Wes Sherman ran cross country and track during the NAIA era. He planned a career in the sciences, but the art bug bit him hard and he has spent his career as a painter. His work is available at a gallery in Nashville and he also sells his paintings in the Northeast at various galleries in the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania areas. He spent some time this week talking with Lipscombsports.com from his home in New Jersey.
What years did you compete at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
"I ran at Lipscomb from 1987 through 1991. I ran both track and cross country. I was able to be signed by Lipscomb because of what I did in track, but cross country is where I shined in college.
"I had never run in a cross country meet until I came to Lipscomb. Mike Pepper was the interim coach while Kent Johnson was finishing his doctoral work. Mike was the one who recruited me or I recruited him. I don’t know which, but it all came together.
"Mike was my coach my freshman year. Kent was my coach my last three years.
"In high school I played baseball, but I realized it wasn't going to help me get some money for school. I ran a couple of track meets in high school and did fairly well so Lipscomb signed me."
Why did you select Lipscomb?
"My father was a Church of Christ minister. It was something that was in my vague world of understanding in high school.
"Going to Lipscomb and Nashville was like going to the big city. I was from a very small place called Shady Valley, Tennessee. My Dad worked all over the country preaching and when I was in high school he was preaching in Tennessee."
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
"Cross country was pretty great. Three of my four years there we competed in the NAIA National Cross Country meets in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The nationals were really a blast because everyone was at the height of their game.
"Adams State College (Alamosa, Colorado) was killing it at the time. They were doing insane things like finishing one, two, three, four and five in the nationals. It was really exciting to be there and compete."
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
"I was so green as an athlete when I came to college. I could tell embarrassing stories of my freshman year because I knew so little about athletics.
"Mike Pepper took me under his wing my first year and helped me in a lot of ways.
"Kent Johnson was like a surrogate father figure. He had us in his home quite regularly and really took care of a bunch of young kids."
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
“I met my wife, Vonda Givens, in a biology lab, but it was a couple of years before we started to date. We have been married 23 years."
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
"I would say athletics in general - going to practice every day and trying to chase some kind of ambition is a huge thing. I tell my students now the goal of an artist is to have an ambition bigger than your ability so that your ability has something to strive for.
"In athletics you are striving to be bigger than your ambition and your ability. You fall short but you keep going."
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
"Randy Harris in the Bible department was pretty awesome. I enjoyed him. I have a degree in physiology and a minor in biology. Kent Johnson was a mentor for me. I took a lot of classes with Kent.
"Randy Harris was an intellectual. In school you are striving to learn something and to learn how to think. Randy Harris is a great thinker.
"Kent Johnson was tough. I would not want to be a coach. I am an adjunct professor and I would never want to have an extra-curricular activity. To be both a coach and a teacher you have to be a very generous person. He was kind, but he was tough having to be both a coach and professor."
Did you always have an interest in being an artist?
"The crazy thing is when I graduated from Lipscomb I had the ambition to do something in the sciences. After college I went to Guatemala to visit my uncle, Steve Sherman, who was living there at the time. He is (missionary-in-residence) at Lipscomb.
"I was in Guatemala for about nine months and went to my first gallery down there. I came back to the United States and got married.
"I went to my first museum in Houston, Texas. It was a contemporary art gallery. I was so confused at what I saw. I had never been so confused and intrigued at the exact same moment. I asked myself, `why can't I understand this?' I have to figure it out. And 25 years later I am still painting. Painting is a touchstone of humanity and discipline.
"I came to art kind of late. I was looking for answers and I still am. The art has kind of helped that.
"I was an athlete growing up. I was outside playing basketball, baseball or tough football. My self-identity was in athletics all through college and before."
Your subject matter and style have changed from abstracts to landscapes. Explain the shift.
"The 20th century was really heavy on abstractions. In the 20th century abstractions were considered the intellectual pursuit of painting. The 20th century needed abstractions because of wars, bombings and depressions. Now 15 years into the 21st century I’m not sure abstracts were all they were meant to be from an intellectual standpoint.
"I have shifted over to more figurative stuff, particularly landscapes. I am trying to think what a 21st century painting should look like and what should it represent. I switched around 2008 to landscapes.
"Nature became very important to a lot of people around me especially after what happened on 9/11. They were trying to get away to parks and beaches. They were camping and hiking. People are making furniture, canning in their kitchens and selling things at farmers’ markets. Painting landscapes is kind of `get your hands dirty’ like those other things.
"The idea of retreating, or the idea of vacationing and getting away from your life by going to the beach or a park, is what landscapes are about. We are going to nature through the canopies of trees or the empty space of an ocean.”
Where do you live now?
"Denville, N.J. As the bird flies east I am about 35 minutes from New York City. I can be in the city in my car in 45 minutes and be in Philadelphia in an hour-and-a-half.
"We live on a lake. We have nature surrounding us."
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
"I have representation through a private gallery called Hermanworks. In the Northeast I am a free agent. I show around at various galleries.”
Tell us about your family.
"Vonda, my wife, was a professor in the communications department at Lipscomb before we moved to New Jersey. She broke the glass ceiling. She was the first female to teach in that department.
"She is in the arts now. She is the director of the Stickley Museum. Stickley was a furniture maker from New Jersey. His home is a national historic site
"I was married to Vonda when I started painting. She always has been very supportive. I was doing a lot of drawings and she told me that maybe I needed to paint. She encouraged me to buy paints and my first canvas. She kept pushing me.
"She introduced me to Terry Thacker who used to be at Lipscomb and is now at Watkins College in Nashville. As a painter, he was my first mentor."
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.