Art as a Lifeline

Julia Franklin sits on the curb of a drive on campus

Professor of Art JULIA FRANKLIN, MFA, has had a big year. Last July, she received one of five Iowa Artist Fellowships through the Iowa Arts Council, beating out 325 applicants.

This once-in-a-lifetime award came with $10,000 and the opportunity to prioritize her art and to participate in exclusive professional development opportunities. It also brought many chances for the Graceland community to experience her work.

Franklin’s exhibit, “Picking Up the Pieces,” was on display from Jan. 14 through March 8 in The Helene Center for the Visual Arts on Graceland’s Lamoni campus. Centered around her father's suicide when she was a teenager and the recent discoveries and mysteries about him and his death, the exhibit addressed mental health and identity by creating works from discarded objects.

While “Picking Up the Pieces” was on display at Graceland, Franklin also gave a talk about the inspiration for the show and even shared a theatrical expression she wrote that offered a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition. The play, “Keeping Up Appearances,” was read by friends and faculty, who took on the roles that told the story of secrets and forgiveness.

OFF THE WALL Franklin notes that Graceland's Facility Services crew has always given her a thumbs up to experiment in the galleries. “They’ve willingly let me roll out turf and grow grass inside, mop the floor with salt water, and build walls and hang wallpaper. They’ve said yes to wild ideas that other galleries wouldn’t support, and it allowed me and my work to move forward.”

“Because of the strength of the Graceland network, I had the courage to be vulnerable and share something that I had kept hidden for too long, and by sharing my secret, art became a bridge that connected me to others who have experienced loss or struggle with mental illness and identity,” she shared of the personal experiences and expression at the center of her artwork over the past year. “I’m grateful for these relationships, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of those at Graceland and in the community.”

Franklin also experienced success and recognition outside of Graceland and Iowa. Two of her artworks were placed on view at the Des Moines Public Library Central Campus, she was featured in a cover story on the state of art in Iowa in the November/December 2018 edition of The Iowan Magazine, her work was featured in the January/ February issue of dsm Magazine, and her work was selected to be included in the 2019 DuMA Biennial at the Dubuque Museum of Art in Dubuque, Iowa.

In her home state of Texas, one of Franklin’s pieces was included in an alumni exhibition at the Fain Fine Arts Center at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and she was featured in an article in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on the same piece, a mixed media work that focuses on her adoption.

Back in Iowa, Franklin was interviewed on a January episode of Iowa Public Radio's Talk of Iowa, where she discussed her experience as an Iowa Art Fellow and the very personal work in "Picking Up the Pieces." Additionally, Franklin gave several artist talks at various venues and events, including at the Let's Center for Healing and Creativity in Washington, Iowa, and on National Coming Out Day at the Des Moines Social Club. Most recently, as a testament to her work and success, Franklin was elected to the board of the Print Club at the Des Moines Art Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

With widespread recognition of all she has accomplished, President Patricia H. Draves expressed her pride in Franklin’s achievements in artistic expression over the last year when she presented her with the Excellence in Scholarly Achievement Award at the Spring 2019 Commencement. But this appreciation has been felt by Franklin’s students all throughout her years teaching at Graceland.

“Julia was the first to introduce me to the possibilities for the art community at Graceland,” shared Alison Lancelotti ’19. “She encouraged me to see something else in the works I created — to take it a step further to encourage progress. Her own passion created an intensity in her teachings that made me excited to go to class every day.”

“Graceland has been the place where I’ve felt comfortable to take risks and do weird things to test the boundaries of art. That has happened because of support from people all over campus.”

Franklin graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking and Sculpture from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls and completed a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Ceramics from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. After working in community outreach and education at the Dallas Museum of Art, she joined the Graceland University faculty in 2001, where she teaches drawing, 3D design, sculpture, experimental media and process, innovation and creativity, ancient to Medieval art history, and modern to contemporary art history.

Photographs and artwork from letters strung across clothesline in an art gallery

The exhibit, "Picking Up the Pieces” (above) was intended to be highly interactive. Franklin's desire was for people to touch things and connect with the story.

"The Iowan" magazine with a story about Julia Franklin and her art exhibit.Franklin's feature in the November/December 2018 edition of The Iowan Magazine (left).