Longtime MSU art professor to retire

MSU art professor Brent Funderburk will retire May 22 after 36 years teaching at the university. (Photo by Megan Bean, MSU, submitted)
By: 
CHARLIE BENTON
Staff Writer

After 36 years teaching art at Mississippi State University and 40 years total in academia, Brent Funderburk will retire from the university on May 22, his 66th birthday.

Funderburk came to MSU as a painting teacher, after time spent painting in North Carolina. Prior to coming to MSU, Funderburk also served on the ar faculties of Nebraska Wesleyan University and East Carolina University, his alma mater. In addition to his teaching and painting, Funderburk is also regarded as an expert on Mississippi Gulf Coast artist Walter Inglis Anderson. While a student at ECU, he studied under painters Edward Reep and Paul Hartley.

“I think 40 years is a good number, and I really desire to be a painter full-time,” Funderburk said.

Despite his desire to paint full-time, Funderburk said he would miss being able to support students on their journey and watch them grow as artists.

“I love the fact that as a visual artist, you can actually physically see young people grow, because we have visual evidence,” Funderburk said. “In other words, their souls are on the outside. They can look whatever way they want to look, but you can’t hide the fact that in visual art, your innards are going to be seen.”

Funderburk expressed a desire to stay young in his retirement as he painted and travelled. He said he was able to stay young as a professor, by spending so much time around college students.

“I’ve just been hanging out with 20-year-olds for 40 years, so I’m going to miss that,” Funderburk said. “I am not going to be the guy at the Hardee’s every morning with the other old farts. That’s not me. I love them. I’ll wave at them as I pass by going to the art store, but I’m going to do 20-year-old stuff, living the life, working really hard painting a lot.”

Funderburk first became interested in art growing up with his twin brother in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s. He said his parents provided him and his brother with art supplies to give them something constructive to do, and keep them out of trouble.

“My parents always provided us with paper, crayons, art supplies, and we somehow were absorbed throughout almost all of our childhood with playing together and making things,” Funderburk said. “It was something natural that we did. My brother now is a very successful architect.”

As he grew up and went to art school, Funderburk became interested in designing album covers for bands popular during the time period. However, as he prepared to graduate, cassette tapes became the norm.

“Sad little tiny things that fall apart easily, and really an affront to artists,” Funderburk said.

While he was figuring out his next step as he was finishing his Master of Fine Arts degree, someone told Funderburk he might make a good teacher. He then started applying to academic positions in 1978, ending up at NWU.

After a few years at NWU, Funderburk left, and was living and painting in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. However, he began to miss teaching, and again started searching for academic positions.

“I found that I could not as easily teach squirrels and snakes,” Funderburk said. “The classes didn’t go very well with those snails and turtles and frogs. I missed it, so I applied for the only job that I’ve ever seen in any job search at the university level, where the name of the position was ‘watercolor artist.’ Almost always it’s ‘painter,’ or ‘drawing’ at a university position, something like that, but this was for a watercolor painter, so that was unique.”

Funderburk said the location in Mississippi piqued his interest a little, because of his prior knowledge of Walter Anderson.

“The fact that Mississippi State very particularly wanted an academic watercolor painter, was very attractive to me,” Funderburk said.
Funderburk plans to stay in Starkville after he retires.

“My wife, Debby, teaches dance, and has taught dance here for 25 years at State, and she is still teaching,” Funderburk said. “We’ll travel a lot, and I’ll be working a lot, and I’ll show my work a lot across the country and internationally. It’s a great college town, a great place for a headquarters to be an artist in the 21st century.”

Funderburk described his work as being inspired by nature, but said he didn’t consider himself a landscape painter. The last class he will teach at MSU will be a Walter Anderson course, involving making trips to the Mississippi barrier islands to paint as Anderson once did.

A public reception for Funderburk will be held by the MSU College of Architecture, Art and Design in the Dawg House at the Colvard Student Union on May 2 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“I’m thankful to God for being at Mississippi State, and for everyone who’s been with me along the way,” Funderburk said.

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