A lifetime on canvas and paper: “Ken Zonker: A Retrospective” opens at the Wynne Home

Few established artists can look back over their formative years and take sole credit for the success they’ve achieved.

It takes a multitude of professors, mentors, friends and family members to lend their support so that a student of the arts can find their place within the world.

For countless students at Sam Houston State University, one of those integral pillars of support came in the form of professor Kenneth Zonker, who taught art at the university for nearly four decades.

Zonker, an established and incredibly talented artist in his own practice, passed away in the spring of 2002, leaving a legacy of dedication to the university, along with an astounding portfolio of work which is now owned by his friends and colleagues in Huntsville, Walker County and all across the Lone Star State.

The Wynne Home Arts Center will be hosting an exhibition set to run from Jan. 30 through April 30 of Zonker’s work, entitled “Ken Zonker: A Retrospective.” The Wynne Home will be holding an opening reception for the exhibit tonight from 4:30 to 7.

“He lived simply, but passionately, spending his time teaching and creating his own art during the fall and spring semesters,” said Roberta Plant, co-curator of the exhibit and Friends of the Wynne Home board member. “His summer months were spent traveling the world, cycling, climbing mountains, making new friends and meeting up with old friends from past travels. His passion for life and his artistic curiosity were inspiring and are reflected in the many works now on exhibit at the Wynne Home.”

Spanning nearly every decade of Zonker’s artistic practice, the exhibit showcases his unique styles, ranging from tight, pencil-drawn abstractions, to more robust and flowing self portraits in oil.

The sheer experimentation and breadth of the collection would lead an unknowing onlooker to believe they had stumbled upon a group exhibit, not one cast from a single artist.

“Those who visit the exhibit will see that he was always pushing his artistic boundaries, using different media and processes,” Plant added. “His main love was pencil drawing and his works are extraordinary. Some are quite abstract, some very realistic, others are symbolic and many reflect his love for life and travel.

“Samuella Wynne Palmer and Ruth Wynne Hollingshead, donors of the Wynne Home Art Center, were very special friends and supporters of Ken Zonker’s annual student art exhibit and sale at SHSU,” Plant continued. “It is very special to see their childhood home now filled with Ken Zonker’s art. Many collectors have generously loaned all of the pieces now on exhibit. It is a beautiful show, one of the best ever, I believe.”

Born in Olney, Texas, in 1941, Zonker spent his early years in in Venezuela, where his parents worked as missionaries. The rugged peaks of the Andes Mountains operated as a perfect backdrop for a young painter’s eye and the color and vivid shapes that he likely gleaned there is that of an artist’s perfect dream, which now shows through in his vibrant work.

For his many students, Zonker was a passionate and caring professor. Known to be a hands-on teacher, Zonker would discuss fundamentals with each pupil as they worked, pushing them to improve their craft and technique in each assignment.

“His teaching style was very personal and very good,” SHSU art major Travis Townsend told The Houstonian during a 2002 interview. “He would go up to his students as they were making their artwork and discuss with them, one-on-one, how they could make the artwork better.”

“He was very into his students,” SHSU art minor Lizzy Lynn also told the Houstonian. “He pushed their creativity in a fun way. He never put us down. That man made me better.”

Zonker also left his mark on the faculty and staff at Sam Houston with his dedication to teaching, coupled with an unending drive to improve his own craft.

“Whenever I meet alumni of the art program from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, they always mention Ken as someone who had an impact on their lives,” SHSU professor and chair of the Art Department Michael Henderson said. “He also had a big influence on the art faculty who taught with him and I count myself as one of those people. I’m glad I got a chance to know him in my first year at SHSU before he passed away.”

“Ken continues to teach through the students he inspired as they are now teachers and artist themselves, along with the scholarship in his honor that is given each year to a Sam Houston State University art student,” Plant added. “I was fortunate to be his student and his friend and it was an honor to help put together this wonderful show. It’s a must-see for both longtime admirers and those who will experience his art for the first time.”

With the exhibition beginning tonight, an opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call (936) 291-5424 or visit www.thewynnehome.com.

Art of the times

For budding art students, getting the chance to show work to the public is one of the greatest opportunities to have.

Students at Sam Houston State have a brand-new chance to show off their talents during an annual exhibit entitled “Zeitgeist,” which is currently on display at the university’s Satellite Gallery in downtown Huntsville.

Now in its fourth iteration, “Zeitgeist” is curated by the Museum and Gallery Practices class at SHSU, which teaches aspiring artists the finer points of how galleries and museums operate, while showing them how to plan, curate and present exhibitions that highlight the dynamic work of their peers.

“Throughout the semester, students in the class visit galleries and museums in Houston and assist with the installations and exhibitions in the Gaddis Geeslin Gallery, SOFA gallery and the LSC gallery (on campus),” said professor Michael Henderson, chair of SHSU’s Art Department and Museum and Gallery Practices. “They study exhibition design and learn about lighting and how to hang and handle works of art. The ‘Zeitgeist’ ​exhibit provides them with the opportunity to put what they have learned into practice.”

With the term Zeitgeist meaning “spirit of the time” in German, the exhibition’s premise is to reflect the current cultural trends in art and society as a whole. Students from Henderson’s class curated the entire exhibition based on the works of their fellow students that stood out from the crowd and spoke to the current trends at the university.

“This idea of the exhibit is based on surveys of art like the Whitney Biennial or the Texas Biennial, both of which are organized by multiple curators who work as a team to put together exhibitions that survey what is going in contemporary art,” Henderson added. “My students spend the semester looking at art by other students in their classes and they take note of what is being shown in the halls of the art building. They look for things that stand out, and then each one of them makes nominations of art and artists that they think reflects what is happening in the department.

This year’s show features the work of 13 art students and includes painting, drawing, ceramic sculpture, photography and digital prints and mixed media. The artists include Paul Ajibolade, Kirby Clarke, Elizabeth Cloud, Autumn Dowdy, Mallorie Giasson, Frank Graham, Katherine Kaiser, Lille Muyskens, Daniel Porter, Ben Prochazka, Michael Ray, Jessica Sanchez Rossi, and Mitchell Young.

“I think it’s awesome that this class allowed us to choose the art we see on campus to represent our classmates and the campus as an art program,” SHSU student artist Ben Prochazka said. “It was a good experience for us because we did the whole process of curating a show, which comes in handy when you would want to put your own work and shows together.​”

The “Zeitgeist” exhibition will be up through Saturday and the artists will be hosting a reception tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. at the SHSU Satellite Gallery which is located at 1216 University Ave. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

SHSU dance professors’ choreography featured on ABC

For Sam Houston State University professors Dionne and Andy Noble, dance is a way of life.

Both realized their talents early on and have dedicated their lives to honing their craft and passing the passion of dance on to others.

While the duo have extensive touring and teaching campaigns to their names, the Nobles have recently lent their talents to ABC’s newest season of “American Crime,” which kicked off its season premiere Wednesday evening.

“I’m the typical female dancer,” Dionne Noble said with a laugh. “I’ve been dancing my whole life and Andy is a dancer who originally started off in hip-hop and found modern dance in college. We danced for several companies initially and we wanted to begin doing our own work. Originally, Andy was choreographing and I was dancing for him and as we got more and more interested in presenting our own evenings of dance, we both started collaborating.”

Aside from teaching dance at SHSU, the Nobles now own and run the Houston-based NobleMotion Dance company, which they incorporated in 2009.

“We have ten dancers that we work with regularly and we primarily produce evenings of work and do touring based off of that,” Dionne added. “We’ve toured within Texas and regularly tour to New York to present work. We use a lot of set design and technology, using projection or interesting lighting design to accentuate the dance. When you come in and see one of our shows, you never know what you’re going to get, but it will have an element of spectacle.”

The company’s gorgeous and contemporary dance productions quickly gained the attention of the right people in town, as they landed their new television gig by word of mouth in the state capitol.

“We have toured Austin several times and ‘American Crime’ was filmed there,” Dionne continued. “We had presented some work there and collaborated with another company a few years in a row and I guess we had gotten a little bit of a following in Austin, which was great, especially for a Houston-based company.

“John Ridley, the creator of ‘American Crime,’ really wanted to involve dance into this year’s season. From what I understand, they started asking around locally and asking dancers in the area what they had seen and our name came up on several lists. They started a conversation with us and we were able to land the job.”

After securing the finer details, the Noble company was able to work directly on set in Austin, setting their choreography to the “American Crime” storyline that was already in motion.

“We worked for 10 days and we were able to hire 10 dancers that we wanted to use for the project and we all went (on set) and worked together,” Dionne said. “We normally get to create whatever dance we want and for this situation, we were asked to create a specific kind of dance to help feed the story that they were trying to tell. It was a very different experience for us and a wonderful challenge.”

Working directly with Ridley and the show’s production staff, the Noble crew became part of the exciting process of TV production, bringing their own style and elegance to the screen.

“I watched the season opener last night and now the rest of the world knows about as much as I do regarding the actual story,” Dionne chuckled when asked for a spoiler. “We don’t really know that much more to be quite honest, but they will involve dance in the season and it will be done in a very unusual way for contemporary dance.

“This is a bit of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Dionne added. “Dance is not normally showcased in this way. There are a lot of dance shows on TV and you expect dance to be on those shows. But this is going to be unexpected and I’m really, really excited that we were able to contribute to John’s vision for the show. I think he’s chosen a very unique approach to the show in general and I’m just excited to see it all unfold and share what we’ve done with the viewers.”

“American Crime” airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. For more information on NobleMotion Dance visit www.noblemotiondance.com

A chain of kindness

The final class bell rings at Huntsville Intermediate School and the frenzy begins.

Parents line up outside to pick up their children and the students are, of course, excited to spend the rest of the day out of the classroom.

For a group of 15 or 20 students who happily gather in the library, one of the best parts of their school day is just beginning — the Friends of Rachel Club.

Founded after the powerful Rachel’s Challenge presentation last October, which promoted spreading kindness and acceptance in all HISD schools, the FOR Club looks to sustain those goals all year long by helping students help others.

“We had a big first meeting at the beginning of the semester and we gave the students butcher paper, markers and crayons and we asked them to write down any idea for the FOR Club that would help other people,” Huntsville Intermediate counselor and FOR Club organizer Stephanie Sanders said Tuesday. “It’s for any student that wants to be a part of it and anyone who wants to be a positive role model.

The FOR Club members quickly put their collective heads together and knocked around ideas about how they could become helpful members of their community. Sanders says that out of all the ideas the group came up with, one kept coming back around.

“One of the first things that came up was sports scholarships and they wanted to be able to help kids play sports who wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” Sanders said. “It’s really about the students coming up with the ideas and then we try to steer them in a direction that’s possible.”

With a bit of help and direction from their teachers and friends, the FOR Club students selected the Adaptive Special Needs Sports Program for the Huntsville Family YMCA as their first fundraising campaign.

While the FOR Club is no ordinary organization, their fundraising method was equally unique as they chose a specifically Southern “Kiss the Pig” contest at Huntsville Intermediate to raise funds for hopeful student athletes.

“Myself, principal (Delanise) Taylor and one of our assistant principals, Ms. (Christy) Cross, all had a can with our face on it and students and teachers would put money in the can of their choice,” Sanders said with a smile. “Whoever got the most money got to kiss a pig.”

Altogether, the fundraiser drummed up $170 for the special needs sports program and the students had a blast choosing which of their teachers would pucker up to a pig.

“Principal Taylor lost, or won, whichever way you want to look at it,” Sanders said with a laugh. “She had the most money in her can and got to kiss a real live pig. We did a live broadcast so all the kids could watch and we also put it on the HISD private YouTube channel.”

The club met Tuesday to present the raised money to students and representatives of the Huntsville Family YMCA and meet a few of the children who would be using the money to play sports in the upcoming year.

“I was honored when they chose the YMCA and this program,” said Sandra Clifton, community executive director of the YMCA. “This is a new program and it’s only $25 to participate, and if parents can’t afford it, we need the scholarship money for that.”

With a few fundraisers and charity drives under their belts, the FOR Club has its sights set on the upcoming school year and all the new ways they can help the community.

“We did a pajama drive on Christmas to benefit the Scholastic Pajama Drive and we also did a collection for our own social services,” Sanders added. “We have a small social department in HISD that helps our students and a lot of times, they don’t really have a budget. All the students collected different items like deodorants or toothpaste, toothbrushes and soaps for the program and we collected a lot of stuff.

“In February, our goal is to put on a Valentine’s Day banquet for one of the senior citizens centers in the area and that’s something that the kids really wanted to do. We have a lot of different things going on.”

While the club certainly has a blast during their fundraising efforts, the main goal of the FOR Club is not lost on the students who meet each week. Never short on new ideas, each student knows their participation helps to spread kindness, love and happiness to the people they meet every day.

“I think that since it’s close to the end of the school year and we’re all ready to leave, we should do a fundraiser for shoes since not a lot of children have new shoes,” fifth-grader Brilee Wiggins added. “We could have a lemonade stand and bake stuff and sell it, too.”

“It’s not about just going and buying stuff and bringing it, it’s about creating a chain, like how Mattox has,” fifth-grader Tori Paul said as she pointed to a paper-clip chain held by her friend Mattox Lowry. “That chain, I know it’s made of paperclips, but that could be like people. It starts with one person and she or he just started creating happiness and then it just kept going, and going, and going and the chain just kept growing.

“It’s like in the office where we have our positive shoutouts, thats a chain of positivity and we need a chain of kindness.”