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Life rises from clay

Camille Doty

By Camille Doty
July 26, 2011 at 2:26 a.m.

Jo Ann Henkel applies cooler to a ceramic squid-like tail fin in her sculpture, "The Behemoth." Students in Deborah Chronister's art class at Victoria College are creating life-sized sculptures.

Trent Thigpen exchanged key strokes for paint strokes this summer. The computer information systems associate professor traded places and became the student.

The Big Works in Clay workshop at Victoria College may be technically finished, but the six-week class wasn't enough time for the 45-year-old to perfect his life-sized creation.

His wife, Kristina Thigpen, served as his muse.

Thigpen's human-sized masterpiece, "Venus of Atascosa in Jeans," was inspired by a vacation he took with his wife in the Rio Grande Valley. The statue shows the female form in an abstract way.

"I like my wife in jeans," he said.

The fourth-semester student also studied the modernist work of Henry Moore, sculptures by Umberto Boccioni and ancient Venus figures. Thigpen was full of ideas after studying various art forms.

"There's nothing else quite like it," he said.

Thigpen didn't see his technical background as a creative hindrance. In fact, it was easier for him to be expressive.

"Art is a form of communication, just like multimedia," he said.

Thigpen and other students at Victoria College learned to think big with the help of their professor, Debra Chronister.

They also received outside training by assisting Susan Budge's large-scale ceramic exhibit in the Nave Museum. Budge, the San Antonio-based artist and professor, demonstrated how to make large pieces in the students' own design space.

The small class of seven learned to make larger-than-life sculptures. Some are 7.5 feet tall.

Chronister said Thigpen has limitless potential.

"He could be nationally or internationally known if he wants to. He has the discipline and dedication to get the work finished," she said.

Thigpen's class support helped him during this. While waiting for their creations, the close-knit group huddled around the kiln.

JoAnn Henkel asked her classmate, "Are you ready to see your masterpiece?"

Her sweet tone resembled a proud aunt looking at her niece in a nursery for the first time.

Thigpen molded the 100-pound slab of clay in 70 hours. The masterpiece was created in five sections to fit inside the kiln. He later assembled the wet pieces to make sure they fit properly.

"It's not the most challenging, but the largest," he said.

As far as the student/teacher, he's doesn't know if his "Venus" will be placed in a juried art show or in his home. But, the joy of its creation was its own reward. He had his wife to thank for that.

"She was on my mind as I was making it. She likes the fact it's inspired by her. "



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