The small rug seemed strangely out of place in the art gallery housed in Swearingen Hall at Samford University, amongst the paintings and works on the walls.
One would almost miss it or step on it.
In fact, professional artist Larry Thompson said he has repaired his “Presidents’ Rug,” a replica of the Presidential Seal, several times due to people not paying attention. His rug, composed of thousands of toy soldiers, serves as a reminder that freedom comes with a cost.
Thompson’s ability to inspire through his artwork translates into his roles as an art professor and associate dean of Samford’s art department.
Emily Kent, a sophomore fine arts major, explained how Thompson helps his students discover their artistic voice while improving individually.
“You can tell he is excited about his job and he is excited about art,” she said. “And that’s something that makes the rest of us (students)excited too.”
However, a few years ago, the art department did not have the adequate space or resources for its students and faculty with only a few dedicated classrooms for the entire department and no space for 3D design.
When Thompson became the chair of the art department in 2007, he pushed for a plan for better facilities for the art department so students like Kent could grow and mature as artists in an “appropriate space.”
Finally, in 2015, Samford transformed a maintenance building into the Art Lofts with plenty of space for students and faculty to create and learn together. The Art Lofts contain the faculty offices and studios, open spaces for larger projects and individual studios.
Mary White, an assistant art professor, noted Thompson’s impact on the program.
“Larry Thompson has been instrumental in making the art department at Samford,” White said.
Along with the opening of the Art Lofts, Thompson hired three new faculty members for the art department in the past couple of years. One of the new hires, Lauren Frances Evans, who began teaching at Samford this year, is a sculptor whose creations often reach massive proportions.
Because of the existence of the Art Lofts, she and her students are able to create 3D sculptures not hindered by the need for physical space.
Through her short time at Samford, Evans has seen the benefits of the changes Thompson has implemented as professor and dean. She also has seen him as an artist in the studio, “actively thinking about and making new work.”
With an impressive career as an artist, his work has been shown throughout the United States and countries around the world.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m getting something off my chest typically in the social or political realm,” Thompson said in describing the subject matter of his artwork.
According to Samford’s website, in 2016, Thompson was the recipient of a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation which funded his “The Infanttree Project.” “The Infanttree Project,” a 14-piece art collection including his “Presidents’ Rug” piece, was displayed in the Pentagon. His exhibition dealt with soldiers, veterans and the negative effects of war.
“My artist statement is ‘having people stop and pay attention in the busy drudgery of life,’” Thompson said, a common thread throughout all his pieces.
Through his leadership, Thompson has transformed Samford University’s art department into a place where the next generation of artists will cause people to stop, look and listen to their message.
Elizabeth Pridgeon, Contributing Writer