For as long as he can remember, Mark Bartholomew has loved working with his hands. As a child, he played with the tools in the family garage and always came up with a new project crafted from recycled materials.
Later, he considered practicing medicine.
“I spent a lot of time studying an anatomy book that was handed down to me,” says Bartholomew, whose two older siblings are doctors. “But I could never escape my creative tendencies and needs.”
When it came time to head to college, Bartholomew left his hometown of Worland, Wyo., a small farming community in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, knowing exactly what he wanted to do: build a career devoted to art.
“I view art as a functional, fundamental human behavior,” says Bartholomew, who will receive a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture May 18 from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ College of Art.
“Throughout history, the arts have been integrally entwined with ritual practices, religious beliefs and other important communal activities,” he adds.
“In this way, art brings comfort to a world filled with uncertainty,” he continues. “It adds an aesthetic embellishment to otherwise ordinary activities. For example, dance is movement made extraordinary; song is speech made extraordinary.”
Bartholomew’s approach to making art mirrors his views. He transforms everyday objects — candy, balls, grains of rice, toy figurines — by making molds from them and casting them into new ceramic forms.
“The original objects are destroyed and re-emerge as art objects, stripped of their function, in a permanent clay-fired form,” he says.
The finishes on the works reflect the colors of the landscape of Bartholomew’s youth: painted deserts, old farm buildings, weathered fences, banded rock and eroding canyons.
He spends so much time in the studios of the Lewis Center and Walker Hall, he calls them “my second homes.”
But Bartholomew finds time for other pursuits.
“Washington University has a full-fledged school of art, but it comes with a full University,” he says. “I knew I would be able to explore other interests here and get a well-rounded education.”
When asked how he has changed in the past four years, Bartholomew muses, “I’ve gotten older.”
Sam Fox Schoolof Design &Visual Arts,College of Art
Ask Jill Downen the same question, and you learn a bit more.
“What has impressed me most about Mark’s development is his consistent character,” says Downen, visiting assistant professor in the Sam Fox School. “He is a generous, humble and reflective person. From his internship in my studio as a sophomore to his service trip to Africa as a senior, he has given much of himself.”
Active in the Catholic Student Center, Bartholomew traveled to the African country of Malawi, where he joined a United Nations-commissioned effort called The God’s Child Project. In the village of Bakasala, he and other University students cleaned and painted an orphanage and helped rebuild schools.
“Aside from the physical work, we spent time with the people to learn the Malawian way of life,” Bartholomew says.
He also has made trips to Mississippi to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to sharing his time, Bartholomew wants to share his knowledge. His role as director of an art program at a St. Louis County camp last year left little doubt as to his next step: He plans to pursue a master’s degree in art education for kindergarten through high school.
“I’ve found that I enjoy teaching,” Bartholomew says. “I’ve taken great courses with great faculty who have inspired me. I want to be able to pass this on.”
Through teaching and art, Bartholomew will continue his course of transforming the world of ordinary objects, people and experiences into the extraordinary.
As Downen says: “Mark looks to each experience to provide meaning and purpose. He truly aspires to make a difference in the lives of others.”