Alumni Spotlight: Teaching art to a new generation

 

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Maple Turner III

Maple Turner III, ’99 BFA

At 60, the YSU alumnus has returned home to retire after a prolific career as a painter and sculptor, including several years working and exhibiting his art in New York and Paris. “I’ve been given this talent, it’s a gift, something that comes from inside me,” he said. “I feel like it’s time now for me to give back.”

He bought the art studio site – a group of contiguous, tax-delinquent residential lots – with the assistance of the Mahoning County Land Bank. He’s already cleaned tires and other debris from the property and plans to pay for other improvements by selling some of his oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings and ceramic sculptures. An art dealer in Dallas has been hired to broker the sales.

Turner started painting when he was very young. His father, himself an avid art collector, ignited his son’s artistic talent by giving him a set of watercolor paints for his sixth birthday. As a student, Turner III won many awards and accolades for his art, but after graduating from East High School he put aside dreams of an art career to take a well-paying job as a laborer at LTV Steel.

Eleven years later, when he and tens of thousands of others were left jobless by the shutdown of LTV and other Youngstown steel mills, Turner enrolled at YSU as a nontraditional student majoring in art and theater.

He was one of the first two recipients of University Theater Scholarships and went on to earn six more academic scholarships at YSU. He completed his BFA here in 1999, followed by an Associate’s Degree from Parsons School of Design and a MFA from City College, both in New York.

Turner said he has created more than 4,000 paintings and sculptures over his career – many of them feature landscapes, neighborhoods and portraits created while he was living in Paris and New York. This past February he packed the gallery at Bliss Hall in February with a sampling of 200 of his works as part of YSU’s African American History Month observance.

There’s an African-theme to many of Turner’s creations, including his ceramic fetish sculptures embellished with nails – in fact, nails and birds are a common element in most of his pieces. But the artist wants to be known for a variety of ethnic art styles. “I don’t just do African art,” he says. “I do Asian images. I did a Jewish series. I do batik, fashion drawings and historical art. I like to cross cultures in my work.”

His paintings have sold for as much as $5,000 apiece, but Turner said he’s also worked at a variety of day jobs to support himself over the years. “I nearly starved to death in Paris, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world,” he said, remembering the year he spent sketching and painting the landscapes and the people in France. Besides 11 years as a steelworker, he also worked his way up to grill supervisor at a McDonald’s restaurant and was a pastry chef for a catering business in New York. He’s still working part time for his family’s janitorial company and volunteers as an art instructor for a nonprofit neighborhood center.

Turner returned to the Youngstown area to help care for his aging parents, Maple Turner Jr. and Doris Jean Grant Turner, who recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. He has two sisters: Brunilda Turner, who has created the Northwood Golf Academy for children near the future site of Turner III’s open-air art studio; and Kusana Turner, a 1980 YSU alumna, who lives in the Dallas, Texas area.

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Fall 2014.)