Collaboration, Creativity, Community: The Edwards College legacy

Collaboration, Creativity, Community

Honoring the Edwards College Legacy

“What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.”

            -Meister Eckhart, 13th century German theologian

For two decades -- through three university presidents, four deans, hundreds of faculty members, and tens of thousands of students -- the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts has served as the heart of Coastal Carolina University, the doors through which every CCU student passes. The gift from the late Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards that created the institution came with a carefully planned, clear and specific message. Throughout this anniversary year, the Edwards College has celebrated this gift and reinforced its message by reflecting on the past, building into the future, and creating markers that memorialize this unique moment in time.  

The Vision

When the Edwards dedicated their gift to CCU’s humanities and fine arts in the late 1990s, they were making a commitment to enhancing educational opportunities for students and the Horry County community. At the dedication of the Edwards building on Sept. 21, 2001, Robin Edwards expressed her vision of the Edwards College as a place where generations of students, faculty, and community members would learn, grow, and cultivate new knowledge.

“My mother was a sharecropper’s daughter; my dad’s family was in the timber land business. Neither were college graduates,” said Robin Edwards-Russell, associate professor in the Department of Theatre. “It meant a lot to them to give this gift in order for this college to be built. They understood the value of education, and they wanted education to be fair across the board for those that were poor and working the land in Conway and Horry County. They believed that education is the key to making this world a better place.”

Logan Woodle, assistant professor in the Department of Visual Arts, recalls teen summers spent in the Edwards courtyard, absorbing the Edwards’ philosophy about community.

“I feel a great deal of debt to the family because I started taking art really seriously through CCU summer classes when I was in high school,” said Woodle. “I was surrounded by a unique approach to humanities and fine arts, which was sticking us together. I’d always heard that this was the Edwards family’s specific wish and perhaps even demand. It was this unified front that’s fairly unique to the institution itself.”

Philanthropy through education, delivered in a community environment, was central to the Edwards’ spirit.

“It was the way they lived their life,” said Edwards-Russell. “Pay it forward and sow the seeds, watch things grow and then walk away from it. Let it grow as it will.”

The Execution

Twentieth anniversary events throughout the academic year were designed to celebrate the accomplishments of the college and, simultaneously, to plant new initiatives that will grow into the future. Some, such as the Homecoming weekend Edwards College Open House, will become an annual tradition, while others, such as the Intercultural Language Resource Center (see p. xx) and the university’s newly acquired status as an All-Steinway School (see pp. xx), are permanent measures that provide students with ongoing opportunities for enhanced creative and critical learning.

“The whole point of the anniversary and our series of events is to celebrate the legacy of the college, but also use it to launch new initiatives,” said Dean Claudia Bornholdt. “We want to showcase our successes but show the world we’re not done.”

The coincidence that the anniversary year overlapped with the university’s re-entry to traditional operations after the Covid pandemic was unplanned, said Bornholdt, yet the two occasions complemented each other. As students returned en masse to the stage, the studio, and the classroom, both professors and facilities managers had to reconfigure learning and logistical processes to account for lost time as well as new types of knowledge that was gained in the interim. They pulled out the theatre props, musical instruments, and arts equipment from storage rooms and blew off the cobwebs; they brought the house lights back up on stage and taught a new class of students how to work them; faculty hired in 2020 walked the campus for the first time to teach in-person classes. Programs that were suspended at the cusp of creation, such as Spanish for Health Professionals and a minor in Film Studies, commenced with robust numbers of students.

“This year was really important,” said Bornholdt. “We picked up a lot from where we were pre-pandemic, but we came at it a different way. It’s nice to have this forward momentum again and to use the 20th anniversary for this moment.”

Simultaneously, the Edwards College hosted a series of signature cultural arts and anniversary events, such as Music on the Lawn, the Third International Gullah Geechee and African Diaspora Conference, and the 20th Anniversary Fundraiser Gala, that invited public participation and extended the life of the college into the community. Gullah Geechee Community Day in downtown Conway enjoyed its largest attendance ever, and the Edwards gala yielded record-breaking fundraising totals – much of which is earmarked for student scholarships.

“We feel the support from the community for the college,” said Bornholdt, “both in their generosity but also in coming back and attending our concerts, performances, and museum exhibitions. They have come back, and that’s really wonderful.”

The Lasting Impression

A final dimension of the anniversary celebration was the creation of memorial pieces that reflect the Edwards’ legacy. Fittingly, the pieces were crafted by Edwards College students and faculty, and their presence encompasses spaces both on campus and in the community.

Senior graphic design major Jen Bien created the Edwards College 20th anniversary logo as part of a class contest.

“The design is a reflection on where we’ve been and where we’re going, and to bring it to a modern direction,” said Bien. Since last May, Bien has gained professional experience working with Edwards College graphic designer Abby Sink on anniversary-related projects and products.

Megan O’Connor, assistant professor in the Department of Visual Arts, was commissioned to create a print to commemorate the anniversary. After consulting with Edwards-Russell and reflecting on the CCU campus as well as the Edwards building, O’Connor settled on the iconic, neoclassical fountain in the Edwards courtyard for her subject (Edwards insiders are aware that Robin Edwards commissioned a replica of that fountain for her home; it occupies a similar space in a courtyard). O’Connor created a series of 50 prints, with the bon a tirer (first/original) print presented to the Edwards family.

As a faculty member hired during the Covid pandemic, O’Connor said the project helped her engage with her new home in the Edwards College.

“Being a new faculty member -- third semester at CCU and second semester on campus – I really missed feeling connected to the community,” said O’Connor. “Working on this project felt like a way to become more connected with the larger college of humanities and fine arts, and I really enjoyed it.”

As the aesthetic headquarters for the Edwards building, the courtyard itself was a focus of updates during the anniversary celebration. Bornholdt had furniture added to encourage student studying and socializing, and, in memorium to Robin Edwards, eight new crepe myrtle trees were planted to bring additional shade and tranquility to the place.

Woodle is crafting the final commemorative symbol of the Edwards’ legacy, a bronze casting to be unveiled later this year and mounted in the archway above the main door exiting the courtyard. The piece involves a likeness of Thomas and Robin and pays homage to their Horry County heritage. Through conversations with Edwards-Russell, Woodle built upon his understanding of the Edwards family in planning and developing the piece.

“I created an image that has them in a garden, and they’re very much a part of the composition but not the focal point,” said Woodle. “I tried to put them in this space where they’re existing inside their creation and not dominating it.”

In addition, Woodle learned from Edwards-Russell that the image in the formal portrait that hangs in the Edwards building lobby doesn’t tell the whole story of her parents.

“I had this mentality that that’s who they were: monolithic, stoic figures,” said Woodle. “As I looked at family pictures and talked to Robin, though, their personalities became clearer. So in the work, they feel a little bit playful, and if I do it right, she maybe seems a little sarcastic too. Who we want to celebrate is these dynamic, playful, guiding figures who weren’t afraid to have fun.”

Embedded into O’Connor’s commemorative block print are three words: “Collaboration, creativity, community.” The Edwards College, at all levels and in all dimensions, strives to take these lofty ideals and put them into action, to grow an abundant crop from the seeds the Edwards planted.