MAGNOLIA, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – When classes first went online after the Covid pandemic began, art professors Anna Zusman and Rhaelene Lowther at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia were discussing nature on a morning walk when they discovered they did not have the same artistic viewpoint concerning a mushroom covered in slugs.

Their differing viewpoints, discovered on pandemic-era nature walks, are soon to be presented to the public in a joint show at the Texarkana Regional Arts & Humanities Council. The show, called “Quotidian Moments through Different Lenses,” is scheduled to run from late September through the end of October.

Southern Arkansas University’s Farm Road, where Zusman and Lowther’s walks still take place, is a scenic, paved path, approximately 2 ½ miles long, that passes a barn and a duck pond. It is well-known by both SAU students and members of the Magnolia community.

Zusman, who teaches Drawing, Concept Art, Illustration, Pen and Ink, Zines, Advanced Art Studio, and Capstone, for SAU, was first inspired to paint a piece she called “Alice 2020” which features Alice wearing a Covid mask.

The piece is “very pandemic influenced,” said Zusman. “She (Alice) is just kind of moving away from the slug who is offering all these goodies.”

Lowther, whose classes at SAU are focused on artwork for video games, digital simulation and animation, helped Lowther with 3D modeling for the Alice 2020 piece. Lowther instructs students in 3D Modeling, 2D animation, 3D animation, Character Design and Sculpture (digital), Rigging (preparing a character for animation) and Simulation Design.  

“When the pandemic began, we started walking every day,” Zusman told KTAL NBC News 6. “We started noticing all kinds of things, like animals, insects, cycles of nature, colors, textures, and we were constantly talking about that.”

Lowther said because the two, who are obvious friends, had a lot of overlap in students, they would talk about ways they could engage them. “If you pay attention to everything you see (on the walks),” she said, “it’s hard. Both of us would notice something interesting, and we’d start to imagine what we’d do with that. We had very different perspectives.”

Lowther said the thing that kicked off the project idea was “to create a body of work where we use the same exact inspiration from these walks and create artworks based off of it.”

Lowther’s watercolor on aquabord Crawfish on left and Zusman’s digital drawing on right, printed on archival paper

The two professors did begin creating a body of artistic works based on their nature walks, and they also began inviting their students and other artists to join them on the walks and to produce their own artworks, too.

“Working this way was a revelation. Neither one of us have have problems with artist block since we started walking. If anything, it’s the opposite problem,” said Zusman. 

“If you’ve walked the Farm Road, you know that you see a lot of… the life cycle. The bird happened in the snow story of January or February of 2021. We saw at least four birds that had died during that snowstorm. The one that we both liked, and by like I mean we thought was visually interesting, and conceptually interesting, and also just felt really tragic, was a bird that didn’t look injured in any way. It just looked perfect, but perfectly frozen in the snow. We immediately both knew that it was one of the pieces we both wanted to work on.”

“We almost have too many ideas. If you look at our work, you see that we interpret the same things in completely different ways. It’s just being open to a new experience and to finding things exciting. I tell students that it’s not something that’s exciting, it’s an honest eye that makes it so,” said Zusman.

Zusman said the reason the show in Texarkana is important is that “art, a lot of times, is not a big part of people’s lives. They can begin to question whether they themselves have a completely different way of looking at things.”

The original photograph taken a the nature walk shown on the left, Lowther's painting at center, and Zusman's digital drawing printed on archival paper on right, clearly show the different interpretations the two artists take when approach a subject.
The original photograph taken a the nature walk shown on the left, Lowther’s painting at center, and Zusman’s digital drawing printed on archival paper on right, clearly show the different interpretations the two artists take when approach a subject.

None of the pieces at the show in Texarkana will have titles. People can scan in the QR codes beside the artwork and put in their titles. 

The artists want to know how others interpret the photographs that inspired them to produce the artwork. 

“We like to inspire others to be creative and look at things differently,” said Zusman.

The show in Texarkana isn’t the only way to connect to the artwork of these two creative professors.

“I began to notice masks on the ground shortly after the pandemic started. I found them along pathways, in parking lots, in grassy fields, and front of homes,” wrote Lowther of her Lost or Discarded show, which will be on display at SAU’s Brinson Art Gallery from October 20-31. “I thought I could easily paint a small watercolor a day of each of the masks. However, after a time, I became overwhelmed by the number of masks and by the emotional weariness of the ongoing pandemic that felt like it would not end. I kept collecting photos and sometimes masks and thought I might return to painting these small reminders of the big changes in the world. Instead, I made a shift from daily documentation to creating more involved pieces that deal with our ongoing engagement with the pandemic, one another, and the world we inhabit.” 

Lowther says she and Zusman give talks on spending time trying to experience the world.

“One thing we talk about is how important it has been to not just see but to talk together. It’s one of the big influences on our work. We also invite other artists to join us on these walks and create companion pieces,” said Lowther. “A lot of the students walk The Farm Road. But most of the time, they’re just walking and paying attention to one another and the conversations they’re having… that was kind of a new experience, to be walking, but talking about the things we’re seeing. That was eye-opening. I think we’re seeing glimmers, even in the students for whom this is just one more checkbox to check off. They’re starting to see weird things they might not otherwise have noticed. We’re hoping long term we’ll start to reap the rewards of that with more students, and one day maybe more students will join us.”

The professors say it is important to incorporate the actual world into virtual worlds. They include such assignments in their classes to try to encourage an expanded worldview. 

“Any artist that wants to join us, we are open to doing more collaborative pieces with other artists, too,” said Zusman. “The important thing is that all of us have the experience together. We take a walk and discuss how we see the world.”