JOINING LOVES: Randy Jolly, a Vicksburg native, has combined his love for art and teaching very nicely

Published 11:40 am Monday, May 16, 2016

For some people art isn’t something you create, it’s who you are, which leads to their art taking on many forms with many different inspirations. Randy Jolly has been creating his whole life.

“It’s just what I do,” Jolly said. “I don’t separate it from the rest of my life.”

A lifelong resident of Mississippi, Jolly learned to work with his hands from his maternal grandmother who would spin yarn and crochet socks and sweaters. His maternal grandfather, who would make white oak baskets and flutes out of river cane, and his paternal grandmother who quilted. His father also did a lot of woodworking and cabinet making.

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“I’ve always grown up knowing that I was going to work with my hands,” Jolly said.

It took time for Jolly to realize not everyone grew up in the type of household where using your hands to make things was a daily occurrence.

“I think all of that contributed to what I do as a living,” Jolly said. “I think you make your environment not only functional but inviting. It feeds your soul as well as your physical needs.”

He said living in the South has impacted his artistic work greatly.

“I’ve always felt that if I decided to move or went somewhere else that my images would change,” Jolly said. “The work wouldn’t change, but the images would change because I feed off of the environment in which I’m in at the time.”

Today Jolly teaches several art classes and is the director of the Samuel Marshall Gore Art Galleries at Mississippi College in Clinton.

“I get to do what I’ve always done, but at the same time just have it enhanced,” Jolly said.

Before teaching on the college level, Jolly taught in the Vicksburg Warren County School District for 30 years. In the middle of his years with the school system, he took a hiatus to manage a bridal gift shop for five years before getting back in the teaching field on the elementary school level, which eventually led him to high school.

While at Warren Central, he worked with set design, costume design and directing on theatrical productions at the high school. Jolly taught photography, ceramics, and honors art while serving as chair of the fine arts department, and he helped the program grow to offer nine different art courses.

“During that 30 years that I taught, [the department] expanded quite a bit,” Jolly said. “I taught all of those courses at one time or another.”

Before retiring from the school system, he also spent time teaching on the Vicksburg campus of Hinds Community College where he taught art appreciation and satellite adjunct courses for Mississippi College and Mississippi State University. He wasn’t looking to leave Warren Central, but an opportunity to work at a gallery changed his mind.

“That opportunity just kind of happened. It was one of those that you can’t turn down because I’ve always wanted to run a gallery as part of what I do because I’ve taught art for all these years,” Jolly said.

He took the job five months before he retired from the school system and pulled semi-double duty until he had one weekend of retirement before he started full time at MC.

“But really it was enough,” Jolly said. “I don’t do well just doing nothing. Within two days of sitting in the chair I was ready to get back at it.”

He truly enjoys the gallery atmosphere, which supports a 1,500-piece collection within its walls. The galleries continually rotate pieces, every six to eight weeks, by local and regional artists, international artists and students in the Spaugh Gallery, the Main Gallery, the Student Gallery and a sculpture garden.

“I want our students to be exposed to more than one type of art,” Jolly said. “Because they are learning they need to look at different artist, different media, different styles and so that gallery is geared to do that.”

The gallery is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

“If you come in every week, you’re going to see something different in the gallery because one of the three galleries will probably be changing,” Jolly said.

As a professor, Jolly occasionally teaches painting and has taught ceramics and helped graduate students with their thesis, but he typically teaches stagecraft, design and a senior exhibition class.

Over the years of teaching, Jolly has been proud to see what becomes of his students, many of whom are still working in the art field as professional dancers, professional musicians, art professors, stage producers and architects.

“We’re very lucky that this area has so much talent just siting out there that just needs to be tapped into,” Jolly said. “Our students are extremely talented in this community.”

He is still in contact with many of his students and they ask each other for advice because of their different life experiences. He considers them friends and colleagues.

In addition to teaching, Jolly has worked with the Mississippi Arts Commission and was the first papermaker accepted in the Craftsmen Guild of Mississippi. He is currently serving on the board of the Mississippi Art Colony, which is the oldest artist colony in the U.S. run by artists, he said. He is also the president of the Vicksburg Art Association, which meets once a month at the Constitution Firehouse Gallery, 1204 Main St.

“I think the arts need the support because it gives our community flavor and character and helps us to be that unique community that we are,” Jolly said.

On the weekends Jolly can sometimes be found working at the Attic Gallery, at 1101 Washington St.

In addition to all his art related jobs and responsibilities, Jolly actively creates pieces in a studio in downtown Vicksburg. He said his studio time is quite precious, and he spends much of his time outside the studio thinking about a piece over and over in his mind before he even starts to shape it in his hands or put it on the canvas. Once he starts the process of making a piece in the studio, it is often quite fast because he spends so much time thinking on it in advance.

Jolly has worked in a number of different forms including basket weaving, coil baskets, jewelry, sculpture, pottery and more.

“I’m going to find out the process of those things that I love, and then I will combine them somehow,” Jolly said. “I listen to my students too. Quite often they will inspire me in some way to create or do something. I’ve always enjoyed my students. They have so much to offer, and they don’t even know it.”

He calls his work mixed media but he originally planned to be a potter.

“I combine all of these things together, so it’s very much mixed media,” he said. “So I just say I make stuff because sometimes it’s sculptural, sometimes it’s two dimensional — more like a painting and a collage, sometimes its more like a relief sculpture. I do still throw and produce pottery.”

He feels it is important to continually produce pieces, and he tells his students that often. Practicing what he preaches is important to him and he follows through by continuing to make and sell pieces and has about three or four shows a year.

“I don’t view what I do as creating art,” Jolly said. “It’s just what I do as part of my life. I make things constantly.”

Jolly has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, a master’s degree from Mississippi College and gifted certification through Mississippi State University. He also spent two years at Hinds Community College and took summer courses at Jackson State University and Delta State University.

Using another form of expression, Jolly created sets for the Miss Mississippi pageant for 15 years during which time the entire production won four Emmys, and to this day he helps create sets for Debra Franco School of Dance.

Creating sets is a creative outlet and placing art in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement is creating art in and of itself. He finds art useful and it infiltrates his life in multiple areas.

“I collect things. My own personal collection, I probably have over 300 or 400 paintings. I probably have 300 or 400 pieces of pottery in my house,” Jolly said. “I use the art daily. I eat out of the pottery. I cook with the pottery. It’s all part of who I am. I’ve always made art. I’ve always taught art.”

Of all the work he has done, the most important to him is his family. Jolly and his wife Becky have been married for 38 years and have two daughters and five grandchildren who affectionately call him “Big Daddy.”

“Those two girls and those five grandkids, they’re my biggest work of art,” Jolly said.