February 1, 2024 | Payton Potter | Faculty Spotlight
CHATTANOOGA, TN -- Chattanooga State art professor Jennnifer ”Baggs” McKelvey is displaying her unique works in two art museums in Alabama and Houston this month.
McKelvey, who has taught as both an adjunct and assistant professor at ChattState since 2016, is also an ex officio board member of the Chattanooga-based Mid-South Sculpture Alliance.
At ChattState, experienced faculty members help prepare students for successful careers in their respective fields. McKelvey, who teaches art studio courses and art history at ChattState, said her work as a practicing professional artist helps inform her approach in the classroom.
“I can talk to my students about actual processes,” she said. “I talk about the ways you might go about getting into an exhibition, the professional aspects of being an artist, and what it looks like to have a portfolio, a resume, and an artist statement.”
Her hands-on experience also helps her tailor her teaching to support students in all stages of their art education.
“As an artist, I have developed skills that allow me to help students understand visual problems and utilize visual elements to express meaning,” she said. “Especially in 3-dimensional work — I can help students spot where problems might lie and how they can work around certain difficulties or try a new material or media when needed.”
McKelvey said her professional art rose to a new level in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She had been invited to create an on-site installation at the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga that was originally slated to be displayed for six months. Her contract was extended three times, and the installation remained on display for nearly two years.
Since then, McKelvey has created five large installations and several smaller works, including two recent displays in Gadsden, AL, and Houston.
Titled “Beyond Indigo,” McKelvey’s installation in the Gadsden Museum of Art spans two rooms and features a variety of patterns and designs made from upcycled denim fashioned into shapes inspired by nature and the human body.
Her Gadsden installation runs from Jan. 7 to Feb. 22, 2024. A public opening will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 2.
To secure her place in the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, McKelvey had to enter and win a competition hosted by Fiber Art Now magazine.
According to the museum, McKelvey used nearly 6,000 feet of upcycled denim in her installation.
“McKelvey’s primary material consists of more than 67 pairs of donated denim jeans that she disassembled, cut, tied, and spooled to create the textile rope,” the museum’s website reads. “A commentary on the ubiquity and fraught social history of denim in the United States, ‘Indigo Houston’ also serves as a testament to denim’s history as a craft material.”
Expanding on her preference to work with denim, McKelvey said the textile has a fraught history in America, representing everything from fashion to environmental concerns to the history of cotton and indigo production.
“Denim is a symbol for many things including US history, slavery (the production of cotton and indigo dyes), Americana, the working class, innovation, gender and equality (jeans were once taboo for women and girls), and most recently ecological concerns,” McKelvey’s portfolio reads.
McKelvey’s installation in the Houston museum’s Asher Gallery runs from Jan. 27 to May 4, 2024. A public opening will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26.