Furman University’s new exhibit, “Lineage: Tom Flowers and Family,” will honor one of its alumni and previous art professors of 30 years; however, the exhibit will honor not only Tom Flowers and his lifetime of work with Furman, but also six of his family members from three generations who have also chosen to pursue creative paths and follow in the Flowers footsteps.
Flowers has pursued art since his early years, inspired by his brother, Jessie Flowers, to whom art came naturally. Tom Flowers went on to have children and grandchildren, six of whom will be featured in the exhibit: Tom Flowers’ daughter, Tia Flowers; son, Mark Flowers; Mark’s wife, Kristy Higby; their children, Carson Higby-Flowers and Morgan Higby-Flowers; as well as Morgan’s wife, Virginia Griswold.
Each artist focuses on a variety of subject matters and ranges greatly in his or her preferred medium; however, their love of art and observation proves to be a common thread among them all.
“Dad has always been an observer. He is someone who has seen a lot and turns it into art,” Mark Flowers says.
At 90 years old, Tom Flowers still creates every day, and most recently returned from a trip to Rome, where he sketched many of the faces and details he observed.
“When I just flipped through this sketchbook from his recent trip to Rome, I saw how he studied the people that he saw. He has always been fascinated by a person’s story. You see studies of people all the time in his work,” Kristy Higby says of her father-in-law.
As Mark Flowers explains, the role of an artist is to see things and digest them and allow that to come back as something new.
Tom Flowers attended Furman University starting at age 18, and played football for two years before being sidelined with an injury. He continued to study there and was offered a teaching position at Ottawa University in Kansas, where he taught for two years before going to East Carolina University, eventually replacing his own professor at Furman, where he taught from 1959-89. Tom Flowers was able to travel the world through the Fulbright Program and leading study-abroad programs for his students. He additionally created and executed the Mace of Furman University, a symbol of the president’s leadership.
The Flowers family has always loved and supported one another’s work, because it is one of the common threads that brings them together.
“There is an unspoken understanding. You have to defend yourself to a lot of people, but when you are around someone who’s dedicated to that cause themselves, they understand. There is that built-in connection,” Kristy Higby says of the artistic family’s members.
When discussing an exciting new project or idea, each Flowers family member knows that they will have the support of one another.
Since a large portion of the family has at some point pursued art as a career, or even taught, they know that support is part of what has brought art into each generation.
“It’s a little nature, it’s a lot nurture. But if it’s in you, it will eventually come out whether you’re exposed to it by your family or not,” Higby explains.
While Mark Flowers and Higby always saw creativity in their sons, Morgan and Carson, they did not always think it would be the path they would choose.
“We have now watched our sons take it on, and Tom has seen two of his children take it on, and it was just a delight to see it come out in them in their own way,” Higby explains. “We knew they were both talented, but we didn’t know if they were going to follow it through, but we saw it was there.”
Tom Flowers feels a great deal of pride for his family’s passion for art and feels lucky to have something to share with them. He also feels pride over the exhibit at Furman and the fact that they are honoring him, as well as his family.
“It’s marvelous,” he says. “It makes me feel big. It makes me happy that my family has chosen to follow in their own art. It’s their job to find out how they will do it.”
Marta Lanier, art program specialist at Furman University, says the exhibit is unique because three generations of artists are represented.
“All of the artists have their own styles and techniques,” she says. “It will be very interesting to see all of the work together in one room, so that we as the viewers can find similarities and differences much like we would when we look at the characteristics of people from the same family.”
“Tom Flowers is a very important part of the art department,” Lanier says. “He was a Furman alum [who] came back to Furman to teach. He chaired the department for about 25 years and helped propel the department into what it is today.”
The Flowers and Higby artists have followed their passion through many channels but can find happiness in the fact that they all have a common thread and respect for one another.
“In some ways, we’re all just telling stories,” Mark Flowers says. “As observers, each observation tells a story. I would describe my work as telling stories, but it is about how our worlds and stories are different.”
Oct. 5-Nov. 2
“Lineage: Tom Flowers and Family”
Tom Flowers, Mark Flowers, Kristy Higby, Carson Higby-Flowers, Morgan Higby-Flowers, Virginia Griswold, Tia Flowers
Reception: 6-8 p.m.