Managing Partner, Nothwestern Mutual-Memphis
photography by Larry Kuzniewski
When Jim Meeks became managing partner of Northwestern Mutual-Memphis three years ago, he used an artist’s eye to consider the group’s distinct identity. Northwestern had the strength of a national reputation but also drew from its considerable local connectivity, with more than 70 representatives on the street advising investors young and old in risk management, wealth accumulation, and wealth preservation and distribution.
The local angle appealed to Meeks. When Northwestern Mutual moved into its new offices at Forum III in East Memphis, Meeks sought the advice of John Weeden of Vita Brevis Arts Bureau and Anderson Humphreys of Humphreys Ink. Advertising to help turn the space into a gallery of notable student artwork.
Weeden, in essence, juried numerous works, some of which will be displayed in a Northwestern Mutual-sponsored exhibition at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens in 2013. Pieces will rotate as students occasionally call them back in order to send them to their chosen art schools. In the meantime, the young student artists get a chance to share wall space with professionals in the field in an office that, with its slate-colored walls and contemporary lighting, is a ready-made museum.
1. Sunshine Daydream, by Lyle Wardlaw, local professional artist. Weeden borrowed this piece to round out the opening of Northwestern Mutual’s exhibition. At first glance, the piece seems child-like, a smearing of bright primary and secondary colors in blotches and clouds. However, when seen in full-spectrum lighting, the piece shows fine contemporary details that are best noticed close up.
2. House of the Dreamer, by Jeri Ledbetter, local professional artist. Ledbetter, who is represented by L Ross Gallery on Sanderlin in East Memphis, is often inspired by nature and human contact with nature. This large oil on canvas with charcoal and graphite, though contemporary, shows the interplay between structure and color, strict lines and nebulous forms. The white canvas contains smears of ivory and gold with black scribbles.
3. Northwestern Mutual established its first local office in 1965. Today, more than 80 financial representatives and another 70 associates and staff call Northwestern Mutual-Memphis home. The company signed a lease for more than 18,000 square feet at Forum III in 2011, following a year-long search for more office space to accommodate the expanding firm. Jim Meeks partnered with CB Richard Ellis Memphis on the lease, and Graham Reese Design Group designed the company’s fourth floor-space. Hertz Investment Group purchased Forum I, II, and III from Parkway Properties as part of a larger acquisition in spring 2012.
4. A Stable Life, by Kate Kournegay, Lausanne Collegiate School; teacher: Kathryn Manzo. This framed acrylic on canvas was originally commissioned by the young woman depicted in the painting who wanted to commemorate her daily life experience as a horse rider in the Germantown Charity Horse Show. It’s also a scene from local history, a small piece of a historic event in Germantown’s culture. In it, a young woman in riding gear nuzzles the head of her brown horse in a green pastoral setting. The painting demonstrates traditional art teaching techniques, which Weeden says is sometimes omitted from school art programs in favor of conceptual study and art theory.
5. Sleeves, by Kyle Owens, White Station High School; teacher: Charles Berlin. This charcoal drawing on paper was done by the artist from a photograph of himself showing both hands and arms from the elbows down, with one sleeve raised slightly as if readying for work. But look closely: The piece has all the clarity of a true photograph. Owens’ stated purpose is to make his drawings as realistic as possible. He will attend Memphis College of Art this fall.
6. Crystallized, by Bonner Williams, Hutchison School; teacher: Anne Davey. In this color photograph, a frozen raindrop hangs dome-side down from a surface while encapsulating a radiating snowflake-like crystal. The piece juxtaposes structure and smoothness within a natural formation so tiny as to be overlooked by all but an artistic eye. Williams is self-taught and frequently shows works at Art on a Hot Tin Roof. She intends to pursue art and architecture in college.