Love of Art Leads to Trip of a Lifetime

Thursday, January 22, 2015
On her first full day in Spain PHS grad Jessica Davis (left) had the chance to tour some of the sights of the central part of the country with other students.(courtesy photo)

The adventure of a lifetime began this week for PHS grad, and current ASU student, Jessica Davis of Piggott. Sunday she boarded a plane for Dallas at the airport in Memphis, and some 19 hours later landed in Madrid, Spain--although her luggage was still trying to catch-up at that point.

Davis, the daughter of Tammy Davis of Piggott and Vernon Davis of Pollard, will remain in Spain for the next four months as she studies art in the famed city of Bilboa. For the talented young lady from Clay County, it is the culmination of years of effort and dreams.

"I was always really, really into art. Mom still has a bunch of drawings I did when I was a little kid," she remembered a few days before her departure. "I was always big into it, even back in elementary school."

During her years in the local school system Davis also benefitted from the guidance of several outstanding art teachers, from both her early and high school years. "I had several art teachers in elementary school, but Loretta McHaffey really encouraged me a lot," she recalled. "She was the first art teacher, who was really quick to encourage me and I really appreciated her-and I was just a little kid at the time. But she had a way of pushing me, but still letting me do what I wanted."

In later years Davis was influenced by another successful art teacher, Jerri Tate of PHS.

"She was definitely a driving force in my life. She was always like essentially a second mother to her kids," she recalled. "She was always really fun with us, really close to us and encouraging us to do what we want to do, but still pushing us."

She also credits Tate with teaching her the basics she needed to develop as an artist. "When you first start in elementary school you do activities over and over but you don't get to learn a lot about the mechanics of art, but when you get to high school it's different," she added. "When I got into my pre-Advanced Placement courses Mrs. Tate was really good about teaching us things about form and value and color and the way those things work and interact with each other."

Her work as a student of Tate's also drew Davis acclaim, as she was named recipient of one of the Clay County Arts Council's scholarships her senior year. "I was also awarded one of the Art Department scholarships from PHS," she added. "I really appreciated the support."

She also notes it was during these years she came to set her life goal. "I knew, once I hit high school art was always my priority. Actually, I could have graduated early but I didn't because I would have had to miss a year of art--and band, I was always fond of band."

Prior to graduating PHS in 2011, Davis was an award winning member of the PHS band program. She also spent the last three years as a member of the ASU "Sounds of the Natural State" Marching Band and Orchestra.

"I didn't start college to be a music major, but I was always in the band program," she explained. "I was always an Art Major, but band was a big part of my first three years."

As one of dozens of former PHS students who have been members of the ASU band program, Davis remained busy those first few years of college. "It's actually very busy being in marching band. I tell people all the time, especially those who want to know why I'm not in now, that I was in marching band and just happened to be a student on the side."

Due to the time required for band, Davis chose to step away from the program after last year in order to spend more time on her art studies. "My first semester I couldn't even get into any of the art classes because they fill-up so quickly," she remembered. "It's a smaller department, with a smaller faculty, so there aren't as many courses offered--or they all end up being offered at the same time. So I ended up doing mostly my general studies. My second semester I got to have my first art class, and it was a drawing class and it was fun, I really enjoyed it."

But, in the years since Davis has put her full attention toward art. "The last two years now I've been in art classes almost solidly and it's been great, I'm really glad I stuck with it," she added. "I was concerned how it was going to go. I started off as Art Education, although I initially felt like I was interested in studio art. But, I was also worried about being able to support myself so I decided to go into Art Ed."

But, after a short time Davis realized being an art teacher was not in her future, and turned her attention back to the basics of studio art. "I took the art classes but as soon as I got into the education classes I kind of figured out it wasn't my thing," she added. "I did eventually switch over to studio art and I'm glad I did. My financial future may not be as certain, but I'm happy with the decision."

With her emphasis back on studio art, Davis turned her focus to painting and drawing and learning more about the trade.

"Actually, I've told people who have asked me what I'm going to do when I get out that I actually have no idea," she shares. "At the same time I didn't really go to college with the intent of developing skills for a career--which is probably not that good of a thing. But, I went more because I wanted to learn more about what I enjoy doing, which is something I don't think a lot of people do anymore."

As part of her college experience Davis also had the urge to travel, leading to this week's trip to Spain. "I knew that I wanted to do some kind of study abroad before I even got into college," she explained. "I know I had toured other colleges and they had things posted, so I was just really interested. In my second semester at ASU I started working in the World Languages and Cultures Department, for my work study."

This afforded Davis the chance to see the process first hand, as the department worked with students in travels associated with their studies in Spanish and French.

"While I was working there I really developed an interest in Spanish," she added. "So, I ended up registering for my first Spanish course the first semester of my second year, and later on I declared that as my minor."

At this point she realized her connections would offer her the perfect opportunity to travel abroad, and began to look into programs and get feedback from students and professors. And, a short time later she began efforts to arrange her own trip, a reality which came to fruition late last year.

"I'm going to Bilboa, which is in the north. It's the area where Spain and France meet along the Bay of Biscay," she notes. "Back in 1997 they built the Guggenheim Museum there, Frank Gehry designed it. It's a world famous building that a lot of people recognize, but probably don't know what it is. It's really cool."

Famous for its climate and as a melting pot of the region, the area is also rich with history.

"It's a port city, and I think for the longest time it relied on commerce and only recently it's started to see a lot more tourism since they built the museum," she adds. "It's a really beautiful place, there's actually two parts of it--the newer area, which is a little more stark and business like. Then, on the other side of the river which divides the city is the old city which has been there since like the 14th century, and I'm really excited to see that."

During the four month trip she'll be attending the University of the Basque Country. She's the only ASU student going to the area, and is the first from the college to use the program through Academic Programs International. "We had a lot of fun working out all the details," she adds with a chuckle.

And, as for her course of study it will continue to center on art. "I'll be taking more art courses, although my schedule's still not set in stone," she explained. "Some of my courses are cleared with ASU already, but I need to work that out to insure I get credit for the courses I'm taking over there."

And, an added bonus in addition to the various museums and historic sites is the weather. "It never really gets much below 40, or above 80, where I'm going," she added. "Right now in Madrid, where I'll be landing, it's in the 50s so I'm excited about leaving the winter weather."

The program also includes several excursions for the students participating, including a visit to England in February and the South of France in March. "They also encourage students to make solo trips, too," she adds.

Davis also looks forward to using the language skills she has acquired at ASU, and refining them for the future. "I'm looking forward to the experience, and I want to better my Spanish language skills," she added. "I've had like four semesters of Spanish, and I'm still not confident in my skills, so that's one of the things which makes me nervous about going. I might be in over my head initially, but the best way to learn a language is immersion, and I intend to return after the semester with a better grasp of the language."

And, along with the language gap Davis will also contend with the distance from home. "My Mom has handled it pretty well, but she has been freaking out some," she explained. "There's something different about being just a couple of hours away from home, or 5,000 miles across the ocean. My boyfriend, Michel, has also been so supportive and understanding."

Davis' significant other Michel Beiard, a Blytheville area native, recently graduated from the engineering school at ASU and will be continuing his professional life during her studies abroad. There's no doubt that he, and the other members of her family, will look forward to her scheduled return on May 24.

"I figure my trip to Spain might delay me graduating from ASU at least a little bit, but I think it's worth it," she surmised of the opportunity.

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