With watercolors, very detailed drawings and photography from faraway countries, Hammond Hall Gallery has again become a place to take in a many- faceted visual experience. The Visual Arts Society Summer Showcase, representing the work of the art faculty and community artists, is a display of diversity. Betty Mills Groover’s oil pictures a beach scene from a window, bringing to mind a place you’ve not been before.

“It’s where you want it to be,” explains Groover. Bryce Lafferty’s watercolor in two panels creates an invented world that speaks of how people use the environment, while Julian Jenkins’ floral work, three watercolors on rice paper, is the result of his taking a class in Chinese art.

A little girl wearing a knitted wool hat and hugging a lamb in a market in Peru last September is seen in a photo by Lesa Cummings. Cummings’ two other portraits of women in Burma are windows into the work and customs of the culture.

All make you wonder what will happen next.

“There’s an element of mystery in each one,” said Seth Johnson, the JSU art department head, who took office earlier this month. “You don’t know what happened before or after the focus, but the story continues in your imagination.”

Johnson hopes to raise the awareness of the exhibits in the area. “The gallery is such an important connection between us and the community,” said Johnson. “I invite everyone in to see the various approaches to art-making.”

Johnson, a JSU graduate himself, is a builder, making websites, working in printmaking and creating motion graphics design, as well. He also works in clay and ceramics, among other creative pursuits.

But for now, his time will be spent building the art department into an even better institution and making things happen for faculty and students.

It is already a department that gives its students a good foundation for careers, he said.

“We have a strong faculty, a good student base, support from the university administration and a master of fine arts in visual communication and design program, the only one in the state.”

Among other goals, he plans to grow the MFA program to obtain accreditation, to strengthen and expand the curriculum and to rebuild VAS to be the organization it has been before, he said.

“I have a deep connection with the society,” Johnson said. “When my high school teacher in Athens, Alabama, encouraged me to pursue art, I applied for a freshman art scholarship from VAS. I received the scholarship, went through the entire art program here and loved it.”

He received his master of fine arts at the University of Tennessee, where he was also hired to be an instructional technology specialist, and was later hired by Middle Tennessee State University to teach graphic design. While at MTSU he heard of the need in the art department here and applied.

Johnson has indeed made the most of his education, and it all started at JSU 15 years ago.

“For my wife Jillian and me, coming here is like coming home,” Johnson said.