You enter Meek Hall and descend the staircase to where the sculpture classes are held. As you pass by the cases of previous creations and the plaster splashed all over the wall, you hear a warm, boisterous laugh from the metal working shop. When you enter, instead of the intimidating body you would expect such a contagious laugh to escape from. Instead, you come across a small dark haired woman, barely surpassing five feet in height. She is covered in tattoos and piercings but her best accessory is her sassy wit and blinding smile. You have just met Stacey Rathert.
Stacey is an adjunct instructor of sculpture and foundations in the department of art and art history at the university, as well as an artist. This is her fifth year in Oxford, and she hails from the tiny town of Lancaster, Kansas, where she grew up on a family farm.
That’s where she was first exposed to what would become the cornerstone of her creations.
“I learned to weld with my dad when I was about 9 years old,” she said. “I never imagined it would turn into this lifelong passion and that I would go in the direction of metal sculpture and metalwork in my art.”
From an early age, Rathert knew she wanted to be an artist and teach. In classes, she tries to push students out of their comfort zone with the pieces they create.
She noticed a lot of the students were inspired by creativity “straight off of Pinterest.” Rathert encourages her students to explore different ideas, which she had done herself by moving from the comfort and support of her family in Kansas to Mississippi
“Sometimes it’s lonely,” she said. “I’m really close with my family, and I go very long periods of time without seeing them, which is hard.”
But she has made friends and stays busy with her artwork. She said her soul is always laughing, unlike the stereotypical artist that creates art from pain. Rathert’s artwork is also based on her rural upbringing and combining those memories with whimsical elements.
Rathert has contributed other art pieces to the community, such as the Yokna Art Trail that goes through campus. Her piece can be seen in front of Meek Hall and was inspired by Oxford’s nickname the Velvet Ditch, because it is “a nice, soft place to land.” It is another example of how Rathert is connected to her art and how she connects her art to her surroundings.
Stacey’s ability to intertwine her past with her art is present in her personal style. From her tattoos, to her hair, to her daily work clothes, there is a story behind it all.
Rathert takes on a less feminine style of dressing while working. She can usually be found wearing clothes that she “bought from Goodwill” because of the materials she works with. Her style staples are her steel-toed boots,prescription goggles that look like Ray Bans and her beloved work belt.
“Sometimes, when I’m not wearing it, I find myself reaching for it because it’s always there,” she said. As she reaches for a wrench from her belt you can see a large wheat tattoo designed by Rathert herself. She is one of three stalks of wheat representing her deceased grandparents and the entire piece pays homage to her family farm.
“It reminds me to stay grounded,” she said.
Close friend, Elise Robbins, recalls her first time meeting Rathert.
“She was the only other girl in the room, and she was very vibrant,” said Robbins, “I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like her.”
Robbins is also impressed by Rathert’s intelligence and work ethic. She admires Rathert’s style of artwork.
“I really like her miniatures,” she said. “She’s scaling the world down to her level.”
She also noted a sense of joy and humor in Rathert’s miniature artwork, and said she is excited to watch Rathert as she grows in her career as an instructor. She noted that Rathert believes that a person can “learn from teaching.”
A former student of one of Rathert’s sculpture, Cassidy Simmons, admires her passion for her work.
“I’ve never seen someone who loves pouring iron as much as she does,” she said.
Rathert is a key figure in the yearly iron pour held at the university and loves how crazy things get once the metal is ready to be poured into the molds as well as how she learns something new with every experience.
“You never stop doing it because you never stop learning,” Rathert said. “I’m always learning.”