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Q&A with Mary Wheeler Davis Scholarship Awardees

July 07, 2022 | Features

The Mary Wheeler Davis Scholarship is an annual award open to high school seniors from Spartanburg County who are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in the visual or performing arts. The selection is based on student character, financial need, and artistic potential, and at least one scholarship of $1,000 is usually awarded. The scholarships are awarded based on the recommendations of a panel of community leaders with interest and expertise in the visual and performing arts.

We caught up with previous scholarship winners, Sarah Hoffman & Mia Easler, to get an update on their careers and how things have been going since receiving the award. Both received the award in 2020 and at the time Sarah Hoffman was a senior at Dorman High School and was set on studying Graphic Design-Illustration at the University of South Carolina. Mia Easler was graduating from Spartanburg High School in the spring and was planning to start a degree in Art Therapy at Converse College. Check out the interview below to find out how these two are doing and an update on their careers!

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Sarah Hoffman & Mia Easler

Q: Can you tell us your name, (artist/ stage name if you have one), what school you attend, your year of study, what major you are pursuing, and why it interests you?

S: My name is Sarah Hoffman and I’m a rising junior at the University of South Carolina, where I’m pursuing a Studio Arts major with a concentration in Graphic Design and Illustration (GD+I). I’m really interested in the illustrative world and ready to start advanced illustration courses in my third year!

M: My name is Mia Easler and I go to Converse College. I am about to finish my sophomore year and am majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Psychology. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekends?

S: Right now my weekends are filled with rehearsals at a community theatre in Columbia, as I’m a part of the Town Theatre’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!

M: My favorite thing to do on weekends is hang out with my partner and friends and go into the dark room at Converse and develop film.

Q: Has your perception of the arts changed since being in school? Why/
why not?

S: I think the nature of pursuing art exposes you to the functionality and inherent purpose of art, especially as a Graphic Design student. So much of what I’m learning is reflected back to the customer’s wishes and requirements rather than my own as an artist. The line of balance between artistic freedom and set guidelines is one I’m still exploring and learning about.

M: Since coming to Converse, I have branched out a lot with art mediums and learned a lot about techniques and my own personal style.

Q: What is an accomplishment you are proud of and why?

S: One of my professors was chosen to speak at a conference and is using my work as one of her student examples. It was my first year taking graphic design classes and it was great to see that year’s hard work pay off in a tangible way.

M: Honestly, the accomplishment I am most proud of is the fact that I am pursuing my dream job and getting to go to school for something I love. I have always wanted to go to school for art but kind of assumed it wasn’t a realistic hope and that it wouldn’t actually happen. I am very proud of myself for following what I truly want to do and all the work I have put in my studio classes the past two years.

Q: Who is an artist/creative/person that you admire and why?

S: I have so many artists that inspire me, and luckily social media has made smaller artists more accessible. Some of my favorite artists include Sari Shryack, Cecil Kemperink, Vanessa Barragão, and Emilio Villalba. These artists work with a variety of mediums, whether oil, ceramics, or textiles, which helps keep me creative and loose in a field that can seem quite static or structured at times.

M: I really admire film photographer Ashleigh Coleman who lives in rural Mississippi and takes photos of her everyday life as a mother and artist in the south. She recently had a show at Converse and I got to meet her and ask her questions about her work; she is incredibly talented and well-spoken, and is a huge inspiration for me as she is a successful female photographer in the south.

Q: What are some of the connections you’ve made since enrolling in school that have impacted you?

S: The art faculty I have met have been so supportive and enthusiastic about my education and future. It really impacted me when one of my professors encouraged me to apply for a grant and that she would back me in my efforts. It was exciting to have someone believe in my work that
much! I’m also excited to work with more of the GD+I staff as I continue in my degree work.

M: I have really enjoyed learning from the amazing art professors at Converse; they push us to be the artists we want to be.

Q: What’s next for you? 

S: My latest endeavor is my participation in Town Theatre’s production of Joseph (July 15th-31st!) which I’m really excited about. It’s my first main-stage production since the Covid shutdown! Other than that though, my upcoming semesters are full of Studio classes and I’m hoping to land a graphic design internship soon! 

M: I will be going to graduate school to get my master’s degree in Art Therapy. 

Congratulations Sarah and Mia! We can't wait to see what the future has in store for you two!

Mary Wheeler Davis felt her purpose in life was to improve the quality of life for others, especially to enhance the artistic and cultural environment of all citizens of Spartanburg County. The family of Mary Wheeler Davis has created a special trust as a memorial to her to be devoted primarily to the promotion of the arts in Spartanburg County by means of scholarships for studies in the performing and visual arts.

Learn more about the award and the application process for next year!

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