Stewart Gains Valuable Experience Through Internship with Johnny Cash Sculptor Kevin Kresse

UA Little Rock art student Nicole Stewart stands alongside sculptures she has created at UA Little Rock. Photo by Angie Faller.

Nicole Stewart, a junior studio art major at UA Little Rock, had a rare opportunity to work on a public sculpture that will be placed in the U.S. Capitol Building after interning with Johnny Cash sculptor Kevin Kresse this summer.

The National Statuary Hall Steering Committee selected Kresse, a UA Little Rock alumnus and skilled artist, in June 2021 to create an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of the country music star as one of two new statues that will represent Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Idaho artist Benjamin Victor is creating the second statue of Daisy Bates, a civil rights leader and journalist.

As part of her internship, Stewart has worked on the Cash sculpture throughout the summer and has learned all the “tips and tricks” that go into creating a sculpture. Stewart equates interning with Kresse to “learning karate from Mr. Miyagi.”

While already a fan of Cash, Stewart said she’s learned a lot more about the musician’s activism and good works during her internship.

“We’ve talked a lot about his activism and his work with prisoners,” Stewart said. “I like working on something that talks about Johnny Cash, his message, and what he stood for. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of documenting someone so important in history that is being immortalized in the nation’s capital. It’s a great honor to work with Kevin on that.”

Stewart met Kresse while working on the 7th Street Mural Project together in downtown Little Rock. Stewart later told Michael Warrick, a professor emeritus of art at UA Little Rock, that she would like to intern with Kresse. Warrick, who is a longtime friend and sculptor partner with Kresse, was happy to connect the two.

“Nicole is the third intern I’ve had from sculpture majors that’s worked with him over the years,” Warrick said. “It’s a great opportunity to have a young artist work with a senior artist to gain knowledge and skills and perspective. Nicole is one of the best. She was my studio assistant this summer for the two artWAYS workshops I did. Her energy, her aptitude, and her skill set is out of the box and through the roof.”

Kresse identified Stewart as a “dynamo” who has stepped up to help him complete the Cash project this summer.

“When I was having a rough week, Nicole was jumping in, and I realized what a great eye she has,” Kresse said. “I told my wife that I can tell more at this age which young artists will make it through their personality if they have the grit and determination to do it, rather than seeing their portfolio. She has the work ethic and the eye and the grit to become a great artist.”

UA Little Rock alum Kevin Kresse, right, and assistant Nicole Stewart, left, work on a clay model of Arkansas music legend Johnny Cash at the Windgate Center of Art + Design from which a bronze statue will be cast.
UA Little Rock alum Kevin Kresse, right, and assistant Nicole Stewart, left, work on a clay model of Arkansas music legend Johnny Cash at the Windgate Center of Art + Design from which a bronze statue will be cast. Photo by Ben Krain.

When Stewart joined UA Little Rock in 2018, she saw it as a second chance to complete her college education. After graduating from high school in 1999, Stewart attended community college for a short time before beginning a career in event planning and catering.

“At first, it was intimidating to come back to college,” Stewart said. “A lot has changed since 1999. I’ve been really fortunate to have all these incredible mentors. It’s been really inspiring for me. Even though I am in my 40s, I’m so happy I came back. I’ve had great experiences at UA Little Rock. Plus, I came back right when they opened this new art building. I came back at the perfect time to pursue art.”

Stewart will graduate from UA Little Rock in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art focusing on sculpture and a minor in applied design focusing on ceramics. While she had previously given art up for 15 years before going back to college, Stewart is more dedicated than ever to having art in her life, participating in everything from sculpting and painting to insect taxidermy and bone carving.

“Art is a buffet, and I want to take a bite out of all of it,” she said.

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