• June 4, 2020

Stanley pairs art with advocacy - Odessa American: Local News

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Stanley pairs art with advocacy

UTPB professor boosts food bank, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters

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    University of Texas Permian Basin Associate Professor of Art Chris Stanley pours water from a pitcher into a bowl that he made in his studio in the Charles A. Sorber Visual Arts building.

Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2020 3:30 am

Christopher “Chris” Stanley is an associate professor of art at the University of Texas Permian Basin, but that identity falls far short of telling who he is.

Tracing his development to experiences when he was 14 and in his late 20s, the 55-year-old native of Iowa City, Iowa, is deeply involved in causes including the West Texas Food Bank, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Permian Basin and Big Brothers Big Sisters and he is working with Faith Temple Fellowship Pastor Donny Kyker to convert a building on South Grant Avenue into a women’s and children’s shelter.

In what he calls his “morning tithing,” Stanley often starts the day by manning the potter’s wheel at UTPB’s Charles A. Sorber Visual Arts Studio and getting wet clay all over his hands and clothes to make bowls for the food bank’s “Empty Bowls” fundraising project.

His principal formative experiences were visiting a Kansas City orphanage where all the children had been physically or sexually abused and then much later talking with an elderly Frenchman on a flight from Paris.

As a student at the Jesuits’ Rockhurst High School in KC, Stanley was considering the Catholic priesthood when he was sent to the orphanage by Father James White to experience “the theology of vocation,” he said.

“All of a sudden, all the things that I had thought sucked didn’t matter anymore because those kids had me beat by 10,000 fold,” he said. “How can you take someone so depressed and filled with so much weight and make it better? We don’t do a lot with kids put in situations like that. My whole paradigm shifted to give them dignity by becoming participatory in whatever way I could. That was a pivotal moment in the developmental sense of doing God’s work.

“When I was talking with this Frenchman in his 80s, he said, ‘Chris, the problem with Americans is that you just know how to make a living, but we French know how to make a life.’ That told me look, buddy, you better figure out how to be happy and bring joy to others in whatever you do. I see the world as a place where the work has to be done. The strength of the community is in how it treats its weakest members.”

Stanley no longer practices Catholicism but has two elderly great aunts who are nuns.

He got a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education and a bachelor’s of fine arts at the University of Kansas and a master’s of fine arts at Washington State before joining UTPB in 1993. He’d been a high school ice hockey player, sustaining foot and ankle injuries that still affect his gait. He and his wife Annie have two children.

With more than 50 art majors in his department, Stanley leads studio classes in which students make art and he teaches art history, art appreciation and an honors class with Political Science Chair Robert Perry in which they combine disciplines, showing, for example, how the two melded to create Roman art and Egyptian pharaonic art.

He travels with UTPB Visual Arts Coordinator Mario Kiran in their “Pots and Prints” project to teach public school students from Lubbock to Presidio. “Mario got the first $30,000 two-year grant eight years ago and we’ve been to most of the districts in the region including Kermit, Crane, Pecos and Monahans,” Stanley said.

“The grant has dropped to $18,000 and I think it’ll be sparse this year. We taught 800 elementary kids in a day in Lubbock and we have a special place in our hearts for Presidio, encouraging kids to jump I-10 and come farther north. It’s absolutely beautiful being in that border town and working with those kids for two days at a time.

“We’ve worked with wheelchair kids and I believed their smiles to be true when they put their hands on the clay or were drawing, painting or print-making.”

When Stanley reached Odessa for his first full-time faculty post after serving as a graduate assistant at Washington State, UTPB had been a four-year school since 1991, having taught only junior, senior and grad students since 1973.

There were three or four art professors then and now there are five along with two or three adjunct teachers. “It’s not like training lawyers,” Stanley said.

“It ebbs and flows. When the oilfield slows down, the students come back and it may take them six to 10 years to graduate. We’ve started a graphic design program that will be the salvation of our department because there is a job at the end of the rainbow. It’s commercial art.”

Boys and Girls Clubs Executive Director David Chancellor said Stanley “has selflessly given more volunteer time to the clubs than anyone else.

“He cares about the arts and is so good with the kids,” Chancellor said. “Chris is an idea man who is always throwing out possibilities for community collaboration. He is such a gift to the community.”

Chancellor said Stanley and his wife have led the establishment of gardens at three of the five clubs in Odessa and Midland. “I like to joke that Chris is a liberal-conservative community activist,” he said.

“He’s a freethinker and has a great sense of humor. Odessa lacks a community spirit in many ways and Chris is trying to change that.”

Asked what most influenced Stanley, Chancellor said, “I think it was his growing up in the strict discipline of his Jesuit training in Kansas.

“He’s had broad experience with some great traditions and is committed to Odessa. This is his community.”

Former crane company owner Dick Gillham, who became a metal sculptor in his retirement, said he and Stanley are political opposites who have been friends since the professor arrived. “Chris is a liberal who has worked his tail off for the community and college,” Gillham said.

“We have a great relationship and I have all the respect in the world for him.”

Gillham said Stanley “has a great heart for the underdog.

“He was elected the students’ favorite teacher at the university, which tells you how much respect they have for him,” said Gillham, who worked on UTPB’s Stonehenge Replica project with Stanley. “Chris is definitely spiritual because people who are in need gravitate to him. Anybody who has a good cause can go to him and he will help them any way he can.

“He always has a new idea. He will be working on something one week and the next week on something else. Chris has done an outstanding job with the city’s art projects. The John Ben Rabbits around town were his idea.”

Stanley says making colorful pots, bowls and plates that people cook and eat from is his greatest pleasure. “I’m a ceramicist,” he said.

“The biggest rush I get as a human being and an artist is to know that somebody is getting sustenance and the ability to eat from something I made.”

Central to his philosophy is a practice taught by the evangelical Jesuits, “The Ministry of Presence,” which holds that Christians should “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” as instructed in Galatians 6:2, according to ligonier.org. “A lot of the at-risk population in town just needs to know you’re going to show up the next day,” Stanley said.

“It’s a stabilizing force.”

He said a lot of Boys and Girls Clubs members have gotten involved in gardening and that he and his wife were looking forward to spring planting. “I want to live in a community with programs for kids whose parents are working so hard that they don’t have time to take them to summer camps,” Stanley said.

Referring to the late New York literature professor-mythologist, he said, “Joseph Campbell said you’ve got to follow your bliss.

“Do things that bring you happiness. A lot of students are told they have to focus on certain things if they want to make a life. The lesson there is that doing things you don’t want to do is called life, putting on your big boy pants and getting out there and making it happen.

“Selflessness is the key, always giving but also practicing to get better and better. It’s part of the distillation and synthesis of the public mind that brings content to art work. We’re working with the school district to see how we can take the synthesis of new ideas to the public schools and get them better.”

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