Liz Murphy Thomas finds connection in digital media and photography
Liz Murphy Thomas realized that she had a knack for teaching while she was an undergraduate at the University of Florida and worked as a lab monitor for the photography dark room. She began noticing more and more students approaching her with questions instead of their instructor because they liked the way she explained concepts better.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, but that was probably my first cognizant moment that I should be a teacher,” she said.
Thomas began her career as a traditional photographer and has been “amazed” to discover she’s become a portrait photographer. She is most interested in trying to document the way we as people define ourselves in this world, she said.
“Most artists know from time they're little that they want to be in art, but I was never any good at drawing,” Thomas laughed. “But I was lucky that we had a photography assignment in middle school, and I was actually good at that.”
Thomas received her BFA in photography from the University of Florida and her MFA in photography and digital imaging from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She now teaches digital imaging and digital media classes at UIS and has been traveling the world for her art and her ideas. Most recently, she has been to England twice, Seattle, Alabama, Denmark, Prague and Milan, Italy.
“When I travel, I’m either going to present at conferences about my work and the ideas and concepts behind my work or in support of the exhibition of my work,” she said. “In Milan, I was featured in a gallery there, and the show was actually about Abraham Lincoln. It was funny to go all the way to Italy to talk about Abraham Lincoln.”
When not teaching or traveling, Thomas also serves as director of the Visual Arts Gallery at UIS, which entails developing a schedule of exhibitions for the academic year. This year, there are seven exhibitions as well as the annual benefit and auction for the gallery.
“We try to develop a really broad range of exhibitions and really bring into the Springfield area things people wouldn’t have a chance to otherwise see,” Thomas said. “We try to develop events that enhance the exhibitions or maybe add more information, like lectures or brownbags, to help explain the art. This is a university gallery, so we try to make the experience as educational as possible.”
This year, the gallery is also hosting the Juried Alumni Exhibition, which is held every two years, and spring senior exhibition for senior art majors, which is held annually.
“The whole thing is organized, arranged and hung by the students,” Thomas said. “The senior show is linked to a course called ‘Professional Skills,’ which is a capstone course that all art students take.”
Having the gallery at UIS benefits both students and community members, in addition to giving students experience with arranging a gallery exhibit, Thomas said.
“Part of being an artist is learning about the promotion of your work and display of artwork,” she said. “I think it's very important for the students to have professional gallery experience as part of their education because hopefully some of them go on into the fine arts field, and if nothing else, this is their first opportunity to have a real art display.”