Mew#039;s return to TSU campus #039;amazing#039; after 35 years of progress

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

"Amazing" was the word used to describe the work of Dr. Tommy Mew at the opening of his Paintings exhibition Monday at Malone Gallery on the campus of Troy State University.

"Amazing" was the word Mew used to describe the campus after a 35 year hiatus.

Mew came to Troy State College in 1966 and was given a carte blanche from Dr. Robert Paxson, the dean of the art department at that time. Mew came from New York University as a brash, cocky 24-year-old and brought with him ideas that were foreign to a small college campus in the Deep South.

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Paxson undoubtedly recognized Mew's potential to motivate the students to greater thinking and unbridled creativity.

"Bob Paxson basically told me to come and do whatever I wanted," Mew said. "And, if there was a problem, he would handle it. For the two years that I was at Troy State, I had Bob's 100 percent support. It was a wonderful two years."

During those two years, Mew's "occasions" or "happenings" caused quite a stir around campus.

"On one 'occasion,' we had a group of actors

perform from Joyce's Ulysses at the swimming pool on campus," Mew said. "We used large, colorful balloons on the water and some of the actors were actually in the water. We turned radios to different stations and used them as the sound tracts. It was a real 'occasion.' Some students came to be a part of the occasion; others came out of curiosity. Some liked what we did; others thought it was silly or stupid, but they did think."

There were students on campus who wanted to protest the war in Vietnam. Instead, Mew guided them toward a more positive way to express their feelings about war.

"On the lawn in front of McCartha Hall, we constructed a 30-foot Tower of Peace," he said. "It was made from many different kinds of materials. One side of the base was made from huge Paul Newman posters. There were photographs of the Beatles and quotes from writers like Walt Whitman and poetry and deer antlers. The students got very involved and the tower expressed their desire for peace, not war."

Mew left Troy State after only two years, but he left with fond memories. When he returned on Monday, he was amazed by what he saw.

"It's simply amazing," Mew said. "I actually got lost. The only connection that I have to the campus back then is the old administration building (Bibb Graves). Everything is so vastly different."

Mew said the town and the university have grown so much that it's unbelievable.

"Troy State is now like a big university," he said. "It's like Florida State and other large universities. It's a beautiful campus. Troy must be very proud of the changes that have been made. I must tell my wife that I couldn't even find my way around."

Mew did find his way to Malone Gallery where his art exhibit officially opened with a lecture and artist's reception at 4:30 p.m.

His large paintings include the words of such noted writers as Thomas Wolfe and Edna St. Vincent Milley and images that are repeated again and again.

"This is from Joyce's Ulysses," Mew said as he gestured toward one panel. "I feel a need to make something visual out of something that is not visual. In some of the passages, the language is so incredible that I have to make something visual from it."

The X image appears in almost all of Mew's work.

"The X can be interpreted in many different ways," he said. "It can be a perfect symbol. It can be a crossroads, a kiss or a cross. The white shape - I'm not sure what it is. Some say it's a jellyfish; others say it's a ghost. I don't know. I just know that it's an image that my hand feels comfortable doing."

Mew surveyed the group of students waiting to hear his lecture and noted that, like the campus he left years ago, the students have also changed.

"Students today are different," he said. "They are products of what I call a 'quickening.' There is such a media explosion around them. They are bombarded with information. There is so much activity that they don't have time to be alone. They don't have time to be quiet, to think, to reflect. What do they care what Brittany Spears had to say yesterday? But, what Joyce or Wolfe had to say matters."

When students observe Mew's work, he says, "Tell me what you think?" and it doesn't really matter to him what the students think - only that they think. If they do, that's the beginning of an "occasion" and, to Mew, that's amazing.