July 26, 2018
DEFINITION: Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas.
Eric Fuson knows a thing or two about wire. And clay. He knows how to stretch the limits of pencil and three-dimensional sculpture. Yet as an art professor with nearly 30 years of experience, he is more often the student himself as he observes everyday moments and encourages students to express themselves through these artistic mediums.
Fuson, an art professor, artist in residence and head of sculpture at Missouri Western State University, teaches sculpture, drawing and 3D design. He brings his creativity, as well as the real-world experience of having exhibited nationally and being a business owner to help his students connect their learning to practical applications.
His background in drawing, photography, graphic design and jewelry made him a natural choice to create the Walter Cronkite bust sculpture in 2013. However, it is his keen artistic eye – which he says is “about finding what’s beautiful in everyday things” – that makes him a continual stream of inspiration to students, faculty and the community.
Reflecting on nearly three decades of teaching and creating at Missouri Western, Fuson says he feels that art is all about opportunity. “People say they can’t draw, or they can’t paint. I say why not? Just pick up a pencil and try. Everyone has an opportunity to enjoy creating. People know this intuitively as children. There’s no reason to let that sense of exploration go as older students or adults.”
This philosophy of possibility and inclusion makes Fuson a popular professor among students of multiple disciplines, ages and life stages. As foundations program coordinator for the Department of Art, he helps students find new experiences with both art creation and appreciation – and he’s right there alongside them offering a blend of professional artistic training and Midwestern ease.
This combination of talent and down-to-earth appeal isn’t lost on national venues. Fuson’s work on the Cronkite sculpture garnered national media recognition, and Union Station in Kansas City featured an exhibit of Fuson’s work for the Walter Cronkite Memorial. Fuson worked with fellow faculty member David Harris to design the display illustrating Cronkite’s distinguished career with CBS television. He’s been praised for the sculpted Cronkite showpiece bust, but also for his a second sculpture he created for the memorial. “We Came In Peace” is a 35-foot tall sculpture depicting liftoff of the Apollo 11 rocket.
The artist and professor explains that Missouri Western University has been a part of his journey in a “really big, inspiring way.” A 1988 B.A. graduate, Fuson says once he picked up a pencil as an undergraduate, he never stopped a continuous stream of creativity and teaching. Being present and aware in the everyday moments are recurrent themes. “Possibilities for expression are everywhere, and St. Joseph is a great city to explore art,” he says. “There are so many opportunities that Missouri Western provides to students and adults to further their education in a top-notch environment at an affordable price. The university opens doors to people that may not have been open otherwise.”
Fuson’s passion to see students explore personal expression extends in several directions. He helped establish Visual Art Day at Missouri Western State University, which brought more than 500 high school art students to the campus to show their work and take part in 13 different art workshops. The event, a year in the making, gave students the opportunity to work with pottery, graphic design, ceramics and sculpture, among others. Fuson hopes the event will become an annual tradition and continue to expand its reach across the Midwest.
“Several of the students came from rural areas and this was the first time they’d been exposed to so many mediums, as well as connecting with so many other students who enjoy art,” says Fuson.
He isn’t the type of creator to create alone – preferring instead a communal and shared approach. When he built a 38-foot rocket for a Missouri Western theater project, students were right there alongside him. “I always invite students to participate and watch as new pieces are being created. As an artist, it’s important to work in a way that other students can see how an artist moves through the stages of a project.” He exhibits pieces in the Missouri Western Griffon Arts Society annual show, which includes both faculty and student work. Fuson is also part of the bi-annual faculty show at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, an event that allows all art faculty to showcase where they’re at in their interests.
“We have so much talent for a smaller city. I’d put work from St. Joseph up against pieces created in New York or anywhere. We’re surrounded by so many creative people here across art, music and theater who don’t choose to live in large cities. They choose to create amazing things all around this area instead,” he says.
Fuson says the art department is unique at Missouri Western because the resources are similar to large-scale universities, but the experiential philosophy and comfortable atmosphere gives students and residents a chance to really try things and decide what direction feels right to them.
“Every community needs to have this chance for people to reach out and discover themselves through art. Not everyone will make it a career, but these opportunities influence people as citizens of the community and make them aware of what makes this a great community to live in.
This inclusive perspective on living, creating and teaching is a well-suited match for the St. Joseph community. “It’s art, music and performance here in St. Joseph that really makes it special. There’s so much here that fulfills this part of life, and I love being able to give back. When people look at me like I’m a magician, or say they wish they could do what I’m doing, I say ‘sit down and try.’”
Where does Fuson get his inspiration? “I’m constantly inspired by the people I’m around right here in St. Joe. Recently I started a piece and I didn’t have anything particular in mind, but it ended up resembling a neighbor and went in that direction. The community you’re in permeates everything you do and that comes out in the work you make. I can get inspired by people eating at a café or just walking on a street. Or enjoying a concert. There’s joy in that and a calm and a peacefulness. As an artist, I can draw from these every day moments here and put my own spin on them.
“There’s something to be said about the pace of life here that makes it easy for me to be an artist and to encourage others to enjoy art, too,” says Fuson. “This is an area where you can get out and find some quiet space to create. Or, you can get out and work with other people. People are curious here and respond well. They ask questions and take time to study pieces. You can’t find that just anywhere.”
Built in 1873, the Buchanan County Courthouse, with its majestic white pointed dome, stands as an architectural icon during the day and casts a warm stately glow over downtown St. Joseph in the evening light.
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More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer.
When it comes to home-cooked breakfast and lunch, you get it Betty’s way. Or you don’t get the darn thing at all.
For decades, families across America invited Walter Cronkite into their living rooms every evening, trusting he would bring national and world events into focus. With his deep voice and warm demeanor, Walter Cronkite delivered the news of the day — good and bad — with unfaltering dignity and integrity.