Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Former University Graphic Designer, Carra Hewitt Artis

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features Former University Graphic Designer, Carra Hewitt Artis. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Carra worked in the Publications Department at Ole Miss as a Graphic Designer III. During her tenure, she wore many different hats from print design to supervising design interns, all while maintaining a busy production schedule. Over the years, she has continued to hone her artistic talents by expanding her media through painting workshops. Read about her Ole Miss story:

Carra Hewitt Artis. 

Brown: Where did you grow up? Please talk about your childhood and your family (parents, brothers, sisters, favorite aunt/uncle).

Artis: I was born in Jackson, the eldest of three children. My mother grew up in Calhoun City, and my father in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. My mother and grandmother lived in Natchez with one of her brothers after my grandfather died in 1938. My father had moved to Natchez for work after a short career as a high school math teacher in Arkansas. My parents met in Natchez when my mother was home from her studies at Belhaven College. They married after my mother graduated. My father was drafted into WWII soon after they married and she worked as Chief Clerk at the FBI office in Jackson during the war years.

My happy memories of my childhood in the 1950s and ‘60s include riding bikes and playing in the neighborhood. We walked to Boyd Elementary and had Saturday roller skating parties on the school’s outdoor basketball asphalt court. I was a Girl Scout and sold cookies door to door in the neighborhood. I learned to swim at the YWCA and took tennis lessons at Riverside Park. I enjoyed day camp at Riverside Park and playing in the park and swimming in the Riverside public pool.

After Boyd, I attended Chastain Junior High and graduated from Murrah High School. Our family was active at First Presbyterian Church where I sang in the youth choir Sunday nights for six years.

My sister lives in Birmingham and has led a very busy, active life as a homemaker, raising five children with her physician husband. She’s painted some very nice watercolors while taking a class. Her passions are golf, her four grandchildren and travels to visit children living on the east coast and west coast.

My brother received his undergraduate degree from Ole Miss and medical degree from University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). He is a practicing physician in Dothan, Alabama and has four children and eight grandchildren.

Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Artis: I had three cousins from Calhoun City who all majored in math at Ole Miss. My uncle gave me a campus tour when I was in high school and Bob Tettleton showed me around the Art Department. That was probably my first time to Oxford and Ole Miss.

Barbara Austin, former director of public affairs, hired me as publications designer in the public relations office at the UMMC in Jackson in 1978. I had graduated with a BFA from Auburn majoring in visual design, but hadn’t worked as a designer for several years. I worked at the medical center for six and a half years.

Through College Public Relations Association of Mississippi meetings and contests, I met Barbara Lago, Jan Robertson and others from the Ole Miss Public Relations Office. I was impressed with the design work produced by the Publications Office and thought it would be fun working there. When I heard about the job opening for senior graphic designer, I applied. I was hired by Maggie Dewey and moved into the faculty/staff apartments at Northgate in 1985. It was great that I was able to transfer my years and leave benefits to Ole Miss. I worked 22 years at Ole Miss.

Brown: What were your responsibilities?

Artis: I designed print publications and assigned projects to five designers and to student workers. For several years I also supervised design interns who were receiving course credit through the Ole Miss Art Department. I maintained our busy production schedule with jobs numbering 500+ yearly. The work ranged from logos, simple invitations and flyers, to newsletters, posters, magazines and fundraising publications. Each designer juggled many projects simultaneously. Our work supported admissions, student affairs, various academic and administrative departments, the Chancellor’s office, University Development and Alumni Affairs. Designers were responsible for overseeing their projects to completion, which included obtaining printing estimates, meeting with clients, making changes to the design and overseeing the printing process. I was the art director for the research magazine Quest and UM Lawyer. I designed fundraising materials for the Law School, the Ford Center, the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy, the Sesquicentennial Campaign and the Campaign for Excellence. After Maggie Dewey, Tom Hoar and then Sabrina Brown were the department heads.

Brown: What was your “best/worst” day at work and why?

Artis: I enjoyed the variety of work and the fast pace. A good day would be when everything went smoothly on a design project. A bad day would be having computer problems. Once I had to recreate a multi-page publication because my computer hard drive crashed and I had failed to back up my files.

My way of working changed drastically over the years. I went from designing layouts with felt-tip markers on tracing paper, specifying type for a typesetter, and completing paste-up boards to be delivered to the printing department to designing and producing jobs print-ready on a computer. Thankfully, I had learned to type in high school! I learned software such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator and kept up with all the updates. I was a production artist in addition to a designer. Sometimes I approved printing proofs online and went to out-of-town press checks. In my last years, web design was becomingly increasingly important and I created some page designs that others implemented.

Brown: You are such a talented artist. Who influenced you in this?

Artis: My mother recognized that my sister and I had artistic ability and enrolled us in art classes at the YWCA taught by Jackson artist Alice Reilly. By the time I was in the seventh grade, it was apparent that art was my best and strongest subject. I had good art teachers in junior high and high school. I was able to qualify for the Advanced Art Class my junior and senior years. We took field trips to New Orleans and Memphis where we visited the Art Department at Newcomb College and the Memphis Art Academy. In high school, I was encouraged by winning a national award in the Scholastic Art Awards competition for an acrylic painting. My degree from Auburn prepared me for my graphic design career and gave me a good foundation in design, drawing, and art history but I only took two painting classes. While working at Ole Miss, I had the opportunity to take Jere Allen’s beginning oil painting class. It was my first experience painting in oils. I also learned more about oil painting from Connie Flake’s weekend classes offered through the Art Department’s Creative Arts Program. Since 2015, my skills have improved greatly by painting regular “en plein air” and taking workshops by professional full-time painters. I am blessed to have an encouraging husband who shares my love for art. Here’s a link to my website: www.carraartis.com.

Carra and T.J.’s Fifth Wedding Anniversary, October 2018, near Gatlinburg with Mt. LeConte in the background. Photo provided.

Brown: In your opinion, what attributes/traits predict success in life?

Artis: Honesty, perseverance, commitment and hard work are essential traits. My Christian faith, as well as the encouragement and support of family and friends, have made all the difference in my life.

Brown: What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?

Artis: My parents gave me a two-week “Best of the West” bus tour for Mississippi high school students as a high school graduation gift. That trip instilled in me a love for travel. I experienced living in England for two years in my mid 20’s. While in England, I took a camping trip through France, Italy, and Germany and also traveled to Scotland, Belgium, and Holland. After those experiences, I have sought out travel opportunities abroad and feel that my life has been enriched by touring other countries. Seven of these trips have been to Europe. Other travels have taken me to Alaska, the Mexican Riviera, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Cozumel, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands.

Carra’s painting “All Dressed Up” at the Knoxville Cultural and Arts Alliance Membership Show, December 2018. Photo provided.

Brown: If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be?

Artis: I would have started painting earnestly years ago instead of putting it off until I retired. I should have taken Spanish or French in college because it would really help when traveling.

Brown: If money were no object, describe your perfect vacation getaway.

Artis: My perfect vacation getaway would be an extended around the world tour with opportunities to paint with other like-minded artists in the countries we visited.

Brown: What’s the best thing about traveling? What’s the worst?

Artis: The best thing about traveling is meeting people and experiencing the culture and scenery of new places. There are pluses and minuses of determining your own itinerary versus traveling with a group. The worst things about travel are long airline flights and delays that result in missed connections. Last year because of bad weather we missed a connecting flight that was taking us to Switzerland for a Rhine River cruise. Thankfully, an experienced ticket agent at Dulles Airport booked us on a later flight on another airline. However, when we landed we had to call the ship to reschedule the driver who was picking us up.

Brown: What’s the best and worst thing about getting older?

Artis: The best thing would be the knowledge and richness you gain from life experiences. The worst thing is that the majority of your life has already passed.

Brown: What has become your new routine since you retired?

Artis: After retiring in 2007, I was a self-employed freelance designer for about seven years. I worked for Invitation Oxford for about six years. Dr. Samir Husni, Director of Magazine Innovation Center and Journalism Professor, found me jobs as art director for two magazines. Marrying in 2013 and moving to the Knoxville, Tennessee area was a big change. When I joined a plein air painting group in 2015, I gave up my graphic design business so I could focus on painting.

Having unstructured time is nice. The downside is that it is a challenge for me to stay on task as I am easily distracted. Unless the weather is bad I spend about one day a week painting outdoors. I am the coordinator of “Tuesday Painters.” We choose various locations in the Knoxville and Smoky Mountain areas set up our easels to paint. I also work in my home studio and read art books and magazines. I attend painting workshops and conferences to improve my painting skills and enter paintings in competitions and shows. I’ve participated in two juried plein air paint-outs and hope to do more. I am also in the DAR and I am treasurer of my sorority alumnae chapter. I attend church services and other church activities.

Brown: What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Artis: I waste plenty of time looking at Facebook and Instagram, but I do use those apps to follow many oil painters I admire.

Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.

Artis: I taught high school art one year at an American Air Force Base high school in England.

Brown: What is left on your “bucket list?”

Artis: There is nothing specific, but more travels in the United States and abroad would be great.


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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