Scott Parsons has worked in the field of public art for 20 years. He has received numerous commissions across the United States and Canada. His work includes percent-for-art and private commissions for airports, churches, museums, research facilities, university buildings and transportation centers. Parsons was recognized by Art in America for creating one of the most significant works of public art in the United States in 2002. He has received other national and international awards for his art, including Project of the Year Honor Awards in terrazzo in both the United States and Canada. His work is reviewed widely, including Art in America, Sculpture, Architectural Record, Stained Glass Quarterly and Public Art Review. He has exhibited at the South Dakota Art Museum, the Dahl Arts Center, the Nicolaysen Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Parsons pursued graduate work in archeology while completing his M.F.A. in painting at the University of Colorado. Additionally, he has performed archeological field work in the Northern Plains region of the United States and the Chilean Atacama desert. His undergraduate degree is from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he currently teaches art.

Yrene, Kena, Chaska, and Scott, summer in Colorado 2012

An Interview

by Sanna Horsley, Sioux Falls, December 2009

Many artists can remember their first endeavors into the art world. Legos certainly laid the foundation for the incredible pieces of art that have been created by Scott Parsons, an Augustana art professor. At age five, Parsons was awarded tenth place in a Lego Building Contest and third place at age seven.

“I think legos are behind any artist or architect” said Parsons.

Parsons history with art can be traced back beyond his first awards, however. Parsons was drawing before he could speak.

“I was born with fluid in my ears so I spent the first few years of my life not hearing.” Parsons developed a modified form of sign language to communicate with his parents. He was drawing before he could speak words. Parsons believes that art was his first form of development even before speaking.

His parents recognized his interest in art at an early age and fostered his passion through his childhood.

“I believe that if you come from a good loving home you will have confidence in exploring your dreams” said Parsons.

“My sister is a crazy theater person. She even toured with Sesame Street.”

Although their children both pursued their creative passions, Parsons says, “My parents don’t know what happened.” He says that neither of his parents are very “arty.”

A first glance at Parsons and anyone would know that he was an artist. He wears oval-shaped silver-rimmed glasses and shoes that quite often show the paint colors he is currently using on a painting. His movements are graceful and not rushed as though he worked in the corporate world. He is very soft-spoken but his toothy grin displays his laugh lines like the first strokes on a clean canvas.

“I thought about going into medicine to help the world that way” said Parsons. Instead he followed his true purpose in lifeart.

As a student at Augustana College, Parsons pursued his degree in art and also discovered where he welcomed his and other’s art the most.

“When I was a student we would move our paintings onto The Green. We got to interact with the 5:00 crowd. That was my start of appreciating art in unexpected sorts of spaces, places not set in a gallery.”

During his freshman year at Augustana, Parsons took a watercolor class in Mexico.

“It only cost $500. That was back when things were cheap. We left and I had a nagging feeling to still be down there. I have been drawn to Latin America ever since.”

Through his several trips to Latin America including the trip to Peru he leads during Interim as a professor at Augustana he has met great painters of the area and has developed his interest in pre-Columbian architecture and Baroque pilgrimages. He also went on an archaeological dig in Peru in 1989.

In addition to the connection he feels to Latin America, Parsons is also drawn to Native Americans.

“Teachers always tried to tell me Jamestown was the oldest settlement. I feel like I am still fighting that same problem of denying the history books. I think of myself as a very good listener to the experiences of the Native Americans.”

His works of art, particularly his photographs have a large Native American influence.

“If art doesn’t have a moral voice, it could fast turn into interior decorating.”

Parsons’ photographs tend to be in black and white.

“Color is too easy. If you have a red circle you know it’s an apple, black and white you have to look harder.”

This idea of contemplating art further than most is a strong point of Parsons’. Most of his creations involve many forms of media.

His popular work entitled, “A St. Valentine’s Day Project incorporates mixed media triptych with screen printing with lacquer-based inks, color photos, latex house paint and traditional linseed-based artist oil paint. This work is striking because of the photo in the middle of the canvas.

“Maybe its gutsy or stupid to put a giant photo in the middle of a canvas, but I just did it” he laughs while the ends of his mouth curl up like a cartoon character’s love-struck grin.

Parsons doesn’t worry about using too much media or which media would be the best option.

“When choosing which media to use you have to think about what it is you want to say and the best way to say it. Artists have to be flexible and work with a wide variety of media.”

Parsons has adopted his profession as his life pursuit and applies it to everything he does.

“As an artist I try to make the planet more beautiful and more just. Artists have an impact and can be rebellious,” he laughs to himself. “They question the given and eventually they are right. An artist is an individual who tries to make connections when most people don’t.”

Parsons has never denied the fact that artists have little stability especially when they are first starting their careers.

“I really think that the world looks out for us more,” he says chuckling to himself. “If I knew what I was going to be doing in thirty years, that would be scary.”

Parsons explained that the Midwest is growing more and more appreciative of the art community and is fostering opportunities for artists of many genres. Minneapolis is a hot spot for prospective artists. Parsons says that New York City is the best region to be successful in art.

Although he is thousands of miles from New York, Parsons feels secure in his career.

“Artists are very adaptable. They provide a visual solution that makes up for what architects overlooked.”

Parsons knows that being visually skilled is vitally important in this more and more visually-based culture. Many people view their news and entertainment images on the Internet and on television.

“More people get most of their information in a visual way” said Parsons.

Parsons strongly believes in harmonizing art and science.

“Artists take real knowledge and apply it and make it real” says Parsons. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s my connection to the people using the space?’.”

Many people see artists and scientists as almost completely different species, but Parsons has always seen a strong connection between the two professions that often extend to fulfilling passions.

“Scientists have a different vocab. They use the word hypothesis, writers use the word hunch, artists use the word inspiration.”

As a student at Augustana, Parsons never envisioned he would be a professor at his alma mater. Teaching now seems to be second nature to him. He lights up and commands a room when he is teaching students how to do what he loves.

“Professors think differently in the art department. They don’t think in terms of a career, but as a passion.”

Parsons also implements the balance of art and science into his teaching methods.

“Students always say they aren’t good at math. They don’t realize all the proportions, angles, scale, linear perspective. They don’t recognize it as being math” said Parsons.

Almost immediately after graduating Parsons went on to guide students to pursue their passions.

“I hope to have a lasting effect on at least some of my students.”

Samantha Perry, a current sophomore art major has had Parsons for two courses.

“At first I thought he was a quiet, shy teacher but after a week in class I learned that he has a lot to say. Some of the things that he says are genius and make me want to be a better artist” said Perry. “Every time he does a demo he inspires me. He makes it look so easy and that makes me feel like, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that too!’.”

“His art truly does motivate me to keep working on my drawing skills. When I first entered the class I was thinking, ‘Oh crap! I have no clue how to draw’ but I made it through the semester with his help” continued Perry. “The next semester in figure drawing I thought the same thing but he inspired me to believe that I could do it.”

Parsons serves as an inspiration for his students and aspiring artists, but he continues to still be inspired by art.

“Art can change how you see the world. It enhances and makes life better” he said.

In 2000 Parsons met his wife, Yrene in Peru. His office has framed photos of their wedding and in every one, Parsons looks elated. He describes his wife as his soul mate. In 2008 they welcomed their daughter, Chaska into the world.

“Art is so deep and basic. There is no way to get at it- love is the same way. It’s hard to explain” he says with a slight smile as he looks down at the floor.

Parsons believes that everyone has a passion they need to fulfill.

“You are always on your path, you just have to recognize it” he said.

So is his daughter headed toward a career in art?

“Well, of course I hope she would go into the arts in some form” Parsons said.

“She made her first lego construction the other day…”