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April 26, 2018
This story appears in the spring 2018 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To access more stories and view the magazine in its entirety online, click here.
The Houston apartment where Randy Twaddle resides is outfitted with art of all kinds, created by him as well as other artists. All of them have unique qualities, but the hutch he constructed from a collection of Topo Chico cartons stands out.
Based on an Ethan Allen hutch his mother owned until her passing in 2016, the piece holds a collection of paper plates and cups with intricate line patterns. Line-based drawings are a specialty for Twaddle, who came up with the idea for the hutch when he needed a way to display the plates and cups for an exhibition.
“There was this aspect of knowing I wanted to show these things at the gallery and then also the aspect of my mother being ill and dying not too long before my show opened,” Twaddle, a 1980 Northwest Missouri State University alumnus, said. In the process of taking care of his mother’s affairs, Twaddle contemplated the idea of inheritance and what he might leave his teenage son. “So between kind of thinking about that and the desire to figure out some way to show these cups, I realized I’ll make a hutch, out of an homage to my mother.”
The cups feature patterns outlining varied leaf-like shapes. He creates the patterns with a basic ballpoint pen, often drawing at his dining table. He thinks of his process as a form of meditation.
“The idea of meditation is to get rid of thought, so I’m trusting my hand, not my head, and the work comes from a different place,” he said. “When I’m making them, I slow myself down because if I’m in a place where I’m just trying to get it finished, then I’m in the wrong place. I’m trying to be present from the beginning of that line to the end of that line.”
|Line drawings Twaddle created on paper cups and
plates were part of a recent exhibit he displayed on a
dining hutch, pictured in the top photo, he made from
In other work, Twaddle incorporates words and phrases into his line drawings. Sometimes he stains his drawings with coffee, saying “I like the way it looks and feels.”
A native of Elmo, Missouri, in northwest Nodaway County, Twaddle initially followed his cousin, Bruce, to attend college at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He had wanted to go to art school, but his high school guidance counselor, who also was his basketball coach, discouraged him.
“I didn’t know any better,” Twaddle said. “I didn’t know that I wanted to do it enough to push through that and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Twaddle felt out of place at Columbia, however, and his mother suggested some art classes at Northwest. Twaddle agreed, starting hesitantly with a jewelry-making course taught by the late Lee Hageman. Hageman became a mentor and the other faculty at Northwest nurtured Twaddle’s interest in art in ways no one else had.
“I had spent a year and half – two years, really – not happy in life, really floundering,” he said. “I walked in this class, first day, and Lee started talking about jewelry-making techniques and their relationship to balance in nature. I sat there and thought, ‘This is the first thing I’ve heard in a year and half that I actually understand,’ and as I walked home from that first class, I knew I’d found it.”
He took a variety of classes and, looking back now, realizes how beneficial the broad curriculum was for him. He took a calligraphy course and uses the skill every day.
“I have really fond memories of being in that department, and there are also times that I think, ‘Man, if I had gone to New York or some place like that.’ I do this calculation of what my career might have been like. It’s hard not to do that, but I learned some things (at Northwest) that I might not have at other places,” Twaddle said. “I had some opportunities there that I might not have had at other places. … We learned how to work. We learned that it takes work to do that. That was an important lesson.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree at Northwest in art in 1980, Twaddle took the advice of a painting instructor and left Maryville for Texas to join the Dallas art scene. He took a job at a frame shop, which happened to be attached to one of the best contemporary art galleries in the southwest.
“There’s a zillion art worlds and this happened to be one that I was really interested in,” Twaddle said. “I worked in the frame shop and I worked in the gallery, and I met a lot of people and it was kind of like graduate school for me. I got to see a lot of work. I was handling work. It was really great.”
In 1989, Twaddle moved to Houston, having established connections there through showing his artwork and attending exhibit openings. Betty Moody, a Houston gallery owner who began representing Twaddle’s work in 1984, continues to showcase his art today.
There was a time, though, when Twaddle became disenchanted with the art business and ended all his gallery affiliations. He learned how to edit video working on a documentary film about the desegregation of Houston’s public housing during the early 1960s. Soon after, in 1998, he co-founded a marketing company that he ran for the next 12 years. He helped create a campaign – “Houston. It’s Worth It.” – that compiled cheeky submissions from Houstonians for the unofficial slogan for the city; the project spawned three books and a photography exhibit. Last year, Twaddle founded a branding and communication company, Small Town.
By 2011, Twaddle was ready to return to the art studio full-time. He responded to a call for an art intervention at the top of a proposed 30-foot tall “Centennial Mount” to be included in the restoration of Houston’s Hermann Park.
His design for benches incorporating three solid, 1,500-pound blocks of Texas limestone was accepted and now lies atop the mount overlooking Hermann Park’s McGovern Centennial Gardens. The sculpture installation, titled “Seed, Trees, People,” greets visitors who walk to the top of the hill with a quote by Confucius: “If you think of a year, plant a seed. If in terms of ten years, plant a tree. If in terms of one hundred years, teach the people.”
“This goes back a little bit to the inheritance thing,” Twaddle said. “This is going to be here a while. So in terms of my son, maybe someday he might bring the grandkids here. I’m pleased with that.”
He added, “The older I get, I’m just really grateful that I was given the talent to do this kind of work. It’s not ego driven. It’s just that somehow I have this talent and I want to express it as well as I can via vehicles for beauty.”
To learn more about Randy Twaddle and his work, visit www.randytwaddle.com.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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