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Doug McAbee: Spreading Sculpting Fever at Lander

May 13, 2013
Students who believe it's possible to take a sculpture course from Doug McAbee without developing an interest in the subject don't have a hope.

"I love sharing what I know about sculpture with my students because I think it's exciting, and my excitement rubs off on them at some point," the Lander University assistant professor of art said. "They begin to get excited about their new skills and the results of their hard work, and it snowballs through the semester."

Proof of McAbee's ability to generate excitement in the classroom can be seen in the Young Faculty Teaching Award for 2013 that he recently won.

The Spartanburg native, who joined Lander's Department of Art in 2010, expresses the view that learning can -- and should -- be fun.

"I'm a big believer in using humor in the classroom," he said. "It lightens the atmosphere and makes difficult tasks easier to bear. It also allows me to create a rapport with my students that allows me to push them farther and challenge them more."

McAbee, who earned an M.F.A. from Winthrop University in 2003 and taught there as an adjunct for eight years before coming to Lander, believes that learning is a two-way street.

"I watch my students and learn as much about their personalities as possible. This helps me know how to move them forward," he said.

Moving them forward is often challenging, as some of them have never laid hands on a table saw, chainsaw, plasma torch or welder.

McAbee acknowledges that transforming a sheet of steel, his material of choice, into three-dimensional objects like flowers and insects is "something that is not easily accomplished." He believes, however, that it is a very worthwhile thing to do.

"The struggle that results between the artist and the medium teaches the students determination and creative problem solving, and allows them to experience a hard-won success," he said. "When they see that they have accomplished a daunting task with their brains and their muscles, they realize that with hard work, determination and creative thinking, they can do just about anything they try."

McAbee's own sculptures have won widespread acclaim. His works were displayed at the South Carolina State Museum as part of the Triennial 2004 exhibit and the 20th Anniversary Juried Exhibit in 2008. Two other works, which he sold to the Carolinas Medical Center in 2007, are installed on the grounds of the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. A sculpture he named "The One With The Hole In It" earned a "Best in Show" award at the North to South Juried Exhibit in Charlotte in 2010, and he won an honorable mention award at the National Outdoor Sculpture Competition in North Charleston in 2011.

He's also proud of the 2nd Place Award that his student Brandy Cessarich, of Greenville, won this year at the 1st Annual Collegiate Invitational Art Exhibit in Spartanburg for her steel sculpture, "Abstract Abode."

McAbee favors steel not only because of its strength and durability, which makes it ideal for outdoor sculpture, but also because it finishes well, allowing him to obtain glossy, smooth surfaces that are aesthetically pleasing. There's an emotional reason, too, that he's drawn to steel.

"My dad was a welding teacher, and I grew up welding with him in his metal fabrication shop," he said. "We always had a connection in that we both made things out of steel, and that connection became even more important when he passed away in 2012. Now steel reminds me of him and makes him seem close by."

Associate professor of art Jim Slagle, who chairs Lander's Department of Art, said that there were several reasons why he and the other members of his department nominated McAbee for the Young Faculty Teaching Award.

"Doug has a very calm and easy manner that relaxes students," he said. "The difficulties in his area of expertise are plentiful, and Doug is able to manage all hurdles with class and grace. The students visibly gravitate to him when he is teaching his craft. Many have fallen in love with sculpture when they had no interest in it at all when arriving at Lander."

McAbee said he was "beyond honored to have won the Young Faculty Teaching Award. Lander is known as a teaching university, and I get to work with some of the best teachers around. To be recognized among that great group of teachers means so much to me."