Bayou Artist | Sculpted Through the Arts
article by STARLA GATSON
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Ask high school-aged Stacy Thomas Medaries what she thought she’d be doing with her life, and the Monroe native probably would have guessed she’d be popping corn and tearing ticket stubs at the Pecanland Mall movie theater forever. At the time, she didn’t think she was good enough to attend college classes. The idea of teaching them, as she does now, wasn’t even in the realm of possibility for her.
Medaries admits that when she was a teenager attending Ouachita High School, she wasn’t exactly a star student.
“I daydreamed a lot in class, skipped class, drank, hung out with the not-good crowd, and was, therefore, failing,” she tells BayouLife.
Somehow, she made it to the finish line and earned a diploma. High school graduation would be the end of her academic career, Medaries thought. But that thought was short-lived. Not long after finishing high school, Medaries decided to enroll in a local vocational-technical program. She credits the Ford Pinto she drove at the time — it was her first car, purchased for $800 of her movie theater money — for inspiring this choice.
She explains that her car broke down occasionally, and when it did, she felt helpless. Besides, she adds, “I was always amazed at people who could open the hood, look at the car, and figure out what was wrong with it. Since I wasn’t doing much with my life, I thought maybe I could learn a little bit about a car.”
So, to remedy her helplessness, satisfy her curiosity about gearheads, and give her something to do, Medaries began attending automotive mechanics classes. She went to them for about two years, and during that time, she not only learned to fix her poor little Pinto. She also developed the self-confidence she’d lacked before.
“In high school, I thought I couldn’t do or achieve anything,” she says. “When I approached everything in that mechanics class, I had the same attitude. But I tried, and I’d always do it. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”
If she could find success in one field, she reasoned she could do it in another. She decided it was time to step away from automotive repair and into something she’d long been fascinated by: art.
“My interest in art started during high school,” she shares. “I always drew and doodled in my notebook, and after I graduated, I started drawing more from magazines and things like that. I always liked it, and I felt like it came easily to me.”
Medaries began studying art at the University of Louisiana Monroe and, a year later, at Louisiana Tech University. As both a Warhawk and a Bulldog, Medaries was challenged. But instead of backing down as her high school self might have, she eagerly rose to the occasion.
“I loved classes where I would go in and feel intimidated at first,” she says. “I challenged myself to be one of the better students in [them]. One of the things they teach is that, if you want to be an artist, you’ve got to be disciplined. And that’s what I did. I was determined.”
Medaries’s determination carried her through an undergraduate and graduate degree program — she holds an MFA in ceramics because, post-undergrad, there were still “a lot of things [she] wanted to try” in that medium — and it’s the force by which she operates as an artist today. She’s a sucker for a challenge, and the works she began making while and after earning her second degree are proof of that.
“I wanted to build huge pieces. I bought like 3,000 pounds of clay and built it up to a piece that was around 10 feet tall. I sculpted it, hollowed it out, and put it together. In the end, it was seven feet tall. It was the biggest, most challenging piece I’ve ever done,” she remembers before adding with a laugh, “I’ll never do anything like that again.”
Medaries’s seven-foot sculpture now lives at the Monroe Airport, and though she won’t be making anything else that large, she challenges herself in other ways. One is through teaching.
After earning an MFA, Medaries began teaching, first at Morehouse Parish Junior High, then at Ouachita Parish Talented Art Program, and finally, at Louisiana Delta Community College, where she’s been on staff for the last 17 years or so. Stepping into the role of professor for the first time is already daunting enough. Factor in being an institution’s first-ever instructor in a field, and you’ve got an extra-challenging situation. Fortunately, Medaries lives for those.
“I taught the very first art class ever at Delta,” she says. “I wrote and developed all the classes and got a lot of equipment.”
The Louisiana Delta Art Department Medaries pioneered and continues to serve isn’t large, as most of the school’s attendees are there to pursue other fields. Medaries says she teaches ceramics and sometimes drawing, but most of her classroom hours are spent teaching a general education art appreciation course. That’s been “challenging [her] in different ways,” she reveals.
When she isn’t teaching at Delta, Medaries continues creating work. Her work spans multiple mediums, from painting to ceramics to wire wrapping. She even has plans to venture into the world of metalsmithing. The artist declares she doesn’t like to be pinned to any certain medium. And that makes things — you guessed it — more challenging. Just the way she likes them.
“I just like to get in and create,” she says of her art practice. “I don’t like to know what I’m going to create. I just like to get in and start doing something. To me, it’s always an exploration. I love the journey, and I love the surprises that happen along the way.”
Those “surprises” are also known as Medaries’s pieces, and in addition to spanning a variety of mediums, they cover a range of themes.
“Some of my work is not so serious,” she explains, “It’s fun, funky, kind of weird, and expresses my sense of humor. And sometimes, I create works that are a little more serious. I love my pieces that are very spiritual and deep, but on a different level [than those that are not.]”
Regardless of what Medaries is making and the message it shares, the intention she set while creating it remains the same: to make work driven by personal passion, not sales-worthiness.
“I want to create pieces that I feel passionate about,” she says. “I hope that somebody will like them and want to buy them, but I don’t want to care.”
This mindset doesn’t come naturally for the artist — her college years were about being the best — but she is determined to shift her thoughts until they reflect it. It’s a challenge, but surely by now, we all know how Medaries feels about those.
“[Being the best] can’t be the reason you create art,” she says, explaining her desire to create for creating’s sake. “You’ve got to create art because you know nothing else. That is where I want to be as an artist. I don’t want to create art to sell it or for fame. I want to create art that I’m passionate about and that speaks of and to me. If nobody likes or wants it, that’s fine.”