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Southern Icon
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At first glance, Boyd Saunders etching "The Great House" appears to be a fairly innocuous illustration of a large, white plantation.

However, a closer look reveals weeds and vines crawling across the lawn, the once-genteel balustrades crumbling from the roof and goats munching on the overgrowth or perching atop an old Buick.

Saunders said a news story he once saw described a massacre at a church in Rwanda where monkeys had moved in and lived among the slaughtered. He said "The Great House" echoes that story although the subject in his work is a victim of neglect rather than violence.

"I wanted to do a show that was thematically tied together," Saunders said.

The theme of Saunders' exhibit - which contains mostly etchings, some acrylic paintings, lithographs, mixed media and a token water color and pastel - is "Return of the Wanderer."

"The central idea is of a person wandering through life and after a long time coming back to where he grew up," Saunders said.

He explained how he admires the work of author William Faulkner. Faulkner left his Mississippi home to write in Paris and then in New Orleans before an acquaintance told him to go back home and write about what he knew.

"I'm convinced he would not have been as successful if he had never left it," Saunders said.

Saunders, now printmaking department head at the University of South Carolina, grew up on a farm in Tennessee. He said although he strays from it for sometimes years at a time, he goes back and is always amazed at the flood of memories and emotions the spot brings.

"I eventually realized, my family doesn't own the land," Saunders said. "The land owns us."

While his work depicts mostly scenes of the agrarian South such as beach homes, gas stations and other country locales, close inspections show a much quirkier look at the deep south.

Contrasting the muted and delicate composition of the dichromatic "Great House," is the vibrant and bewitching "The Vixen" - dominated by a phosphorescent stream and shielding a fox-like creature in the thick underbrush.

Many of Saunders' pieces depict an overwhelming sense of desertion and decay, such as "The Evangelist" - a favorite of Camille Cottrell, Oxford visual arts professor, former student of Saunders and organizer of the exhibition.

"What I loved about it is, technically it's very hard to do," Cottrell said.

Saunders uses the 15th Century Intaglio Processes for his etchings, which involves burning images into a copper or zinc plate with nitric acid, then hand-rubbing ink into the incised lines and running the plate through a press.

Multiple colored prints require separate plates for each color.

Saunders said he often takes a photograph of things such as a dog or boxcar he wants to insert into his work.

"They're not pictures of things that exist in reality," Saunders said. "In that sense I'm like a fiction writer."

The gothic bell tower of Oxford's Seney Hall impressed Saunders and he said it may one day make it into one of his pieces.

His mixed media piece "Threnody for Heroes and Dreams" is a sort of collage of a picture of a World War II fighter pilot, fragments of a calendar, a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and cracked remnants of a shellfish meal.

The soldier in the picture happens to be Cottrell's father.

"The picture used to hang in my studio," Cottrell said.

Saunders took the photo and visually recounted the story of how Cottrell's father was trapped in Japanese territory, found a plane and flew to Java. One boat left Java before Japanese forces arrived, but unfortunately sank off of the coast of Australia.

The commander of the vessel and Cottrell's father were the only survivors. He received a Distinguished Service Medal, which is also shown in Saunders' "Threnody."

Cottrell said anyone interested in art should come to see the exhibit, presented by the Arts Association in Newton County, which lasts through February at Oxford College's Candler Hall.

She said his work has been displayed in Paris, Venice and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"You can see it right here in Oxford," Cottrell said.