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High Fashion High Arts  by Kelley Reese
Fall 2002      

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School of Visual Arts

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Change of Leadership

High Fashion, High Art

The Freshman Experience

Life on the Sidelines


Photo of Michael FairclothMichael Faircloth’s work is held in private collections around the nation and hangs in the Smithsonian.

It’s a fact the 43-year-old couturier is proud of. But Faircloth (’83) says he’s happiest when his work is out and about, on show and alive.

“When I create a gown or a piece of clothing, it’s not perfectly finished until it’s on the body it was created for,” Faircloth says. “A beautiful dress may look nice on the hanger or a mannequin, but when it’s worn by the person it was built for, it’s stunning.”

And stunning, yet undeniably classic, is the best description for Faircloth’s art.

While his work is in fashion, it is definitely art. And it’s art as his training intended.

Photo of Cora StaffordEarly innovation

In 1979 Faircloth left his hometown of Yoakum at the insistence of his mother to pursue the visual arts and fashion design at North Texas.

In Denton, he found a program that was dedicated to a broad definition of the visual arts and had always housed its fashion design, interior design and graphic design programs under the same roof as the traditional studio programs of drawing, painting and sculpture.

Art classes have been taught at North Texas since 1894 — making it an integral part of the university’s identity and history. But with the appointment in the 1920s of Cora Stafford to head the art programs, North Texas’ visual arts legacy was born.

“Dr. Stafford created a dynamic program that reflected her unique, comprehensive notion that the visual arts encompass all aspects of life,” says D. Jack Davis, dean of the School of Visual Arts.

In addition, Stafford hired young innovators to keep the program aligned with new ideas. James Prestini and Gyorgy Kepes, two early proponents in the United States of the Bauhaus design system, joined the faculty along with Carlos Merida, the internationally known Guatemalan painter and muralist, and Octavio Medellin, the celebrated Mexican sculptor and painter. Students included Ray Gough (’40, ’41 M.A.), noted interior designer, and O’Neil Ford, who became one of Texas’ most famous architects.

Stafford led the program until 1964, but long after her departure the values she outlined guided North Texas’ dedication to the arts. And in 1992, the university created a school dedicated to its art programs.

Hosts of artists

This year, as the School of Visual Arts celebrates its 10th anniversary, Davis says Stafford’s vision is still clearly in place.

“Today, we are far more than a fine arts program, just as she wanted, and we still have a faculty of successful artists who are dedicated to teaching,” Davis says.

The faculty is accentuated by the school’s strong visiting artist and lecturer programs, which bring top artists from all media to Denton to talk to or work with the students.

Over the years, the likes of avant-garde photographer and sculptor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Bauhaus painter and designer Herbert Bayer had a presence on campus.

More recently, sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, painter Whitfield Lovell and art critic Matthew Collings have served as lecturers and visiting teachers. This spring, students will have a chance to work with artist Wenda Gu as he creates an installation on campus focusing on the relationship of China with the West.

With more than 2,000 undergraduate students majoring in the visual arts this year, the school today is a vibrant, strong tapestry created from threads woven more than 70 years ago.

The studio and design divisions put students through rigorous qualifying reviews at every phase of their education. Similar reviews will soon be put in place for the art history and art education divisions.

With such high standards, UNT’s art programs have turned out high-quality alumni who work all over the world in every medium.

Some of those alumni include well-known painter Jean Andrews (’76 Ph.D.), multimedia artist Celia Munoz (’82 M.F.A.) and sculptors Jesús Bautista Moroles (’78) and Bill Worrell (’74 M.F.A.). Recent graduates include Brian Fridge (’94), whose film work was in the 2000 Whitney Biennial.

However, a host of alumni also create art for the everyday world through their work with ad agencies and design firms.

They direct the collections and education programs at museums across the nation. And, they teach. They also design clothing, like Faircloth.

Things done right

Faircloth’s fashion business has been on a steady rise since he took up shop in Dallas’ Lily Dodson boutique after graduation.

“I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I was in high school, because I am a very black-and-white type of person who loves structure and rules,” he says.

“But my mother seemed to know that I’d be happiest in a creative environment.”

At North Texas, Faircloth’s appreciation for structure and his dedication were rewarded with an introduction to haute couture.

“Professor Betty Marzan Mattil saw early on that I had an appreciation for things done right, and she made sure I really understood how fine clothing was made from the inside out.”

For nearly 20 years Faircloth toiled to grow his dream to the fully fledged house of design it is today, complete with famous customers and a ready-to-wear collection that debuted in New York last fall.

In fact, it was one of his famous customers — first lady Laura Bush — who landed his work in the Smithsonian.

“I loved designing Mrs. Bush’s inaugural gown, and I felt so proud that night when I helped her with the gown and saw how happy and beautiful she felt — it epitomized why I do what I do,” he says.

Anniversary exhibition

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the School of Visual Arts, the first comprehensive exhibition of works from Jean Andrews’ collection of folk art, textiles and items of ethnic dress from around the world opened in the UNT Art Gallery Sept. 12 and will run through Oct. 18.

A UNT Distinguished Alumna and well-known Texas artist in her own right, Andrews (’76 Ph.D.) has traveled extensively since 1965 retracing ancient silk trading routes, looking for vanishing examples of folk art and amassing a unique collection of valuable cultural art.

Gallery hours are Monday and Tuesday from noon to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.

For more information, call (940) 565-4005.


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