Member Spotlight: Cheryl Mitchell
Alumna and Arlington native Cheryl Mitchell ’07 radiates Maverick spirit as one of UT Arlington’s own lecturers and collections specialists. Although ultimately successful, her path surely was not traditional.
Mitchell graduated from Sam Houston High School and attended Tarrant County College, intending to focus on marine biology. When she lost interest in her studies, she left college to accept a job offer to move to California from her employer, Toni & Guy. In California, she took on a second job as a stunt woman. This path eventually led her back to Texas, where she gave birth to her son and decided to settle down and earn a degree. She discovered a passion for art history that compelled her to earn an associate’s degree from TCC and continue her education at UT Arlington.
After she earned her bachelor of arts in art history at UT Arlington, she pursued her masters in London at the University of Glasgow. As a full-time student of Christie’s Education program, she had extensive sight training, field training and studied alongside historic artifacts.
Mitchell says that she has always been venturesome, and she believes that her unique career path has made her who she is today. She and her son moved to London for school with a dream to see the world. During the course of the yearlong program, she had the experience that she had hoped for.
“You end up meeting so many different people from different avenues and lifestyles. I will tell you one thing, they all love Texans!,” she says.
When she returned home in 2009 to an economic collapse, she found herself back at an old job, waitressing at J. Gilligan’s, to pay the bills. She decided to return to campus one day to remind herself why she initially began to love art and art history. While there, she ran into Dr. Vaccaro, a professor responsible for training her during her undergraduate career. Vaccaro told her that they needed an adjunct professor.
“It was fate opening a door,” Mitchell says.
She is now responsible for managing an African art exhibit on display in the Visual Resource Commons (VRC) on the second floor of the fine arts building. The collection was donated by the current biology chair, Dr. Campbell and his successor, Dr. Brodie. The exhibition has been in transition, with additional pieces being contributed since the display’s establishment.
Mitchell explains that donors often have a hard time donating pieces because of the sentimental attachment they associate with them, so sometimes it times a while to complete an exhibit. She is thankful that Campbell and Brodie recognize the value of a collection.
“In truth, it’s not the piece by itself that holds the value, it’s the history,” she says.
Mitchell points excitedly to the Buffalo headdress hanging on the wall, eager to describe the piece’s story. According to Mitchell, Dr. Campbell was on a safari in the middle of Africa, and was ambushed and carjacked. The thieves took everything except for things that they didn’t want. Accustomed to seeing the headdress, they didn’t desire to take it. Campbell began to walk across the bush, vulnerable to wild animal attack, sporting the headdress on his head. He safely returned, bringing the headdress home as a souvenir.
“It’s not just about the monetary value of the piece, and that’s one of the big things I try to get across when gathering a collection,” Mitchell says.
She says that the collection is still in development. The collection is much larger than the sample displayed in the VRC, so she is seeking supplementary space, funds and support from the community to help the exhibit expand.
Mitchell says that she loves art and loves teaching it. She enjoys the diversity of students that UT Arlington has given her the opportunity to work with, and she is enthusiastic about inviting them to work alongside artifacts like she did as a student.
As a student, she held membership in the Art History Student Union (AHSU), operating as the club’s vice president, fundraising chair and, eventually, president. The group allows undergraduates to present their work in a professional forum, an opportunity not usually available until a master’s level program. As the club’s current alumni advisor, she says that last semester, the group’s efforts influenced several people to change their major to art history. She credits this epiphany to the thrill they experience as students in her class and their realization of the desire they have to learn about art and its historic value.
“For me it’s all about passion. I love art. I love the history of it. I love talking about all the things in the textbook and not. It’s about learning and finding things. Students like being engaged,” she says.
She aspires to make the community aware of the free exhibit, generally open Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-5 p.m. She wants to eventually create an outreach program to engage schools, retirement homes, veterans and others unable to visit the VRC to have the ability to connect with the pieces.
Mitchell says that Dr. Campbell will be making another donation in December, including an 8 ft. tall senufo bird, similar to hornbill but much larger. She hopes to install other pieces across campus, and is working with CAAS (Center for African American studies) to create a display in the CAAS’s new center.
“I call them my treasures,” she says, speaking about the collection.
She appreciates the VRC as an area for students to be inspired by art as they work. She says that the VRC holds a lot of potential, not only for the VRC, but for the collection, the department and the school.
To visit the African Art collection's webpage, click here!
Mitchell took advantage of the Lannaya West African Drum & Dance Ensemble group’s appearance at the Levitt pavilion to promote the display. Working alongside the VRC director, she inverted photos of four masks to create coloring pages that she could distribute to children in community the day of the concert. Click here for the printable coloring pages!