Meet our graduate students!
Ryan Akers is a graduate student in painting, with an assistantship. His painting, Penteco$t, was selected for the Director’s Award in the biennial 44th Montgomery Art Guild Museum Exhibition (2021). Akers organized and curated the online exhibition What You Unlearn.
Riley Balzer is a graduate student in art history, with an assistantship. Balzer received the BA in art history with a minor in French and Francophone studies from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2017. As a senior, she presented at UA’s 22nd Annual Graduate Student Symposium in Art History (March 2017) in the undergraduate poster session. She worked as a curatorial intern under the current assistant director of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture during 2016-2017 academic year. In 2013, she served as an intern for the East Tennessee Historical Society, Knoxville. Balzer was also a professional ballroom dance instructor. Balzer’s interests in art history lie primarily in the Renaissance/Baroque period. Her senior research paper, “Artemisia Gentileschi: Criticisms of the Feminist Perspective,” looked at the ways early feminist scholars may have done more harm to Gentileschi’s artistic reputation than they intended. Balzer sought to show changes in feminist scholarship since that time. At the end of her senior year, she was recognized as the top graduating art history major at UT-Knoxville.
Nathan Childers is a graduate student in painting and has been awarded a UA Graduate Council Fellowship for 2021-2022. He received a BFA in painting, cum laude, from the University of West Georgia. Childers recently won an honorable mention at the Georgia Watercolor Society 42nd National Exhibition in Carrollton, Georgia. His work has been juried into Ink Only III National Juried Print Biennial, Durbin Gallery, Birmingham-Southern College. Childers writes that he “is a contemporary Southern LGBTQ artist whose paintings aim to honor people and places that might not otherwise receive a second look by taking the time to faithfully render and appreciate all their wrinkles and rust and the stories behind them.” His exhibitions include Art Fields (2020 and 2021), Georgia Watercolor Society 42nd National Exhibition, Mark Arts Oil Painting National Exhibition and Kansas Watercolor Society National Exhibition. Childers has also participated in one- and three-person shows at Lowe Mill Arts in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Carrollton (Ga.) Center for the Arts.
Zoe Fitch is a graduate student in painting, with an assistantship. She has a BFA in painting from the University of Mississippi. In her work, Fitch experiments with large-scale figurative pieces in mixed media including acrylic paint, paper, pattern and text. Fitch presented her master of arts thesis exhibition, It’s Canning Season, in the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art in Garland Hall on UA campus in April and May of 2021. In April 2021, Fitch’s painting Domestic Female on View won Best of Show in The In Art Gallery’s Non-Traditional Exhibition, juried in along with her painting, Extension of Her Hand. Fitch’s paintings Mississippi Migrant Mother and Bless Your Heart were juried into The In Art Gallery’s Painting Exhibition.
Molly Lay is a graduate student in sculpture, with an assistantship. Lay received a BA in studio art from Samford University and studied a semester at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. She held an internship at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Education and Community Engagement and worked as a curator for the Great Explorations Children’s Museum in Saint Petersburg, Fla.
Parker Hunt is a graduate student in ceramics. Hunt has exhibited in national and regional juried exhibitions and has served as an artist assistant at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (Tenn.); visiting artist at Carlow University, Pittsburgh, Penn.; artist-in-residence at the Walnut Gallery and at Mary G. Hardin Center of Cultural Arts, both in Gadsden.
Ashleigh McCool Junkin is a graduate in art history, with an assistantship. Her areas of concentration are 19th- and 20th-century American photography. Junkin received the BA from UA in 2021 where she majored in art history and minored in the Blount Scholars Program. She will present her research paper, “Picturing Oppression: Spectacle and the African American Body in Turn of the Century Medical Photography,” at the 2021 SECAC conference in Lexington, Kentucky, in the session, Dark Amusements: Turn-of-the-Century American Spectacles and Race.
Rebecca Lowery is a graduate student in art history, in the Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP). In May 2021, Lowery received her BA in art history from UA, with minors in Italian and anthropology. Her area of interest is Early Modern Italian art and in 2019 she studied abroad in Florence, Italy, at the Lorenzo de Medici Institute where she served as a tour guide at churches, including Santa Maria del Fiore, San Miniato al Monte and Santa Croce. Lowery worked to conserve various Etruscan ceramics through the Center for Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies in Florence, Italy.
Juan Lopez-Bautista is a professor of biology, working toward an MFA in painting. In 2021, He had two paintings published in the juried artist book Studio Visit, vol. 47, 2020. Produced by the publishers of the magazine New American Paintings, Studio Visit selects artworks by jury and introduces new and emerging artists to the art world.
Upneet Kaur Mair is a graduate student in printmaking, with an assistantship. She holds a BFA in painting from Central India School of Fine Arts, Nagpur, India. Kaur Mair has exhibited her work in China, India and the United States. She will present her MA thesis show in the spring of 2021. Her large silkscreen and relief print on muslin (54 x 92 inches), titled Welcome to the Club, part of her MA exhibition, was selected for publication in the August 2021 issue of The Hand: A Magazine for Reproduction-Based Art.
Sarah Murphree is a graduate student in art history, with an assistantship. They received the BA from UA in 2020 with a double major in art history and studio art with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program. They did their undergrad academic work within the University Honors Program. Their research projects included “Reclaiming the Black Female Body in Art,” and research on the history and gentrification of the banjo for the class Art of the African Diaspora (ARH 378). Murphree has also created three cast bronze sculptures for the Tuscaloosa Monster Makeover Project and assisted Professor Craig Wedderspoon with the construction of the Tuscaloosa and Alabama Bicentennial sculpture projects.
Kole Nichols is a graduate student in printmaking, with an assistantship. He assists in printmaking and color theory courses. Nichols holds a BFA from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has interned with artist Sara Garden Armstrong, assisted photographer Kenwyn Alexander, and taught drawing classes at Space One Eleven in Birmingham.
Lizzie Orlofsky is a graduate student in art history, with an assistantship. Her interests include twentieth-century American art, specifically the artwork of Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as gender studies and the semiotic relationship between text and image. In June 2021, she presented her research at the virtual Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) Festival hosted by the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. Her presentation, “The Soul’s Sensational Journey Through the Portal at Kilpeck Church,” stems from her research during a graduate seminar on medieval portal sculpture taught by Dr. Jennifer Feltman. Orlofsky graduated summa cum laude from Troy University with a BS in studio art and a minor in cultural studies. Before coming to UA, she served as a curatorial intern at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts where she helped curate the exhibition Zelda (canceled due to Covid-19). She was a recipient of The University of Alabama Graduate Council Fellowship in 2020-2021 and recently won second place in the Harrison Award for Excellence in Research for her presentation at the UA-UAB 26th Annual Graduate Student Symposium.
Shivam Pawar is a graduate student in printmaking, with an assistantship. Pawar teaches 2D Design (ART 130) and assists in Drawing I courses. He holds a BFA in painting from Central India School of Fine Arts in Nagpur, India. Pawar has exhibited his work in exhibitions around the world, from India to New York and Alabama. His collagraph with chine-collé Hardwork was selected by juror Alison Saar for the International Print Center’s exhibition Umbra: New Prints for a Dark Age in 2019. His print was juried into the Fourth International Printmaking Biennial in Čačak, Serbia. Two works by Pawar were chosen for publication in the August 2021 issue of The Hand: A Magazine for Reproduction-Based Art.
Olivia Sims is a graduate student in art history and has been awarded a UA Graduate Council Fellowship for 2021-2022. Sims’ concentration is in 19th-century European art, in Track 2 of the program and she will work toward the certificate in museum studies. She received a BA in studio art and a minor in art history, summa cum laude, from Jacksonville State University. Sims presented her research paper, “A Socio-Feminist Approach to Emily Mary Osborn’s Nameless and Friendless,” virtually at SECAC 2020. Her paper “A Discussion of the Guggenheims: The Links between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao” received Best Undergraduate Paper at Jacksonville State University’s Student Symposium in 2020. Sims curated the exhibit, “The History of Etowah County,” for the Gadsden (Ala.) Museum of Art, in 2019 during an internship at the museum, where she was later hired as the business manager. Her artwork was part of the international exhibition, “Tiny Sketchbook Project,” at the Brooklyn Art Library in Brooklyn, New York, and has been shown in exhibitions at Hammond Hall Gallery at Jacksonville State University. Sims enjoys illustrating, creating mixed media art pieces, rollerblading, and playing the French horn and mellophone.
René Thompson is a graduate student in painting and is working toward a certificate in museum studies. She held her MA thesis exhibition in March 2021, Synaptic Transmission. Her work was selected for the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art’s new national juried exhibition, Emergence (June 2021), the online In Art Gallery, and for Open Exhibition at the Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery in July 2021, among other exhibitions. Thompson holds an MA in general studies and a BA in art with a minor in art history from Auburn University Montgomery, where she also serves as an adjunct instructor.
Sandra Vega is a graduate student in printmaking, with an assistantship. She has a BFA from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Odessa. Vega assisted in the NEA-funded program Pots-n-Prints mobile studio (featured in the Washington Post) that traveled to rural areas in southwest and west Texas, teaching students silkscreen printing, etching and ceramics. She presented her MA thesis exhibition, Caminos de Identidad, in the spring of 2021. In August, her work was selected for the online exhibition Textures & Patterns at Las Lagunas Gallery in Las Lagunas, California.
Julie Weber is a graduate in art history, with an assistantship. Her concentrations are in modern and contemporary art history, in Track 2 of the program and will work toward the certificate in museum studies. Weber received the BFA in photography in 2012 from UA, graduating magna cum laude. After working in arts administration for several years, she said that she wants to “work closely with artists, specifically younger, emerging artists, as a museum curator or exhibition designer.”
Allison Wood is a graduate student in art history. She holds a BFA in photography from Jacksonville State University.
Read news articles about our graduate and undergrad students here.