Lander University assistant professor of art Doug McAbee shows off his prize-winning sculpture, "Lucille."
What's green, made of steel and named after a 90-year-old woman?
Hint: "She" won first place in the sculpture division at the 37th annual juried exhibit at Carolina Gallery in Spartanburg.
Give up? It's "Lucille," a creation of Spartanburg native and newly hired Lander University assistant professor of art Doug McAbee.
Inspired by a water tower he ran past while jogging, and named after his great aunt, "Lucille" was made from such diverse components as a cast-off muffler and disposable propane tank, transmogrified by McAbee, who has been welding in the shop of his father, a retired welding instructor, since he was seven.
The work is abstract, and McAbee is pointedly vague when discussing its "meaning."
"My purpose is to suggest things," he says, "and let the viewer interpret for himself."
At present, his work is on display at two shows in Maryland, one in Illinois and one in Georgia. It can also be seen at the city art gallery in Columbia, on the front lawn of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, and outside the Levine Children's Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Area residents interested in having a look, however, need only walk through the door of Lander's Larry A. Jackson Library, where "Laura Jean" and "Ethel's Daughter" reside.
It may seem that McAbee's sculptures are all named after women. Nothing could be further from the truth. The name of the sculpture that won a best-in-show award at a juried exhibition in Charlotte earlier this year is "The One with a Hole in it."
McAbee's drawings, like his sculptures, are frankly abstract. A case in point is the "Mr. Gander" series, the record of a close encounter of the ornithological kind.
How McAbee found time to create such a diverse gallery while working days as a graphic designer and nights as an adjunct art teacher is unclear.
He took the graphic design job as "a temporary thing" when he was unable to find work as a public school teacher after graduating from Winthrop in 1994. He "still had the itch to teach," however, and he eventually returned to Winthrop to pursue an M.F.A.
During his final year in graduate school, he was given a three-dimensional design class to teach. It proved to be a career-defining moment.
"I realized within the first few weeks that I loved teaching at the university level, and I loved teaching 3-D projects and ideas," he says.
Thus began a juggling act that went on for seven years.
"It was tough to work full time and then commute to Rock Hill to teach two nights each week while also trying to find time to make sculptures, but I loved it and just couldn't give it up," he says.
At last he reached a point where he "just couldn't not teach full time any longer. I started watching for vacancies and I just got really lucky with the job here at Lander."
Starting a metals program for the art department is on McAbee's "to-do" list.
"I love steel," he says. "It's a reasonably priced material, and it will allow for a wide range of practical applications. Students can spend a small amount of money on some steel and create something that can be exhibited indoors or outdoors, and they can get all sorts of finished visual effects."
He would also like to see sculpture become an official area of emphasis for visual arts majors, which "would allow us to expand the courses we offer and give our students who excel in three dimensional art an opportunity to try out even more sculptural materials and processes."
Visual Arts Department chair Dr. Linda Neely speaks glowingly of her new colleague.
"Doug McAbee incorporates visual whimsy into his work without sacrificing skilled craftsmanship," she says. "Good-natured, yet clearly with high expectations, he inspires his students to perform at a level that astounds themselves."
"We are very pleased to have snagged him from his previous university to come to Lander and build a sculpture emphasis that will match the quality of our fine photography and graphic design studio art offerings," she continues. "As a working and regionally exhibiting sculptor, McAbee brings an authentic excitement to Lander students about making art -- and making it public."