By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – Laura Williams Ashley is the GumTree Museum of Art’s new executive director, a job that’s been a lifetime in the making.
She can remember showcasing her work at the museum as a young art student.
“There’s a picture of me on my mom’s fridge. I’m in a purple jumper, and I’m standing in front of this wall (in the GumTree Museum) with a little pinch pot cup I’d made,” she said. “I have that memory of showing in an art gallery. I have a feeling that dragged me into the arts. Walking into a space and seeing your work – there’s nothing like it.”
Ashley, a Tupelo native, is a week into her new job. Her predecessor, Liz McIntosh, left the museum earlier this spring.
Ashley, 27, earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Mississippi, and later earned her Master of Fine Arts in ceramics at Alfred University in New York.
She worked at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a job that allowed her to wear many hats. She honed her craft as well as taught, worked with underprivileged kids and planned programming.
“I saw what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.
That was perfect training for her new job at the GumTree Museum. As the only employee, she’ll have to handle many tasks, and that isn’t daunting to her.
“I’m used to that,” she said. “At least here there are no kilns to fix.”
She’s already lined up two events.
The museum will host a senior brunch on Sept. 8. A Theora Hamblett exhibit will open shortly after, with an opening reception on Sept. 11.
Ashley wrote a paper on the late artist Hamblett, who was a lifelong Oxford resident, in college, and she is bringing the exhibit to the GumTree Museum from the University of Mississippi Museum.
She’s secured a sponsor for the show – Tupelo Hardware – and is already thinking about sponsors for upcoming shows.
Ashley was thrilled to return to her hometown and is eager to showcase art made in the South.
“I jumped at the chance to come back to Tupelo. This place really pulled at my heartstrings, to do what I love to do,” she said. “There’s a soul, a spirit, there’s a spice here. It’s in our food and it’s in our art.”