"Potts: A Life of Stories" by Claudia Wilburn a Mixed media piece comprised of acrylic paint, image transfers, found materials, digital prints, family memorabilia, handmade paper and collage. The piece won "Best in Show" at the Georgia National Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. (Claudia Wilburn/Brenau University)
"Potts: A Life of Stories" by Claudia Wilburn a Mixed media piece comprised of acrylic paint, image transfers, found materials, digital prints, family memorabilia, handmade paper and collage. The piece won "Best in Show" at the Georgia National Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. (Claudia Wilburn/Brenau University)

Professor Claudia Wilburn Wins Best in Show at Georgia National Fair Fine Arts Exhibition

Oct. 9, 2017
Alison Reeger Cook

The Georgia National Fair celebrates the state’s heritage, people and agriculture each fall. This year, the 11-day event featured the work of Brenau University associate professor of art and design, Claudia Wilburn.

Claudia Wilburn

Wilburn, who is also the studio art program director, won best in show and first place in the mixed media category at the fair’s 28th annual juried exhibition of fine arts. The event is held annually in Perry, Georgia, and was this year themed “Family Traditions & Memories.”

The exhibition enables Georgia artists to showcase their work before an audience of more than half a million fairgoers. Categories include paintings, miniatures and fine crafts such as basketry, metal smithing, pottery, glass and wood.

Wilburn’s winning piece, titled “Potts: A Life of Stories,” is a 36-by-48-inch mixed-media piece made from paint, fabric, wood and digital prints. It is one art piece of the body of work she titled “Navigate by Reckoning.” The series of works, two of which were entered into the competition, relate the history of her paternal grandfather, Claude R. “Potts” Wilburn, for whom both Claudia and her father are named.

“Potts: A Life of Stories” depicts various scenes from her grandfather’s life, including a vignette of a circus tent and truck – in the 1930s, Potts literally ran away with the circus, driving trucks and setting up tents – and digital photographs of him as a young man in uniform from when he joined the Army and later the Navy. It was during that period that he met Wilburn’s grandmother, Evelynn C. Smith, when World War II commenced.

“I knew my grandparents personally, but over the years since their passing, their history has become an oral one, one which my family tells at gatherings,” said Wilburn. “These pieces serve as a material translation of these histories, and I use ephemeral source material to bring the transitory biography passed back and forth between family members into a fixed pictorial realm.”

The second piece Wilburn entered for the fair was “Pauper Hill,” a 24-by-36-inch woodblock print piece that depicts her grandmother’s family, including Wilburn’s great-grandmother Orra Ethel Jones Smith, her grandmother Evelynn as a young girl, and three of her grandmother’s siblings. The piece is named after the farm the family lived on, Pauper Hill, and contains images of farm land and the family’s farmhouse in Jasper County, South Carolina.

While she has entered her artwork into numerous shows and exhibitions in the past, this is the first year Wilburn entered the Georgia National Fair.

When asked how she first got into art, Wilburn says there was “not one specific moment.”

“I have always been interested in the arts, and my parents encouraged this pursuit while I was in school,” she said. “I was also interested in science, so, when I got accepted to Clemson University, it was for chemical engineering. After one semester of not having an art class, I switched to studio art and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004.”

After graduating from Clemson, Wilburn went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from the University of South Carolina in 2008, graduating summa cum laude. In the past 13 years, she has displayed her work in eight solo exhibitions and over 40 group exhibitions in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and even as far as Oregon and Pennsylvania. She has traveled to England, France, Belgium and Italy both for her own arts education and to educate others in the arts community. In 2015, Wilburn received the Brenau University President’s Opportunity Grant for research and education pertaining to 3D printing and applications.

For Wilburn, the greatest satisfaction is being recognized for art that embodies her history, her family and her true passion, and not necessarily its commercial value.

“It is satisfying to know that I am on the right path,” said Wilburn. “My hope is that when viewing these artworks of my ancestors, people are reminded of their own historical connection to their forebears and the stories shared that connect us all.”

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