An alumna launches a blossoming summer arts program in Cullowhee


As a child, artist Norma Hendrix MA ’01 enjoyed bringing forth something new from what she found around her. Velveeta cheese boxes became a train. Fabric scraps and glue became soft sculptures. Now, from her passion for creating, studying and discussing art, her more than 30 years experience as a multimedia artist, art educator and art administrator, and her love of Western North Carolina, Hendrix has created a summer arts immersion experience on WCU’s campus. As director of Cullowhee Mountain ARTS, she coordinates a series of one-week summer artist workshops in a superb facility in an inspiring setting.

Norma Hendrix

Norma Hendrix MA ’01 pauses from creating her own works of art to coordinate the summertime Cullowhee Mountain ARTS program on the WCU campus.

“The entire Western Carolina University campus has become a jewel in Western North Carolina,” said Hendrix. “What better time to create a vibrant summer arts program that highlights what we have here?”

Cullowhee Mountain ARTS hosted more than 600 participants from across the country during its inaugural summer season last year. Artists immersed themselves in painting, drawing, printmaking, book arts, ceramics, photography and mixed media. They made art, viewed art, talked about art, watched art demonstrations, networked with other artists and enjoyed art in guided museum visits. Children enjoyed a one-week art camp titled “Friendly Monsters and Created Creatures.”

The program’s homebase is WCU’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, which celebrated its grand opening in 2005 and features classrooms, studios and galleries as well as a Fine Art Museum and 1,000-seat performance hall. Phyllis Jarvinen MA ’80 MFA ’10, who assisted last summer, said participants left impressed. “It was such a pleasure to introduce new artists to the fabulous studio spaces I had the pleasure of enjoying while studying for my MFA,” said Jarvinen.

Participants also gave high marks to the setting, the attention to detail and the quality of the instructors. “We invite artists with national and international reputations for their artwork and for their teaching excellence,” said Hendrix. “Students leave feeling they gained on all levels.”

In addition to learning from top instructors, Dawn Behling MFA ’09, who assisted with a painting techniques workshop, and Myriah Strivelli ’12, who took a bookbinding course and assisted with a cold wax painting class and monoprint workshop, said they also gained insights from interacting with other artists. Strivelli said artists would talk over an afternoon coffee and pick-me-up snack and during breaks between hours dedicated to making art. “This was an educational workshop that was beneficial to my professional art business, yet at the same time, a fun and exciting art vacation getaway where you meet many other artists,” said Strivelli.

This summer, participants are coming from as far as California and South America. In 2014, programming will expand to include creative writing. Newton Smith, a WCU professor emeritus in English and chair of the Cullowhee Mountain ARTS board, said the program is not only good for Cullowhee but also provides an opportunity to show off what the university has to offer. Smith commended Hendrix for her commitment to making it happen.

“Norma always had an interest in being able to develop the sense of community with arts and always felt like the arts were an integral part of any community,” said Smith.

Hendrix earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Ohio University and graduate degrees from WCU and Johnson State College in Vermont. At WCU, she taught at the undergraduate and graduate level, and she formerly served as director of Studio 598, an art teaching studio in Sylva for children and adults, and director of education at the Bascom Art Center in Highlands.

“It was my education in art school and college and coming back as a nontraditional graduate student that awakened my passion for not only making art but also expanding my knowledge of it,” said Hendrix. “Artists are in a sort of visual conversation with all the art made throughout history and the art being made in their own time. It is this dialogue that is completely compelling to me. As an educator, it is a joy to bring others into the conversation.”

Spend the summer in Cullowhee

Visit for more information and a schedule of workshops and classes. WCU alumni are eligible for a $100 discount on 2013 Cullowhee Mountain ARTS programs.