Alumni Spotlight: Joanna Campbell Blake, ’99, Sculptor
Joanna Campbell Blake, a native of Mobile, Ala., is a figurative sculptor in the Washington D.C. area. She graduated from Auburn University in 1999 with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Since 2001, she has worked for Kaskey Studio Inc., where she has contributed her design and sculpting skills to the creation of a number of large-scale public monuments, most notably, the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, TN.
Anyone who has visited Auburn University over the past few years has likely seen her work. Blake collaborated with art professor and department chair Gary Wagoner, and together they created and installed the façade of the Sciences Classroom building. Blake’s creations can also be seen in the several sculpted terra cotta panels depicting Auburn’s colleges and schools installed in portal columns marking entrance into pedestrian areas.
Recently, Blake was featured in the Washington Post for her sculpture and design of the Battle of Bladensburg.
We caught up with Blake recently to find out more about her remarkable works, her creative process, and her favorite War Eagle moment (spoiler alert – it’s adorable).
Q: We are fortunate to see your work every day on campus – how did you become involved with the project and what went into creating the university’s portal panels?
A: Work on the Pedestrian Portal Panels grew out of work that Gary Wagoner (associate professor and department chair, art) and I did for COSAM (the College of Science and Mathematics). (Former) Dean Schneller was on that committee (at the time) and it was his idea that the columns should have artwork. There will eventually be at least 14 sets around campus so the suggestion was made that they should represent each of the colleges within the University. The first set we created was for the Pharmacy School and since then we’ve designed and sculpted panels for Education, Liberal Arts, COSAM, Agriculture, Architecture, and Engineering. It’s been great to meet with the representatives of each college and learn about their history and choose images that they feel best represent their discipline. Auburn has such a beautiful campus, I’m proud that my work is some small part of it.
Q: Do you feel that your time at Auburn helped prepare you for your success? If so, how? Are there are any specific classes, techniques, or teachers that you benefitted from?
A: Absolutely. The core curriculum for art majors is a great foundation for fine artists, and the figure-drawing courses really strengthened my drawing skills. I concentrated in painting at Auburn, but looking back it was a clay construction class that I took my senior year that really determined the course of my life. I discovered I could sculpt and I got to know the professor, Gary Wagoner. I really admired his approach to art. I worked for him after I graduated and then later after I moved to D.C. we started collaborating on projects for the Auburn Campus. In 2002, we formed Archimedia, an architectural terracotta company. Projects I’ve done with Gary continue to be the most professionally rewarding collaborations of my career. We are currently working on five large terracotta panels for Auburn’s new Wellness Center.
Q: The work you’ve done around campus, and the sculpture featured in The Washington Post, are remarkable. Would you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
A: For public sculpture and monuments the creative process is somewhat different from an artist working alone in the studio. It’s really more about collaboration. I work with the client (usually government or civic organizations) and their architects to design sculpture that conveys their intent for a civic space. It’s not true that you “can’t make art by committee.” It is possible, just more challenging. But it’s the challenge that inspires me, and I think my work, the finished sculpture, is stronger for it.
Q: What’s next?
A: This past fall, I teamed up with Davis Buckley Architects and submitted a proposal for the Virginia Women’s Monument for the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond. We were selected as semi-finalists so we are working on refining our ideas for the next round of competition. I also have two
projects at different foundries right now being cast in bronze. One is the eight by ten foot “Undaunted in Battle” a commemorative sculpture for the Battle of Bladensburg in the war of 1812. The other is two relief panels for the city of Alexandria, VA. The sculptures depict 26 African-Americans escaping slavery and starting new lives in Alexandria as part of the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial. I’ve also been working with another Auburn graduate, Margaret Boozer, class of ‘89, who is an amazing ceramic artist. She introduced me to the designer Darryl Carter, and we’ve each been making artwork for his new retail store in D.C. It’s been a chance for me to explore forms that interest me, things I really want to sculpt. I already mentioned the panels for the new Wellness Center (on campus) that I’m doing in collaboration with Gary Wagoner. Those are being fired now and will probably be installed on the building this spring. Gary and I are also working with the Opelika School Board to create a 100 foot-long terracotta frieze for the Performing Arts Center. The theme will be “the History of Opelika.” It’s just in the design phase right now, but I’m really looking forward to this project, it will be a good excuse to visit Auburn, which always feels like coming home.
Q: Do you have a favorite War Eagle moment?
A: Yes, waking up to the sound of my two year old daughter singing the “Auburn Fight Song” on the baby monitor!
Interview by Vicky Santos, Director, External Affairs, College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University