Article Category Archives: Class Notes

The Past Meets the Future

Lori Nix uses some older approaches in her art to create thought-provoking, contemporary pieces.

Lori Nix working in her studioLori Nix (’93) isn’t the first artist to work in her preferred mediums, but she has spent her adult life carving out a unique genre that has earned her a successful career and multiple accolades.

Nix is a photographer who also builds dioramas for video, film advertising and print media. She and her partner, Kathleen Gerber, create complex miniature landscapes and interiors ranging in size from as small as a shoebox to as large as a coffee table. Months of construction precede weeks of photography. Some of the projects are commissioned for clients all across the U.S. and abroad, but Nix and Gerber also create their own fine art for display.

In a time when so much art, particularly photo-based projects, is done digitally, or with elaborate use of Photoshop, Nix has a very tactile approach to her profession. Even the photography component of her work has varied from the industry standard. She was still using film until about four years ago before making the switch to a digital camera.

“I have been slow to embrace technology,” she said. “I still build everything by hand rather than create my images digitally. Honestly, I’m still very old school in this way.”

In 2014, Nix received a Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded to those individuals who, according to the foundation’s website, “have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” Her work has graced the cover of Time magazine and can be found at galleries around the world, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Before moving to her current home in Cincinnati, Ohio, Nix was a longtime resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was a two-time recipient of an individual artist grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

“I cannot imagine my life without art,” Nix said. “I think about new projects hourly, daily. I even roll over in the middle of the night thinking about art.”

Her passion is apparent in the three degrees Nix earned from Truman: Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in photography and ceramics, along with a Bachelor of Arts in art history. She also added a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University.

As a child, Nix was always playing with crayons, pens and coloring books, and she signed up for every art class she could in high school. Coming to Truman from St. Joseph, Mo., her practical side initially won out when it was time to pick a major. She originally planned to study accounting before making the switch to ceramics.

“I understand lines, color and texture more than numbers,” she said.

Still, Nix sees a substantive value in the arts, both in its ability to provide perspective and help write the first drafts of history.

“For me, the arts are like the ultimate soothsayer, able to reflect upon our times before we recognize what’s happening. The arts have a way of imparting complex ideas and feelings across space, time and language,” Nix said. “It teaches you to think critically and explore ideas, sometimes abstract, sometimes concrete, and find your own voice within them.”

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Anthony Cooperwood has made a living through music, mainly by being prepared when the right opportunities came along.

Good music usually has a flow to it wherein all of the parts come together so perfectly the listener never considers the hard work that went into creating it. On the surface, Anthony Cooperwood’s life appears to have some similarities, as if one serendipitous event after another simply led him to an interesting existence. The truth is, he put in a lot of effort to go from Grandview, Mo., to performing more than 4,000 times on three different continents as a musician, most notably with Cirque du Soleil.

Cooperwood came to Truman on a piano fellowship and earned three degrees before all was said and done, including two bachelor’s degrees in 1993 and a Master of Arts in Education degree the following year. When it was time to start his music career, he picked what he knew would be the most challenging location.

“I figured if I could succeed in New York City as a musician then I could succeed anywhere,” Cooperwood said. “Truman helped me get the knowledge and background, but New York shaped me into an adaptable tool to be used in a variety of situations by placing me in those situations.”

Interestingly enough, it was connections Cooperwood made in the small town of Kirksville that assisted him in the big city. A tip from local bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent helped him get a job playing with former Bill Haley & The Comets guitarist Bill Turner. Cooperwood also supported himself by teaching piano lessons and playing in wedding and club bands.

“The music industry is not only the notes you play on the gig,” he said. “It is also the jobs you take that have nothing to do with music. It’s the people you interact with on a regular basis to build your network. It’s even the simple discipline of showing up on time and being prepared when you arrive to do what it is they are expecting and paying you to do.”

When Cooperwood landed a job as a substitute piano player for the Big Apple Circus in Manhattan, he shadowed the show one night in preparation. The other substitute piano player, whom he thought was great, made a few minor mistakes, and when Cooperwood heard the band director nonchalantly say “I’ll never use that guy again” it made him realize he needed to step up his game. Cooperwood immersed himself in preparation for the show, practicing along with recordings and randomly going through the entire production whenever he had the time. All that hard work paid off, and when he finally got the chance to sub he made the most of it. A composer who worked with Cirque du Soleil was in the audience during one performance and was so impressed she suggested an audition.

Based in Montreal, Canada, Cirque du Soleil is the largest theatrical producer in the world. In the roles of keyboardist, bass guitarist and backup conductor for the “Dralion” production, Cooperwood traveled extensively across North America and Europe.

“I had the itch to get moving and was glad to stretch my legs and talents with the Cirque,” he said. “We were completely free from the 9-5 life within the towns and cities we worked. We made friends and experienced travel sites I’d only seen before on television and in books.”

Much like he felt the call to hit the road, Cooperwood also knew when it was time to leave it. Around 2005, he had the urge to start a family, and he settled down with a woman in Montreal. The couple have a child together, and while Cooperwood isn’t touring the world anymore, he still performs locally and is sharing his love of music with the next generation. Cooperwood is the director of bands at Rosemount High School. His advice for aspiring musicians is simple.

“Practice,” he said. “And when you are done, practice some more.”

Course Correction

Reina Koyano abandoned her dream job and has found success and inspiration in unusual places.

As a child in Tokyo, Japan, Reina Koyano enjoyed making personalized birthday cards for friends and family. The joy she saw on their faces when they realized the effort she put in specifically for them is what made her want to be a designer. While Koyano (’12) was studying visual communications at Truman, she dreamed of living a charmed life in Manhattan working at an ad agency. She eventually got what she considered to be her dream job at an agency in Los Angeles where she worked on projects for major clients like Toyota, AT&T and State Farm. She achieved the success she wanted, and at a fairly young age. So, she quit.

“I did all kinds of things there, from designing print and web ads, to art directing photo shoots, to designing an entire internship program for the company,” she said. “But, I also learned that not everything I did was exactly like what I thought it would be like to work in ad agencies. It was hard to let go. It was a dream job that I had since I was very young.”

Koyano applied for a job at Snapchat, never actually planning to hear back from the social media giant. She did, and she is approaching her fourth year with the company. Her illustrations and filters have earned social media shout outs from celebrities and supermodels, and working with talented designers has reaped other benefits.

“Having this environment has definitely been the fuel for my personal works,” she said. “It’s important to have a great creative career, but it’s equally – or perhaps more – important to own a personal project where you have the complete freedom to express yourself and your creative philosophy.”

For Koyano, that has primarily meant creating her own line of drawings featuring female figures, with the inspiration coming from, of all places, sneakers.

“I see sexiness in sneakers. Maybe it’s the smooth, curving silhouettes, or it could be the way the laces tighten up your feet like a chic corset,” she said. “I view sneakers the way I see sports cars. Their immaculate contours and luminous gloss are undeniably captivating, whether you’re into cars or not.”

Part pin-up art, part superhero drawing, Koyano’s “Sole Fatale” series of strong, female figures now includes more than 30 pieces and has earned her international attention. Her work has been featured in publications in Japan and Australia, and been on display in Portland, London and San Francisco. A video for Champs Sports featuring her has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. In 2016, when Koyano created an illustration inspired by the Nike Air Mag from the film “Back to the Future,” it almost literally blew up her phone.

“My phone shut down because there were too many notifications that I couldn’t turn off,” she said. “I was shocked to see how my little hobby was received, and that only motivated me to draw more and be more adventurous with it.”

The way things have gone so far in her career, it is hard to say what is next for Koyano. She has gained experience in advertising and the tech industry, and she would love to put her skills to use in ways that either help young adults in education or empower women.

“I truly believe that design is not just something we do to make things ‘look pretty.’ Designers are problem solvers that can make things smarter and more efficient,” she said.

 

A Way to Pass the Time

Nate Rueckert

Like many kids, Nate Rueckert (’03) was obsessed with baseball. He played countless hours of catch with his father, went to see his hometown heroes at Busch Stadium and even tried to emulate them on the field during little league games. He was talented enough to play at the collegiate level and did so for three seasons while pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting at Truman. It is rare to be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame without a day spent in the majors, but Rueckert found a way to make it happen.

A labor of love has evolved into a profitable side business for Rueckert, and it earned him a spot in the sport’s most hallowed halls. In 2017, a five-foot wide map of the United States he crafted entirely from used baseballs debuted in Cooperstown.

“There’s just something awesome about taking something tattered, torn, used, forgotten – these baseballs that have definitely seen better days, ones that most coaches would just throw away – and just turning them into beautiful pieces of art,” he said.

Being an artist was never really part of the plan for Rueckert. Indeed, his day job remains far more analytical. After working in public accounting at Ernst & Young, Rueckert and his wife, Micaela (’05), are raising their three daughters in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he is a senior external financial reporting consultant for Wells Fargo Advisors. He works four days a week with the fifth day dedicated to his business, the Baseball Seams Co., which he started in 2001 while he was still a student.

Inspiration can come from a variety of places, and for the Baseball Seams Co., its origin is rooted in the wake of tragedy. Rueckert remembers vividly the events of 9/11. He skipped his classes and was glued to the television, trying to comprehend the news of the day. Like so many other Americans, he felt hopeful the following month when he saw the president throw out the first pitch during the World Series.

“For me, it was a moment that transcended sports,” he said. “For whatever reason, the idea to make an American flag out of old, tattered baseballs popped into my head.”

Rueckert has been making original works of art using baseballs as his medium ever since. The project that was displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame was actually a two-year undertaking that evolved into a book.

After crowdfunding more than $30,000 through Kickstarter and sponsorships, Rueckert worked with a baseball writer to interview individuals from each state and share their inspirational stories. Baseballs they donated were used to create the map, and their stories were paired with artistic photos and compiled in a hardback coffee table book available on the company website, as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame museum shop.

BaseballSeamsCo.com is far from any run-of-the-mill sports page. It is equal parts art, nostalgia and patriotism. Over the years Rueckert has learned the true value of the game. It is more than statistics or championships. It is something so simple children can play it in the backyard, yet meaningful enough it can help heal a nation in a time of crisis. It is America’s pastime and, for many, a way of life. Rueckert’s company is less about a paycheck and more about staying connected to something he loves while using it as a backdrop to share values he feels are important.

“The memories you have in your childhood – it brings out the love you have for your country, the love you have for your faith,” he said. “That’s what I try to convey in my artwork – connecting baseball to something else that you really feel passionate about.”