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winter 2018
  • Artist carving wood with tools
  • Student hanging plastic bags on a clothing line in a forest
  • Student pictured next to his charcoal drawings
  • Student explaining her drawing of female
  • Student hanging Calvin and Hobbes comic drawing
  • Student sanding metal sculpture

The power of the gift

Whetsell Fellowship celebrates 10 years of transformational experiences.

Ten years ago Dr. William O. “Bill” Whetsell ’62 established the Thomas Daniel Whetsell Memorial Fellowship in the Visual Arts in memory of his brother, Dan Whetsell ’66, who died in 1998. 

“At Wofford Dan began to explore and develop his interests in the visual arts, especially painting, drawing and wood sculpture,” says Whetsell. “Funding a visual arts fellowship to provide other Wofford students an opportunity to explore and expand their interests in visual arts during their college years seemed a fitting way to honor Dan’s memory.”

“Being a part of the fellowship changed my life and created in me a really powerful voice,” says Josh Holt (2013 Whetsell Fellow), who used his summer of studies in charcoal on wood and Bristol board paper to advocate for victims of human trafficking. “Art was something that I did just for fun, but the Whetsell Fellowship launched in me a passion. I still create artistic, often painful-to-view works of art to burden people to move on behalf of victims.”

Holt now works in the admission office at Spartanburg Methodist College and directs a nonprofit called Project4One that raises awareness and funding for victims of human trafficking.

The Whetsell Fellowship helped Amy Powers Makali (2009 Whetsell Fellow) find the inner confidence to travel the developing world as Wofford’s Presidential International Scholar a year later. Makali, who speaks French and Chinese as well as English, now lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Victor Makali ’12, and almost 2-year-old daughter, Hallie. Amy worked in international college admissions for the Savannah College of Art and Design for a few years, and now tutors local students in English while refocusing on a professional art career.

“The Whetsell Fellowship has stayed with me,” says Makali. “I keep coming back to it and know that I will for the rest of my life.”

According to Whetsell, that’s exactly what happened with his brother, Dan. “Dan loved to carve, even as a little boy, but he had other interests as well. He did some drawing at Wofford, but majored in English and French, then went on to a graduate program at the University of Washington. He spent several summers on fishing boats in Alaska, and he would bring back a trove of intricate wood carvings.”

After his graduate program, Dan worked in England and France with a consortium of colleges in the Northwest to plan and manage study abroad opportunities for their students. A few years later he started his own consulting business in the field, but still found the time and energy to carve.

“Finally he decided to devote himself full time to wood sculpture,” says Whetsell. “In the mid-1970s he opened a studio in the Chelsea area of London. It was in a famous old building called the Glass House, where a number of other artists worked. Dan loved that environment and was very productive during that time, creating pieces that were exhibited and sold in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Japan and the United States.”

Whetsell says that during this time his brother also recognized the need for a mentor. Dan spent time learning from and befriending the master carvers in Mechelen, Belgium. That’s where the Whetsell Fellowship takes its insistence on a mentor.

“Mentorship is two pronged,” says Whetsell. “A mentor is someone who recognizes your talent and your potential, but then the mentor has to make a conscientious effort to be a willing and giving guide.”

The 2016 Whetsell Fellow is Meagan Burns ’17. Her mentor, Jennifer Leigh Bonner, an adjunct at Wofford, is a working artist who has a particular interest in staging and photographing outdoor installations.

“Part of the reason artists become teachers is because of bright, creative students like Meagan,” says Bonner. “Her ideas are not like mine, so talking through the artistic process with Meagan informs and inspires both of us.”

Burns and Bonner spent the summer working on both visual and installation art — drawings made with smoke and portable sculptures of plastic wrap and packing tape.

“My pieces encompass a perspective on the human body and form,” says Burns. “I focus on portraying movement and environment. I love nature and like the juxtaposition between the plastic that I’m working with and the natural surroundings where they are exhibited.”

Burns, an English major with a studio art minor from Walterboro, S.C., is moving to New York following graduation to pursue a career in design. The Whetsell Fellowship confirmed her desire to live and work as an artist.

“Dan fostered his love of art at Wofford, though he did not intend to make it his primary career,” says Whetsell. “But he did begin to find that part of himself in those years, which certainly enriched his life. The whole idea of the fellowship is exactly that: to give students an opportunity to find something within themselves that can grow because of the experience.”

Akilah Bostick (2010 Whetsell Fellow) spent several years after graduation “painting, soul searching and traveling.” Now she’s studying to become a nurse but still uses art as a way to relieve stress. “I look back at the extraordinary experience of being a Whetsell Fellow, and I realize how it not only released my untapped imagination, but also how it boosted my confidence and ability to express myself through art and life.”

Dan did eventually embrace an artist’s life and devoted himself completely to his art. Several Whetsell Fellows have done the same. Amy Chalmers (the 2008 Whetsell Fellow) lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is the program assistant for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum. She also teaches courses at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Her Whetsell Fellowship summer inspired her to remain active in the arts, completing an M.A. in illustration in 2014 and continuing to accept illustration commissions while working at the museum.

“I will never forget my opening reception,” says Chalmers, referring to the exhibition that each Whetsell Fellow stages once they have a collection of works ready to show. “Eight years later I’m reminded of what a unique, encouraging and formative experience the Whetsell Fellowship was. It felt important at the time, and it certainly gave me skills and confidence for future creative pursuits.”

Sarah Baldwin (2014 Whetsell Fellow) used recycled textiles to explore the blurred lines between fine art and fashion. She now teaches advanced placement art history and studio art at Christ School in Asheville, N.C.

“The fellowship shaped my confidence as an artist and gave me experience creating a cohesive body of work. It also was significant in that the themes and materials explored in the project have continued to find their way into my current work,” says Baldwin. “I never considered myself a true artist until my experience as a Whetsell Fellow.”

Callum Easter (2007 Whetsell Fellow) used his Whetsell experience as a foundation for a career in music.

“I don’t paint much any more, but I’m an artist. I’ve always been an artist,” says Easter, who is putting the final touches on his debut solo album, “Livelong Day,” written and recorded in his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. “I have some ideas for using sound and light and sculpture that I would like to incorporate into my live performance.”

Whetsell enjoys talking about his brother’s one-man exhibition at a gallery in Paris in November 1989. “Dan’s friends and patrons from around the world (including my wife, Anne, and me) were there. Dan was on top of the world. It was a true highlight of his career and his life. ... To make the day even more unforgettable, the opening of the exhibition was on the very day that the Berlin Wall came down.”

Whetsell was there to see the culmination of Dan’s passion and enthusiasm. Knowing that Wofford students may one day experience that same satisfaction and sense of purpose is exactly what Whetsell intended.

The college sent us one of the watercolor paintings of 2006 Whetsell Fellow Leland Wood,” says Whetsell. “We were so impressed and still cherish it. Dan would have appreciated the transformative kind of experiences that the Whetsell Fellowship allows.”

Wood says that in addition to transforming each student recipient, the Whetsell Fellowship planted the seeds for the transformation of the arts at Wofford.

“Look no further than the construction of the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts,” says Wood. “The Whetsell Fellowship provided my first realization that the Terriers who came after me would be a part of a concerted effort by the college to enhance the artistic elements of Wofford’s classic liberal arts curriculum.”

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89, Fall 2016