Inside the inspiration

Three artists take you inside their
creative process and discuss
the coming art festival
Sunday, September 17, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:23 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Photo courtesy of RHONDA ADAIR

Artists are bound by the passion they bring to their work; but what they offer, and why they offer it, is unique. Here are snapshots of three artists — a “gourder,” a writer and an Irish musician — you will find in downtown Columbia next weekend for the city’s 15th Festival of the Arts.

The Irish musician, Victor McMullan

“We weren’t rich, we were poor,” says Victor McMullan, 58, of Springfield, Ill. “But everybody was poor. You’d sing a song to help carry you through the tougher times.” McMullan sings and plays with Exorna, a musical group modeled after traditional Irish pub groups. Exorna will bring to the festival lyrical images and melodies of McMullan’s memories of his homeland.

Q: What gives you an artistic high?

A: “People who appreciate our music,” McMullan says.

Q:What part of the artistic process do you most enjoy?

A: Performing, McMullan says without hesitation. “The benefit of practice is the performance,” he says.

Q: Who or what is your inspiration?

A: The feel of Exorna Lane, where McMullan was born, comes through memories of his mother. “I picture her singing,” he says. He also draws upon his childhood and, through music, tries to keep his culture alive.

Q: How do you recommend that people use their inspirations?

A: McMullan insists that people should start young and that music should be a part of families and schools. He encourages a hands-on approach to music, saying that an instrument such as the spoons is a cheap and easy way for kids to start making music.

The writer, Melissa Witherington

A former coordinator of the festival, Melissa Witherington, 68, of Columbia began writing after retiring seven years ago from a career in education. Drawing from vivid childhood memories, Witherington follows her natural curiosity in writing stories and often uses it to work through frustrating situations. At the festival, she will read from “Stick ’Em Up, Daddy,” a humorous memoir inspired by a trip to her grandparents’ homestead after a 50-year absence. Witherington plans to dress as a member of the Red Hat Society, wearing purple clothes and a red hat. Witherington will also use dialects and sing songs to the young and the young at heart.

Q: What is the most moving artistic experience you’ve had?

A: “When I was writing about the return trip, I had surprising involuntary tears well up from my ‘little-girl heart,’” Witherington says. These tears sprang from the memory of a “very meaningful” experience that is included in “Stick ‘em Up, Daddy.”

Q: How do you recommend that people use their inspirations?

A: Witherington thinks people should act upon bursts of inspiration, saying that she often writes as soon as she feels inspired.

Q: What part of writing do you most enjoy?

A: “Research,” Witherington says. “I wake up in the night with a curiosity about something and google it.”

Q: What part is most difficult?

A: “It’s re-reading (a story) over and over before it’s submitted to try and get a completely error-free copy,” Witherington says.

The gourder, Rhonda Adair

Inspired by another’s creation of a basket and hoping to find an interest that she and her husband could share, Rhonda Adair, 56, of Ursa, Ill., began doing “gourdwork” as a hobby in 1999. Her husband now assists in growing the gourds while Adair transforms the moldy, dried vegetables into intricately patterned works of art. Sea grass, waxed linen, beads, seeds and dyes help create what Adair describes as “timeless” and “organic” forms.

Q: What gives you an artistic high?

A: “Seeing the finished product,” says Adair. A gourd that looks “OK” up close while she’s working on it with dyes far exceeds her expectations when it’s done.

Q: Who or what is your inspiration?

A: Adair’s is drawn both from other “gourders” and the opportunities gourdwork has given her and her husband to work together toward a finished product.

Q: How do you recommend other people use their inspirations?

A: “You have to imagine the potential” and then act on it,” says Adair. “You can’t sit back and think, ‘Maybe I can do that,’” she says. “You have to actually create something.”

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