Professional artist and professor enjoys helping others stretch boundaries
There aren’t enough hours in the day for Berrisford Boothe ’83. As a painter, printmaker, and installation artist, he wishes he had more time for his own creations, but his dedication to teaching and passion for watching his students succeed redirects his focus.
An associate professor of art at Lehigh University, Boothe believes it’s important for him to walk the walk, leading his students by example. Being a professional artist gives him credibility in the classroom.
“It keeps me legitimate,” he says. “I believe art is a verb. It’s something you’re doing, looking, making, thinking, executing. To package the idea of art and the idea of being creative as some sort of static place without a continual relationship to making art is an invalid way to profess.”
Boothe is represented by galleries in New York City and Philadelphia. He has mounted 10 solo exhibitions and been part of more than 60 group exhibitions nationwide. His work is part of public and private collections nationwide and in South America. Boothe’s career has been presented in Fine Artist’s Guide to Marketing and Promotion and Halima Taha’s Collecting African American Art. He was one of 100 artists nationwide featured in Robert Wuthnow’s book Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist.
The insight he’s gained throughout his career allows him to offer practical advice and support to students experiencing obstacles or difficulties with their artwork for the first time.
“The path to any kind of creative art is to develop it,” he says. “Ultimately, it involves the willingness to be honest about your process and evolution in that process. And so as you mature as an artist, you come to terms with certain truths. To be able to articulate that to a new generation of students, to people who haven’t spent the time to discover those things, means that the information you’re passing to them for the development of their professional selves is proven and has real value. There’s nothing like reminding them that the conceptual and psychological and perceptual hurdles they encounter are also part of your dialogue on a daily basis, so although you have greater experience, there’s equity in the struggle that makes it more valid for them to get engaged in artmaking.”
Boothe encourages his students to take their artistic skills and apply them in fields not traditionally associated with the arts. One of his proudest achievements is serving as one of the three founders of Lehigh’s integrated product development course of study. The program brings together top undergraduates from engineering, design, and business to work for corporations on the development of products.
“We do the front-end development research work, which allows students to use knowledge against each other as undergraduates before they get into the real world,” he explains. “The reality of this time is that the notion of artmaking is so wide open. I’m very pro creative enterprise, but I’m having a blast watching how they convert the currency of the knowledge they get from me into entrepreneurial opportunities.”
Dedicated teachers at Lafayette inspired Boothe to be the same kind of mentor for his own students. He believes Lafayette’s art faculty was first class even before the College had the state-of-the-art facilities to match.
“I’ve committed myself to teaching because of the commitment to me by people like Ed Kerns, Clapp Professor of Art; Robert Mattison, Metzger Professor of Art; and Diane Ahl, Rothkopf Professor of Art History,” says Boothe. “I give a large part of my dedication to Michiko Okaya, director of the Williams Center art gallery, who would bring in top-tier artists providing me with a sensibility that being an artist was a lifestyle, not just the ability to make pictures. Certainly, when I talk about people who have resonance over time, June Schlueter, Dana Professor of English, impressed upon me the good use of language. A large part of my political and intellectual being was shaped by George Panichas, Hogg Professor of Philosophy, who is now my neighbor. He’s also a photographer, and in my career as a photographer, I’m always interested in his opinion. These people knew a lot of who I was, good and bad, and elected to impress upon me their faith in the kind of person I could become. In that sense, beyond the bricks and mortar and school spirit, is the real impact of individuals who change your life. I feel an obligation to return that to the students I’ve worked with over the years.”
Boothe has collaborated on projects with Kerns and fellow alumni. He also has served as a visiting artist in residence at the Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) with Curlee Holton, professor of art and director of EPI, and worked with Jim Toia, director of the art department’s community-based teaching program.
“I stay connected because there are a lot of people whom I respect on a professional level,” says Boothe. “Lafayette is intelligent enough to retain the best in their fields and encourage them to continue to grow.”