Influential art professor says goodbye to Newman

Feb 14, 2019

Mary Werner, associate professor of art, will retire in May 2019 after 16 years as a part of the Newman community.

Werner was hired as a professor at Newman in 2003 and has impacted the lives of many students, faculty and artists throughout her time at the university. Among her major achievements were revamping and growing the program and enhancing the exhibition activities of the Steckline Gallery.

When Werner started at Newman, there were only three art students.

“The art requirements needed some serious addressing. So, one of the first things I did was look at programs in other schools that were of comparable size and revamp the requirements for the art major,” she said.

The number of students in the program grew as well as the number of options for students. Today, there are seven disciplines offered within the art major including graphic design, which Werner said was added three years after she started.

“I think the most exciting thing that I’ve experienced here is just students,” said Werner. “Knowing students and keeping up with students after they leave. To me, those students who are now grown-ups, that’s the biggest thing and I hope that they’ve taken something I’ve said or done into their life.”

One of Werner’s major accomplishments during her time at Newman was taking charge of Steckline Gallery.

Werner set up a total of 86 exhibits in the on-campus art gallery. Each exhibit required her to call for submissions, review the submissions, work with the artist and hang exhibits, paint and patch the walls after each exhibit and more.

Helping artists present their work in a professional gallery is something she took pride in. She also enjoyed finding and maintaining relationships with the local, national and international artists who held exhibits there.

“We’ve had shows in every discipline, including digital, environmental and installation. We’ve had graffiti, we’ve had all kinds of exhibits that are not just the standard painting on a wall,” she said.

“I think I developed the gallery into something that Newman can be proud of and the Wichita community supports,” she said. To Werner, running the gallery was her way to give back to Newman.

Werner also started the tradition of Art for Lunch — a time when students can listen to a lecture from the artist whose work is currently on exhibit in the gallery.

Werner said one of her favorite experiences was skyping in an artist from Bangladesh for his Art For Lunch talk. “That was pretty awesome … that we could do that,” she said.

The James P. Mesa American Association of University Professors Academic Freedom Award.

One of the proudest moments in Werner’s career, she said, was winning the James P. Mesa American Association of University Professors Academic Freedom Award for the 2015-16 academic year.

Voted on by a faculty committee, the award “academically, and as a teacher, was probably the biggest pat on the back,” Werner said.

The award is given to a faculty member who has shown strong support for students and their ideas.

Werner has the heart of a teacher and, overall, took the most pride in teaching students and building relationships with them. She hopes the person to fill her shoes will continue to build upon what she has done for the art department.