Getting Personal: Peggy Shaw


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Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, Peggy Shaw, an artist and an associate professor of art and design at Parkland College, chats with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli. Shaw received a bachelor's of fine arts degree in painting from the University of Illinois and a master's of fine arts degree in photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her work will be part of the 2016 Parkland College Art and Design Faculty Exhibition, which is on view from Monday through Sept. 17 at the Giertz Gallery. She also will give a lecture at noon Sept. 7 at the gallery.

You are an artist who works in both photography and video. How did that come about?

I've always worked in a zigzag more than a straight line. I was a painting student that did photography and then a photography student that did video. My work has always involved layering images and manipulating materials: film, fabric, hair, dirt, eggshells, thorns, and now, video and sound. Embracing it all means I have what I need to push my ideas.

How long have you worked at Parkland and what courses do you teach there?

I began working at Parkland as a video producer. Then I left to pursue a business, but returned when I was given the opportunity to teach and build the photography curriculum. I teach film and digital photography, and studio and field video production. For students pursuing an associate degree in photography, I also teach internship and portfolio courses to help them become professionals.

How do you balance the work you do for yourself and the work you do for your students?

Both fuel the other. For example, when I became a drum student, I experienced again what it feels like to be a beginner, and being sensitive to that made me a better teacher. I tell my students about my struggles and how uncomfortable it can be to not be good at something, but also the progress that can come from hard work. My hope is that professionally and personally I model for them what it means to persevere and inspire them to do the same — and do their best.

Congratulations on your Illinois Community College Trustees Association Faculty of the Year Award. You have won quite a few awards. Which ones are the most meaningful to you?

One, the faculty award is an honor because I so respect my colleagues. But for me, the best part was having my students be proud of me, and all the hard work we do together. Community college students who choose art and photography are truly special, and I couldn't do the work I do without those cool students in my classes.

Two, the fellowship award I got from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago meant a lot to me because as a student, I was very serious and worked all the time — often passing on opportunities to mix and network with other students, professors and visiting artists. I was kind of an unknown art dork, so it felt good to be awarded for my work that was deeply authentic to me in an art culture that sometimes leans toward hip and trendy.

When did you become interested in photography? What was your first camera?

When I was in first grade, my sister got a darkroom kit for her birthday, and to me, it was like witnessing magic and I started taking pictures. I took photography in high school and got a job to earn money to buy a 35mm camera. Our local camera store was a hangout for knowledgeable male photographers (intimidating), so the day I walked in with cash and bought my Mamiya Sekor, it felt like I had earned my way into a club.

Who were your most important mentors along the way?

I don't have specific mentors, but I have many people who have helped and inspired me — people who work hard, take their art seriously and sacrifice to do it. Sharing this drive and passion pushes me to do my best.

What's your best piece of advice for someone who wants a creative life?

Embrace the possibilities arms wide open: pay attention, listen closely, be brave, put your idea out there and then do it again. For me, if it's not challenging, it isn't creative.

What interests you the most right now?

I am happier when I am driven, so I work hard: make art, play drums, bike, write and rescue baby redbud trees when necessary. I like big cities, great lakes and unfamiliar landscapes, so I spend a lot of time on the road whenever I can. Might sound strange, but I love the activity of thinking, so long open highways really work for me.