Alumni Profile: V.L. Cox, Class of 1991

V.L. Cox

When did you graduate, and what was your major?
I graduated in December 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics.

Why did you choose Henderson?
My family has been going to Henderson since the early 1930s. My grandfather, Olin (Nunny) Hardman, played Reddie football and my grandmother, Virginia Louise Pilkington, majored in Education and was salutatorian of her class. Numerous uncles, aunts and cousins also graduated from HSU over the years. It’s a proud family tradition.

Who were your best friends while attending Henderson, and are you still friends with them today?
I would say ‘Henderson family’ instead of best friends. I played on the Henderson State University Volleyball Team, and I am a proud ‘Bettye’s Reddie.’ My teammates are my sisters. I talk to or hear from at least one almost every single day via social media, text or phone call. Also, after you spend years in the same building (Art Dept) exploring your vulnerabilities and developing your deepest creative personalities together, you develop bonds that last a lifetime. I still stay in touch with several of my fellow Art Department alumni to this day and cherish our friendships.

Who were your favorite professors?
Joe Scott, Ed Martin, Wayne McAfee and Joe Coulter. I keep a framed photograph to this day hanging in my studio of them standing together in the Art Dept. Joe Scott and I, however, had a very special relationship. He taught a children’s summer art program at HSU that my grandmother had signed me up for when I was only 10 years old. I still have the handmade ‘portfolio’ of my earliest artwork from that class. He then became my trusted advisor and mentor when I went to college and after graduation, he became my close friend. I would continue to visit him over the years when I was in town and we would talk art. I loved him very much and think of him often.

What is your current occupation?
Professional Artist and Social Justice Activist

How did Henderson prepare you for your career?
My professors were unapologetic perfectionists. There were no excuses for those who didn’t try. You either put forth the effort, or you didn’t make the cut. Joe Scott walked into my Intro to Graphic Design class on the first day and stated “There are 42 of you in this class. Out of 42, two of you will graduate with this degree” We all laughed. I thought, “oh please, come on now.” Do you know how many of us graduated in my class with a BFA in Graphic Design? Two. Me and one other person. I can’t count how many times I would stay up all night on a project just to turn it in the next day with a slight crease on the corner, and Joe Scott wouldn’t even look up as he said, “Do it over! You’ve got less than 24 hours. Better get on it!” These professors taught me to take pride in my work and to go the extra mile.

Henderson also encouraged and allowed me to think for myself. You always hear of people complaining when they have to take a class that they ‘don’t see a need for’ in their field. ‘Mickey Mouse’ classes I believe they were called. I later learned those classes were required for a reason. To give you a well-rounded education, or ‘tool box’ if you may, to give you additional knowledge you can pull from in life if needed.

Lastly, I would have never graduated without the support and guidance from Dr. Charles Dunn. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. In fact, he leaned in when handing me my diploma on graduation night and said “I really like your screen door pieces.” and we both smiled. That’s when the photographer snapped the graduation photo that I have hanging on my wall as well. His unwavering dedication not only to Henderson, but to the individual students themselves sent many a graduates out into the world with confidence and determination.

What is your favorite memory of Henderson?
The day the photograph of my athletic team was hung in Wells Gymnasium on the same floor as my grandfather’s. Our photographs in our uniforms were literally right down the hall from each other. I cannot describe how incredible that felt.

When’s the last time you have been on the Henderson campus?
Due to career and travel, it’s been several years. I would love a return visit soon.

What other job do you think you’d be really good at?
Diversity and Inclusion Consultant possibly. I also love conducting research. I have done research off and on for the Mattachine Society in Washington, D.C. for years now. I have a passion for LGBTQ issues, Social Justice and working with communities. Equality, communication and bridging divisiveness is very important to me.

How do you relax after a hard day?
I often find a quiet place and watch the sun set. It‘s a beautiful gift, a reminder to be thankful and humble and that a new day is on the horizon.

Who do you admire the most, and why?
My grandmother. I think of her every single day. She was genuine, loving, humble and compassionate. A true Southern Lady. I watched her brave the flood waters of the rising Ouachita River each spring and snowy, icy covered roads each winter in her little blue Chevrolet car while taking extra food she had cooked to those in need. She loved everyone and never treated anyone like they were beneath her. One of her most important lessons she taught me was “There’s only one thing you can take with you when you die. Your reputation.” If I become half the woman she was, I will have truly accomplished something.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Give from the heart. Help someone who has less than you do without judging or expecting anything in return. Then don’t tell anyone. It’ll keep you real and in touch with humanity.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned?
There’s always a smiling face when you’re successful. In fact, there’s a lot of them. It’s the ones that are still there when you’re tired and burned-out that are the authentic ones. Never forget that. It’ll save you a lot of headache and heartache in the long run.

What are three interesting facts about you?
1. Oh, let’s see. I’m mechanically inclined. I had to take Algebra three times at HSU, yet made great grades in Geometry and Trigonometry because it had shapes to it. To this day, I can still find a tangent point, do basic electrical work and rebuild the motor on an older model pickup truck. (Thanks, Dad.)

2. I‘m a bibliophile and a speed reader. My grandmother taught me to read at the age of four. I have hundreds of books in my office I’ve read and collected over the years. Many rare and unique. I even have Harper Lee’s Cracklin’ Cornbread recipe in one.

3. I have a pet studio rescue squirrel named J.D. Best studio assistant I’ve ever had.

If your life was a book, what would its title be?
‘The River Road.’

One of my earliest memories was when my grandfather drove us down the dirt road to the family planting fields next to the Caddo River one afternoon. I was four years old at the time. As we watched the day fade, you could hear the sound of strategically placed bird cannons firing across the fields, chasing the hungry redwing blackbirds away from the freshly planted seed. I can still see that image vividly in my head. As I grew, I spent many years on that road between the Caddo and Ouachita River, sowing the wild oats of my youth while avoiding the hustle and bustle of buildings and pavement. Many a night I would lay on my back on the thick hand-hewn boards of the old one-lane Witherspoon wooden bridge and gaze up at what seemed like a million stars. During the hot summer days, I would lay face down on those same boards, and peer through the cracks at the moving waters below. I always told myself “One day I’m going to be like this water and leave, to explore new places and have a new life.” And I did. That old bridge was dynamited into the river years ago, but I still have black and white photographs of it from my photography class at HSU as well as one image looking down through those boards at the river water below.

If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

My rule would be to lose this “Me, not We” attitude that’s so prevalent in our society today. It’s self-defeating in the long run, nothing good ever comes from it, and no one is happy. It’s shameful the way people are acting right now. A time when people are hurting, struggling, sick and dying, a time when we really need each other the most, yet we’re at each other’s throats and acting horrible. This type of divisive behavior cannot survive, and unfortunately neither will many of us if we don’t start working together and being more considerate towards each other. I assure you, if a 4’10”/ 98 lb. elderly woman can drive an old column shift Chevrolet car with no seatbelts through soybean fields and raging flood waters just to take someone some extra turnip greens so they’ll have enough to eat? You can make the simple effort to be civil to someone in an air-conditioned grocery store aisle.

What have you been doing since the Corona Virus outbreak?
Well, it’s the most still I’ve been in five years. I’ve had to readjust and calm my wanderlust a little bit. I was actually at the top of a list for a live/work studio in New York when the virus hit. Having to remain in Arkansas after breaking the exhibition down in Helena due to COVID19 was a blessing in disguise though. I’ve kept a studio for years now at the St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, a beautiful 62-acre Urban Farm in North Little Rock which is where I am now. I’ve been creating numerous new pieces I haven’t shown yet, experimenting and making my own paint pigment with authentic handmade indigo cakes I’ve had imported from Tamil Nadu, doing quite a bit of Urban Farming (tomatoes, purple hull peas, peppers and indigofera tinctorial), babysitting a cat and a baby squirrel, watching sunsets, writing and reading.

I know things seem tough now in our society but I do see some silver linings in this pandemic. It’s forcing us to immediately jump 5-10 years ahead into the future with quicker advancements as far as technology, healthcare and medicines go, we are addressing pressing environmental issues which go hand in hand with securing crucial food supply, it’s exposed generational racial, labor and income inequities, and it’s shown us how insuring basic human rights towards equality equals survival.

After this pandemic is over, I also have a feeling that the toxic inflammatory divisiveness and petty tribalism will be replaced with a greater appreciation of something much more important.

Each other.