects like flowers and insects is “something that is not easily accomplished.” He believes, however, that it is a very worthwhile thing to do.

“The struggle that results between the artist and the medium teaches the students determination and creative problem solving, and allows them to experience a hard-won success,” he said. 

“When they see that they have accomplished a daunting task with their brains and their muscles, they realize that with hard work, determination and creative thinking, they can do just about anything they try.”

McAbee’s own sculptures have won widespread acclaim. His works were displayed at the South Carolina State Museum as part of the Triennial 2004 exhibit and the 20th Anniversary Juried Exhibit in 2008. Two other works, which he sold to the Carolinas Medical Center in 2007, are installed on the grounds of the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. A sculpture he named “The One With The Hole In It” earned a “Best in Show” award at the North to South Juried Exhibit in Charlotte in 2010, and he won an honorable mention award at the National Outdoor Sculpture Competition in North Charleston in 2011.

He’s also proud of the 2nd Place Award that his student Brandy Cessarich, of Greenville, won this year at the 1st Annual Collegiate Invitational Art Exhibit in Spartanburg for her steel sculpture, “Abstract Abode.”

McAbee favors steel not only because of its strength and durability, which makes it ideal for outdoor sculpture, but also because it finishes well, allowing him to obtain glossy, smooth surfaces that are aesthetically pleasing. There’s an emotional reason, too, that he’s drawn to steel.

“My dad was a welding teacher, and I grew up welding with him in his metal fabrication shop,” he said. “We always had a connection in that we both made things out of steel, and that connection became even more important when he passed away in 2012. Now steel reminds me of him and makes him seem close by.”

Associate professor of art Jim Slagle, who chairs Lander’s Department of Art, said that there were several reasons why he and the other members of his department nominated McAbee for the Young Faculty Teaching Award.

“Doug has a very calm and easy manner that relaxes students,” he said. “The difficulties in his area of expertise are plentiful, and Doug is able to manage all hurdles with class and grace. The students visibly gravitate to him when he is teaching his craft. Many have fallen in love with sculpture when they had no interest in it at all when arriving at Lander.”

McAbee said he was “beyond honored to have won the Young Faculty Teaching Award. Lander is known as a teaching university, and I get to work with some of the best teachers around. To be recognized among that great group of teachers means so much to me.”

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