Visual Arts Department Faculty
Bob Pennebaker, associate professor of art and chair of the visual arts department, teaches drawing and painting. He holds master's and bachelor's degrees in art from Mississippi College and also studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Previously, Mr. Pennebaker served as chair of fine arts at Gordon College in Barnesville, GA, and has many years of experience as a self-employed artist, private art instructor, and gallery owner. He is also a professional caricature artist and judges numerous art competitions throughout the region, as well as leading art tours to Europe. His work is found in many private and corporate art collections. Recent exhibitions of Mr. Pennebaker's work include Confluence, a joint show with photographer Gretchen Haien at the Meridian Museum of Art in Meridian, Mississippi.
Gretchen Haien, associate professor of art, teaches photography. She received her BA in art from Belhaven University and her MFA in photography from Louisiana Tech University. For more than twenty years she owned and operated Studio 4 in Jackson, a professional studio offering creative commercial and fine art photographic services to national and international clients. After over a decade of part-time teaching, she joined the full-time faculty of Belhaven University in 2007. She has shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions in venues including the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, the Meridian Museum of Art, and the Beverly Street Gallery in Staunton, Virginia, and her work is found in both corporate and museum permanent collections. Ms. Haien's awards include the 2005 Mississippi Arts and Letters Award in Photography and the 2007 Photography's Emerging Artist to Watch Award of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Dr. Melissa Thorson, associate professor of art history and dean of the Honors College, teaches art history, aesthetics, art theory, and Honors Colloquium. After receiving a BA in studio art from Belhaven University, she pursued graduate study at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where she received her MA in art history and her PhD from Emory's interdisciplinary Institute of the Liberal Arts. From 1991 to 2000, Dr. Thorson lived in Germany, where she studied art history at the Philipps-Universit-t in Marburg and worked as an art and architectural translator and editor. Her published translations include Picasso: The Sculptures by Werner Spies and The Prints of Barnett Newman by Gabriele Schor as well as contributions to major exhibition catalogues such as C-zanne: Finished / Unfinished and Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues.
Nate Theisen, professor of art, teaches sculpture, two- and three-dimensional design, and painting. He received his BFA with an emphasis in painting from the University of South Dakota and an MFA with a major in painting and a minor in sculpture from Wichita State University. He also apprenticed in Germany under sculptor Anatol Herzfeld, a student of Joseph Beuys. Previously, Mr. Theisen taught at Butler County Community College in Kansas and at Wichita State University. Attending and teaching at secular institutions has caused him to realize that faith has been truncated from the whole of human experience, leaving a void that the world cannot fill. "It is my hope that students who are called to be in the arts see this need and the validity that expression and imagination inherently contain."