Abreeza Thomas is an artist and educator based in Hattiesburg who interned with the Museum during the summer of 2021. Whether it was assisting with summer camps or hosting the "Uncorked" Block Printing Workshop, Thomas was able to explore our programs, events and day-to-day routines during her internship and leave with new insights. As always, there is more to the story.
1. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What do you currently do both professionally and personally?
I was born and raised in Jackson, MS. When I graduated high school, I moved to Hattiesburg to study at the University of Southern Mississippi. In 2018, I graduated from there with a bachelor's degree in Art and minors in Art History and French. Currently, I am an art teacher for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Hattiesburg. On the side, I keep up my own practice as a printmaker. Abreeza Thomas. Mama Roux's. 2020. Linocut.
2. How long was your internship and what all did you do? My internship was a month long! Having no previous experience in museum studies, my goal was to get a glimpse of as much as I could. In the mornings, I assisted Tony with the museum's summer camps and even got to lead the June printmaking camp. Most afternoons, I worked on my final projects. Given my work experience, I gravitated towards the educational aspect of the museum. With Mattie's guidance, I designed an interactive engagement space that would highlight Walter's prints and the process behind them. This space also included a component that would tie Walter's drawings of plants to those in the museum's garden. To make that connection, I created a booklet with several of Walter's plant drawings followed by a blank page for visitors to interpret the drawings their own way or to venture into the garden and draw from observation as Walter did. To go along with it all, I designed a family guide with information about Walter, writing and drawing activities, and a scavenger hunt. My goal was for this to be a way for visitors of all ages to feel more engaged with Walter's work and the museum.
But that's not all! Throughout the month, I did get to switch up my afternoons a few times. One day, Mattie took me into the vault to give me an overview of the cataloguing system and conservation of the collection. She showed me some of Walter's linoleum blocks, which, as a printmaker, was amazing! Other times, I helped Meghan with the membership mailer and got some insight on the importance of museum membership. I also got a run-down on front desk operations from Ms. Bea. One of my favorite things I got to do was attend the Mississippi Heritage Trust's Ceremony dedicated to restoring Oldfields. It's a beautiful property and I'm excited to see what's in store for its future.
3. What was the biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge was stepping into a field I knew very little about. It was daunting to step outside of my comfort zone but the museum's staff was incredibly welcoming and helpful. 4. What was your biggest takeaway? For me, the biggest takeaway was the realization that, even with an art degree, I’m not pigeon-holed into one career path. As a student, I was repeatedly asked what I planned to do with my degree and I never had a concrete answer. Despite the doubt that question always brought on, I knew I would figure it out in time. This internship was a big step in that direction. Along the way, I gained confidence in my abilities, learned a few new skills, made professional connections, and got valuable experience in a field that's always interested me.
Abreeza Thomas demonstrating the application process during the July 15
Uncorked Block Printing Workshop.
5. What resonated with you the most out of Walter's work or the museum?
There are so many things to appreciate about Walter's work and life. On a technical level, Walter's use of line and form across mediums is incredible. He understood human and animal structure well enough to beautifully simplify them and create engaging compositions in a unique style, especially in his prints. Color is one of my favorite elements of art and Walter was an expert at it. He had an uncanny ability to reflect the local colors of his subjects with an atmospheric quality that really pulls you into each piece. One of my favorite examples of this is his oil painting, Horn Island at Sunset, and its partner piece of similar subject matter. His watercolors are also a wonderful reflection of this skill. That medium is hard to master and I have a deep appreciation for Walter's handling of it.
As for the museum, this experience opened my eyes to its function and importance to the community around it. All museums have a duty to preserve different parts of the world's visual history by maintaining their collections and making them available to visitors through regular visits and special programming. To me, the Walter Anderson Museum fulfills these duties to a tee and is a pillar of the culture and community of Ocean Springs. The Anderson family and their legacy is a big part of the town's history and has contributed to its culture in a profound way. The museum does a great job of highlighting all of that and ensuring Walter's work will be around for many generations to come. I particularly love
Sketches by Abreeza Thomas. how creative the staff gets with their
programming by tying Walter's art to wildlife preservation, music, summer camps, and exhibitions that create opportunities for current artists in the region.
On a wider level, the museum is important to our state. For years, I've heard people put Mississippi down, voice their desire to leave, or ask tourists why in the world they came here. Honestly, I find myself saying the same things from time to time. However, for all the dark, controversial periods of our history, Mississippi is a beautiful and oddly magical place brimming with talent. Walter saw that beauty and captured it so purely in his art. The works he left behind are one example of the many talents that came out of this state and made a positive impact on our culture and those that followed in their footsteps. Throughout the month, I got to see glimpses of that in action. Tony and I walked groups of campers through the museum and ventured into Walter's Little Room. To see them take it all in and perhaps walk away with new inspiration to create or follow their hearts was really special and I think Walter would be happy to see that happening. 6. Next steps for you? For now, I will continue teaching. However, I plan to pursue job opportunities in museums when the time is right. No matter what, I'll continue making prints and expanding my skills across the board!
Photos taken by Abreeza Thomas during her internship.