post memorial art reference library

Interview: Clayton Shilling on his “Tour of India”

This month’s exhibit in the Post Art Library features Clayton Shilling’s photographic “Tour of India.” From the Golden Triangle to Auroville, Clayton spent six weeks traveling the country. I had the fortune of asking Clayton the following questions about his tour.

(Jill’s comments/questions are in bold,
whereas Clayton’s are not.)

How long have you been a photographer? Could you tell me a little about your camera set-up? That is, do you work primarily with digital? What are some of your techniques?
I became interested in photography about 8 or 9 years ago. I didn’t own a camera and had been wanting one so I asked for one for Christmas and the interest grew from that point forward. The majority of my experience behind a camera has been in digital although I took a film photography course during my undergrad studies and I have also worked with a Lomography camera which takes film as well.  Mostly, I shoot with a Nikon DLSR camera and I shoot most everything in manual mode which gives the photographer total, free-range control over both the aperture and the shudder speeds.

I read that your tour of India took six weeks. It’s my understanding that when you took this tour, you were five months post-craniotomy. How do you think this experience impacted your outlook as a photographer/traveler?
The initial idea of going to India came to me the days after I had surgery. I was in ICU and in between moments on consciousness I remember laying there planning out my life over the next 4-6 months and a little voice told me to go to India. My original plan was to move to Denver, where I am now but since I didn’t have to be here at any specific time, I set a few “gap months” aside to do this. Obviously I had to clear it with my Dr. and she didn’t have a problem with it. Planning something this big during that time was the perfect distraction. The physical and emotional recovery after something like brain surgery can be so overwhelming and the idea that I had to get better and pull through this so I could go to India was far more appealing than getting better and pulling through this so I could go back to punching the clock and paying bills. It was exciting and motivating and kept my mind in focus.

This exhibit includes 13 photographs. Have you an idea of how many you took from which you selected these 13?
I took around 6,000 photos total but a lot of them were several shots of the same subject taken at different camera settings. I still consider myself to be a novice at photography so I like to take as many shots of something as possible in case I goof up.

Of the photographs in this exhibit, most depict people. What about people appeals to your photographic sensibility?
A lot of what I shoot depends on the country I’m in. Typically I’m more drawn to architecture and landscape photography. During my year abroad in Germany I had a mild obsession with taking photos of people’s homes, historical buildings, and cityscapes all over Europe. Life in poorer countries doesn’t always present the most photogenic settings therefore as a photographer it’s on you to find the expression elsewhere. In India, it was people and daily life. I chose the man in Delhi: Day 1, and the 2 girls with the baby in The Residents of Tamil Nadu because they were all so eager to have their photo taken. That’s one of the things I love most about India. They have no reservations about being photographed.

Interestingly, all of these photographs are close-up. What weighs in your decision to photograph close rather than depict a scene at large?
As I sorted through my photos when I returned I did a lot of cropping and zooming and found there was so much more detail in some of these photos than what I had even noticed while shooting so I guess subconsciously I wanted to include all the vivid detail. Plus, my camera lens has its limits and I find that it shoots better shots when things are a little closer.

Generally, these photographs are very colorful, vivid. ‘Waiting for the Parade’ is the exception. What’s the significance of this photograph being in black and white?
What can I say? Sometimes a photo just looks better with no color at all. It seemed to show better when I turned it black and white. Although I chose 13 different shots, I tried to think of all 13 pieces as one whole piece with a variety of sizes, colors, subjects, etc. and I wanted to include some quiet, small shots to help balance the bigger presentations.

Did you set-out to India with photography/an exhibit in mind or is this something that came later?
I set out on two missions: to backpack and cover as much territory as possible, and to eventually end up in Auroville, an international eco-community in the SE region of India just outside the city of Pondicherry. I had stumbled across this township during my undergrad studies and as an International Studies major, I chose Auroville to write my senior thesis about. I had spent an entire semester researching this interesting little community and felt it was only appropriate to visit after all that work. I packed my camera, naturally, but had not planned to turn it into an exhibit. I spent hours upon hours riding trains, commuting between cities and during that time I would read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to DSLR Cameras and would take the time to practice when I stopped in a new area.

Do you have a favorite among these particular photographs?
The Best Kept Secret is one that is very dear to me. But if I told you why, it wouldn’t be a secret. 🙂

Do you have a memorable moment not depicted in these photographs that you would like to share about your tour of India?
I set aside several times throughout my trip to put my camera down and just enjoy the moment. Often times when you travel somewhere and have photography in mind you can get stuck behind the camera and forget to take in your surroundings and just be in the moment. I would have to say that some of the best memories were those moments when I got a little off the grid and away from the touristy areas. There’s enough going on in India that anyone can find something interesting depending on their taste. If you like the big city environment and the hustle and bustle of city life, India is the place to go. If you’re a history geek and enjoy monuments and museums, they’ve certainly got those too. I took the time to enjoy all those things but renting a small hut a half mile off a small country road and laying and swaying in a hammock all day proved to be the perfect fit for me.

Worn Hard and Hung Wet to Dry

“Tour of India” is on display in the Post Art Library through February 2015–be sure to stop by! To read more about “Tour of India,” visit 

Post Mail Art Projekt Workshop

Greetings! You’re invited to participate in the Post Mail Art Projekt’s Mail Art Workshop, which shall take place on Saturday, November 15th at 2:00pm in the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located at 300 S Main Street, Joplin, Missouri. This workshop is FREE and open to adults 18 and older. Space is limited, so registration is preferred. To register, call the Post Memorial Art Reference Library at 417-782-7678 or email Jill at Please include “MA Workshop” in the subject line and your name in the email proper.

The aim of this workshop is to provide the basic how-to of creating mail art (thus postage will not be provided). Items on hand include: typewriter, cutting mat, rotary cutter, paper cutter, glue sticks galore, tape, colored pencils, sharpies, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, various papers and card stock, select rubber stamps, magazines and other material for collages, memo pads, name badge stickers, receipt books and other bits and pieces. You’re welcome to bring along any other materials that you would like to work with, such as ticket stubs, particular paper, collage material, rubber stamps and so on.

Let us (create) mail art: Saturday, November 15th, 2:00pm, Post Memorial Art Reference Library



Cher’s Fairyland

Once upon a time…. Cher Jiang is an artist from China, where she grew up in the countryside. As such, she didn’t have many friends. “Art was something I could play with. So I made art,” said Cher. Indeed Cher and art have become very good friends over the years. In China, she is known as one of the most popular illustrators for children’s books and her technique is referred to as “Cher’s Style.” Here in Missouri, she’s becoming increasingly known for her imaginative drawings and paintings. Residing in Carthage, Missouri, Cher continues to publish illustrations in China, as well as for Precious Moments. She also makes custom illustrations. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Cher to discuss her art, some of which is currently on exhibit through June at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

My comments/questions are in bold,
whereas Cher’s are not.

You’ve been illustrating for over ten years. What did you do before you became an illustrator?
I was a computer video game designer. I designed characters and made 3-D models on the computer and painted it. I like illustration better. I wish to be an international illustrator.

I see that you like to take photos and recreate the scene using animals. Why do you illustrate the people as animals?
Animals make it more beautiful and happy. I like to use the cute, nice animals.

You’ve created Cher’s Fairyland. Why do you like the fairytale style?
I like fairytale style because I want people to be happy. I turn life into a fairytale.

Could you tell me about your creative process?
I make the drawings and scan them on the computer to add color. Computer drawing is very popular in China. I wanted my unique style. I always draw in pencil first.

Where do you draw?
Everywhere! I’m uncomfortable when I’m not drawing. My husband drives, I draw in the car. I draw at dinner, on vacations. Once it’s done, I move on to the next one. I enjoy the process, but when I’m done I’m thinking of new things I can draw.

How do you add the color to the illustrations?
I use Photoshop to add color.

Why do you prefer to add color on a computer?
I like to do it on the computer because the colors are more vivid. Sometimes when you scan a painting the colors do not turn out.

But you also paint. Could you tell me about the paintings in this exhibit?
These are mixed media of acrylic, oil and Chinese watercolor.

Your art often brings together Eastern and Western elements.
Yes, my characters are more Western looking because I like [the diversity of] Western style. But my technique is more Eastern. I have one of the Phelps House [a local historically significant home] with water lilies. The water lilies are very Chinese.

The Phelps House is but one of many local/historical structures in your art. What are some others?
Fantastic Caverns, Silver Dollar City, the Neosho Fish Hatchery, Red Oak II and the Carthage Courthouse.

Most of your illustrations are published in China as magazine covers. And you’ve illustrated a Chinese children’s book. Have you illustrated any books in English?
I have illustrated one, but it’s not published yet.

How is your art viewed in China compared to here? Are the same pieces popular?
I think it’s viewed about the same. The tree house is the most popular.

Which is your favorite piece?
My favorite always is my next one!

Why art?
It’s a way to show others how I see the world.

To see the world from Cher’s enchanted perspective or to learn more about her Art Services, visit Cher’s Fairyland at & like her on Facebook at

Greetings! from Joplin, Missouri

Recall days bygone when travelers documented their journeys and friends shared status updates via postcard. Imagine, if you will, that hundreds–perhaps thousands–of such cards were published to promote Joplin and its development. Imagine no more: the Joplin Public Library’s digitized collection features a touch over 500 such historical postcards. An array of subjects range from buildings to churches to eateries to lodging to mining to parks to recreation to schools and so on. Along with the postcards are their descriptions. Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, wrote the details that accompany each postcard included in the digitized collection. I recently met with Leslie to ask a few questions…

Jill’s questions/comments are in bold,
whereas Leslie’s are not.

How did you become involved in this project?
Carolyn Trout, who was the director of the Joplin Public Library at the time, wanted to do a digitization project. The postcard collection is a part of that project. It was a collaboration among the public library and the Post Library.

Who provided the postcards? Did you put out a call for postcards or seek collections that you knew existed?
We put out a newspaper notice inviting people to share their postcards. Brad Belk [of the Joplin Museum Complex] allowed us to go through the museum’s collection. Some were bought on Ebay. We also sought out people who had collections and asked to borrow them.

How many postcards did you all have to choose from?
We started with 1,000 and narrowed it down to a little over 500.

Your primary role was to write the postcards’ descriptions. How long did you conduct research and how so?
At least a year. I worked hard to specify the date of each image. Each postcard has a publisher’s code. I researched these codes to determine when they were in use and to date the cards. And I was able to date cards by the cost of postage at the time or by each card’s style and type.

When you were going through the postcards, which were the most interesting?
My favorites were the postcards with inscriptions, anything personal. One of the mining ones that I can remember had an arrow drawn to the mine with “This is how we make our money” written nearby.

What do you think it says about Joplin that such a plethora of postcards documents its development?
Well, Joplin WAS the most happening place in Missouri at the turn of the century! There was so much excitement about the fortunes to be made, not just in mining but in all the services to go along with that–dynamite companies, machinery works, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc. People came from all over the US to get in on the action. Postcards were also marketing tools–Joplin civic leaders could show off what Joplin had to offer. Theaters, churches, libraries, public buildings, etc.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve this collection for posterity?
There’s so much history there that’s not really in the history books. The parks, for instance. They were resort areas and amusement parks unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We get a glimpse into how people lived. The downtown scenes are fascinating snapshots into everyday life. We get to travel back in time!

Indeed we do:






Crystal Cave

Discovered in 1893, Joplin’s Crystal Cave was a popular destination for some time. Located 80 feet below the surface at 4th Street and Gray Avenue, it measures 225 feet in length and its cavern is completely bedazzled with giant crystals. Formally opened to the public in 1908, one could take in the wonder by purchasing a ticket and following a tour guide down a long flight of wooden stairs. Or perhaps one was lucky enough to be invited to a private party or attend an occasional dance. This “subterranean dance hall” fell out of step when local mining ceased, as it became full of groundwater. All access to the cave was sealed and so it remains.

Visit the Post Memorial Art Reference Library for more information on Crystal Cave, as well as Joplin’s other historical wonders.

Preview: Post Mail Art Projekt

Toward the end of twenty-thirteen, I became increasingly interested in mail art. After perusing a couple of books on the topic and concluding brief (albeit scientific) research via the Internet, I was taken. Taken not only by the intrigue of the pieces themselves, but by the potential for marrying art and accessibility, art and activism. That, along with the fun of creating and the flattery of receiving tangible correspondences, led to thoughts, ideas, conversations and collaborations, all of which led to the conception of the Post Mail Art Projekt. Initially, the project began as a Facebook group which encouraged members to correspond creatively via the postal service. As interest grew, the project evolved into a formal call for mail art. Following is a sampling of responses to the call:

via Portland
via Portland
via Roland Halbritter (Germany)
via Roland Halbritter (Germany)
Found (Joplin Public Library)
Found at the Joplin Public Library
via Stefano Fossiant Sini (Italy)
via Stefano Fossiant Sini (Italy)
via Leslie Simpson (Missouri)
via Leslie Simpson (Missouri)
via Robert Ridley-Shackleton (UK)
via Robert Ridley-Shackleton (UK)

Thus concludes the preview. Kindly save the date for the exhibit proper, which is throughout January 2015 in the Post Memorial Art Reference Library in Joplin, Missouri. A special thanks to Leslie, the director of the Post Library, and many thanks to all for your mailings. This is the type of project that is the brainchild of any and all involved, as each entry collected shifts and shapes the scenery. That said, I await your response to the call (through 1 December 2014) at Post Mail Art Project, Post Memorial Art Reference Library, 300 S Main Street, Joplin, MO, 64801. Good day…