Watkins’s new exhibit commissioned by Nashville’s booming airport demonstrates how equally ascendant the college is.

Nashville skyline, Watkins College of Art

By Ron Wagner

Dan Brawner, chair of the Watkins graphic design and illustration programs, would have submitted a proposal for inclusion into Nashville International Airport’s 2018 Flying Solo exhibition series no matter what. But, he wondered, just how many humans would pass by the display, which is up for about six months? According to Mary Grissim, curator of Arts at the Airport, the answer is: A lot. A whole lot.

“When I asked about how many people would see the exhibit,” Brawner reports, “she said: ‘I estimate for 2018 that 14 million people will come through the airport and conservatively 587,000 will be directly engaged with the Flying Solo program. So, you could plan for half of that. That sounded like a pretty good number to me.”

That number would be 293,500, to be exact.

Hypotheticals became reality when the Watkins exhibit, Ethos, Pathos, Logos, was chosen to be a part of Flying Solo and went live on March 5, 2018, providing Brawner a rare and welcome opportunity to show the world what he’s known since he arrived at Watkins seven years ago: The work his students produce is, like the airport, of international caliber.

“We’ve just launched a new BFA (bachelor of fine arts) in illustration, and quite frankly my faculty and I are just super-proud of our students, and our graduates who are exploding these national and international design annuals,” he says. “It’s remarkable because we are so small and competing against the big dogs successfully and repeatedly. I really was looking for an opportunity to put the spotlight on that.”

The work of our students and alumni warrants broad public attention.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos is a collection of selected works by students and alumni of Watkins’s award-winning graphic design and illustration programs. The name of the exhibit, and the pieces in it, hearken back to Aristotle’s three artistic proofs—ethics, emotion, and logic—and all the student projects have received national recognition. “Aristotle’s proofs have a resonance that connects to the spirit of our program at Watkins,” says Brawner. “Originally ethics, emotion, and logic referred to verbal discourse, but those principles also can, and should, relate to our work as visual communicators and design thinkers. It’s what our programs espouse in terms of design thinking.”

Within the show are works that have attained AAF-National Student Addy Awards and Graphis New Talent Annual awards, as well as student/client work from annual design partnerships and recent professional work by alumni. The exhibit is made up of three display cases running side-by-side across from Gates 2 and 3 in Concourse A. The show will be up until August 25.

“The work is empathetic, wicked smart, and promotes our belief that successful design is created with and for others,” Brawner says.

In all, Ethos, Pathos, Logos features creations from more than 20 students and alumni, including a series by Sara Schork called “Nothing Great Happened Without Passion.” Schork, a 2015 graduate and graphic designer at Delevante Creative in Nashville, was contacted by Brawner last December asking if she’d like to participate. Specifically, he was interested in a senior year project she made as an afterthought.

“I am very into running, and I decided to create a 52-page magazine that focused on female athletes throughout history. Funnily enough, I decided also to do an auxiliary piece, a poster series that correlated to the magazine,” Schork says. “I took a couple of people that I had done exposés on and created these inspiration empowerment posters based on some of their quotes, and they just sort of took off. They took a life of their own more so than the magazine.”

"Nothing Great Happened Without Passion" by Sara Schork, Watkins College of Art

Lindsey Laseter, a 2010 graduate, is a graphic designer and art director at Perky Bros in Nashville. Design and branding work she did for Little Wolf Coffee Roasters in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is included in the display case dedicated to alumni.

“We created everything from the logo to the color palette to the illustration, packaging, website, and swag, like T-shirts and special gift items,” she says. “It’s a great way to showcase how a brand can have great personality. Dan really liked it and wanted to feature it in the show.”

Laseter says she has remained “very close” with Brawner and associate professor Judith Sweeney-O’Bryan, frequently helping their students with mock interviews and portfolio reviews. “It’s kind of a rare occurrence that design gets featured versus fine art,” she says. “I feel lucky and grateful to have made all the connections that I have made and to have kept them, especially from Watkins. Dan and Judith came to my wedding. They are amazing people, and they are very supportive of the design students and the community at large.”


Little Wolf, Lindsay Laseter, Watkins College of Art

Brawner was initially going to submit his own work for consideration by Arts at the Airport before deciding that he’d rather see his artists highlighted.

“The work of our students and alumni warrants broad public attention. The proposal for the airport was made specifically for the display cases in Concourse A because of its mission of presenting community-minded projects by Tennessee non-profits, schools, and arts organizations.” He and Sweeney-O’Bryan worked together to select the pieces.

“It’s just sort of a slice. It’s not comprehensive,” he says. “It’s mostly recent work, and it represents a little bit of everything that we do in the department. There are so many students and alums that I could have included.”

Brawner also relished the opportunity for Watkins to be the face of Nashville at such a hub of activity for the city. Benefactor Samuel Watkins left $100,000 in his will for the creation of the school in 1885, which has been a critical contributor to one of the country’s most dynamic and fastest-growing cultural capitals.

“Watkins is a great story. It’s born of the soil here,” he says. “We’re 133 years old now, and there are still some locals that don’t know how the school has evolved. It’s still quite shocking to native Nashvillians when they’ll come over to our campus. They just can’t believe it. We’ve just grown up.”

Schork is thrilled to see her alma mater in such a prominent location. “I just think it’s amazing. They’re so well-connected to the Nashville community,” she says. “To be able to get their name out to everyone and anyone who’s going through the airport is just wonderful. College competition is always growing in general, and to be such a small school you have to really sort of be able to fight with the big boys … I was definitely excited and honored to be included for sure. I feel lucky enough to have created something that seems very relevant even a couple of years later.