Clarksville, TN – Two Clarksvillians will be honored this Monday, December 5th, by the Clarksville-Montgomery County Arts and Heritage Development Council for their achievement in art and in preserving our heritage.
Dr. James Diehr, professor emeritus of art at Austin Peay State University, will receive the Lifetime Achievement in Art award and Inga Filippo, APSU professor emerita of library science, will receive the Lifetime Achievement in Heritage award.
Dr. James Diehr
Dr. Diehr has been a Fulbright Scholar at Nottingham University in England, a guest professor in Lin Fin University in China, head of product design at Pittsburg State University, chair of the APSU department of art and later dean of the APSU College of Arts and Letters, with a stint as director of the Center of Excellence in the Creative Arts.
His art has been shown locally, regionally and nationally with work in juried shows in Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina and Tennessee. His sculpture graces the entrance to Austin Peay and his art belongs in numerous private and corporate collections.
But Diehr is proudest of his work as a teacher and his contributions to his students’ knowledge, skills and success. By illustration, he recalled an email he received when he announced his retirement from APSU two years ago. The emailer began by saying that he may not remember her but she had been a student of his years ago.
“I did remember her from my first or second year of teaching. I was critiquing her work, asking, ‘Why did you use this color? Why did you choose this form’—you know, the questions about her choices as an artist. Suddenly I could see the tears well up in her eyes and spill out over her cheeks,” he remembered and commented that he felt “like a jerk” for grilling her so hard.
The former student, however, came to appreciate his critiques and advice. She wrote, “I own my own design firm and I use the things you taught me every day.”
Multiply that student by the hundreds Diehr has taught during his 44 years as a faculty member and you can see why he is proud of what he has accomplished as a teacher.
During his early years at Austin Peay, his work was primarily in pottery since that was an area where he could strengthen the department. He is pleased that program is still thriving under Ken Shipley. Diehr’s training, however, is in both pottery and sculpture, and in retirement he has been able to indulge his creative impulses as a sculptor. He has been producing multimedia pieces, working in Colorado alabaster, wood from his Cunningham farm Long Thunder—maple, walnut and elm, and ceramic figures.
“We talk about form and content in sculpture. I’m finding that by using different materials, I can find new ways to convey my message. I love to tell stories with my work,” he comments.
Diehr works daily in his studio creating sculpture and paintings. “Every week I’m posting one piece on Facebook for 52 weeks—a year’s work of sculpture,” he notes.
Diehr has also taken on a new public art project. In preparation for a new Tennessee State Hall of Fame, which will be housed in Clarksville, he is working with the Women’s Network to create and place 50 life-sized mocking bird sculptures at various locations in Clarksville.
And because a lifetime of achieving will not end with the awards ceremony Monday night, Dr. Diehr is will install a show of 30 pieces of sculpture at the Nashville International Airport during the months of June, July and August 2017.
Working steadily over a period of more than 20 years, Inga Filippo turned boxes packed haphazardly with thousands of pieces of biographical information, personal correspondence, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings and housed in the basement of APSU’s Woodward Library into a collection that has attracted scholars across the country to the foremost authority on 20th-century newspaper advice columnist and crime reporter Dorothy Dix.
For more than half a century, Dix, born Elizabeth Meriwether in Montgomery County, influenced generations of readers as she offered solutions to their problems and advice on living. At its height, her pioneer advice column was touted to be carried by newspapers around the world reaching more than 60 million readers. She was at that time the highest paid journalist in the country.
Yet, by the 1990s when Filippo began archiving her papers, she had been largely forgotten by journalists and scholars. Filippo’s work has allowed a resurgence of interest in Dix’s legacy.
Speaking of her work, Filippo commented, “It was something that really kind of fell into my lap, but I didn’t let it stay there. I did something with it. I enjoyed working with all the documents and turning them into a collection.
Filippo has also cataloged the contents of other smaller collections of Dix material to make it easier for scholars to conduct their research. She has compiled a detailed timeline of Dix’s professional life and has presented papers on Dix at academic conferences around the country.
“I feel like I have been able to contribute to local, regional, national and international history,” she continued, “because the information I have preserved is of great value to scholars as well as the general public. It is the most important professional work I have done and I am very proud of it.”
While the Dorothy Dix collection has made an important contribution to Montgomery County’s heritage, Filippo has not stopped there. She has been an active member of the Montgomery County Historical Society in the early 1980s, held membership in national, regional and local library and historical association pertaining to academic research and preservation of material. As AHDC board member, she actively assisted with annual local historical day-long tours and Civil War Sesquicentennial programs.
She is currently chairing, with her husband Dr. Joe Filippo, the historical society project to bring in conservationists to advise on preserving the iconic Uneeda biscuit ghost sign on the Poston Building on Public Square.