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Student connects family, identity in contest-winning piece displayed in Beal gardens

May 26, 2024
MSU BFA student Ellie Stanislav stands next to "Magnolia Transplanted" at the Beal Botanical Garden on May 24, 2024.
MSU BFA student Ellie Stanislav stands next to "Magnolia Transplanted" at the Beal Botanical Garden on May 24, 2024.

On Friday, May 17, Ellie Stanislav debuted her art to put on display in Michigan State’s Beal Botanical Gardens.

The piece is a tile from a work of tiles titled “Magnolia Transplanted." The display is a result of her winning the garden’s student art contest, and will be in the gardens throughout 2024. 

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Stanislav graduated this spring with two degrees, one from the Residential College of Arts and Humanities as well as a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in studio art with a specialization in ceramics.

She grew up around art, with her parents bringing her up around creativity. This path was always in the cards for Stanislav.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, but I kind of knew that if I didn’t pursue art, I’d probably regret it and probably feel like I missed out on something,” she said. 

Before entering the tiles into the Beal Garden contest, it was her project for her senior exhibition, which is required in the BFA program. 

The MSU Beal Botanical Garden Student Art Contest is the first of its kind that the garden has put on. Any student, undergraduate or graduate could submit a maximum of three pieces all of which had to fit the garden’s philosophy: People, Places and Plants. Materials used in each submission were required to be durable and safe for the environment and people visiting.

The contest-winning student received a $500 prize as well as having their work displayed in the garden. 

At first, she wasn’t sure what she would do for this exhibit but she turned to past classes and her parents, who have always influenced her.

“My parents are a huge inspiration for me,” she said. “And so every time I created a piece it was like, what can I make for them? What would they love? What would they want in their home, in their hands?”

Her first introduction to tile was in a mold making class. One of her prompts had something to do with nature. It was with these inspirations and encouragement from her professor that “Magnolia Transplanted” was born.  

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“It just kept expanding and kept growing and growing,” Stanislav said.

Stanislav is from New Orleans and at a young age her family moved to Michigan because of Hurricane Katrina. This piece was an homage to her parents and the city in which she was born. 

“It was ‘Magnolia Transplanted’ because us, me, myself transplanting and then my parents, of course, their resilience, their endurance throughout all of it,” Stanislav said. 

In the tile, both a black eyed susan and a magnolia are depicted. The black eyed susan is a flower that Stanislav has always identified with her mother and the magnolia is the state flower of Louisiana. 

“I don't know how many art pieces I’ve done that have spoken to this transplanted story of Katrina, of New Orleans, my family,” Stanislav said. “It’s always been a strong piece of my art.”

Stanislav has craved a stronger connection with New Orleans since she moved away at a young age and doesn’t get to visit often. Her art is a way to stay connected. 

“I don’t know the place and I lost contact with the culture, so it is kind of like a balance of, I have idealized what I think the place is, but I don’t really know,” she said, “Always having a callback has given me the opportunity to keep it in my life, to keep something I can identify with and go back to.”

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“Magnolia Transplanted” is not the only piece that Stanislav entered into the competition. The first was “Magnolia Rooted” a tile that went along with the winning art, but that held a different meaning as well as a different style.

“Magnolia Rooted is a little more, I always call it modern,” Stanislav said. “It’s flat color, it was just kind of a flat design and that seemed marketable to me and it was smaller…This is kind of my gateway to clients of the art world. So that was like I’m rooted, I’m here and this is moving forward.”

Nature is also a huge influence in Stanislav’s art and is often used as a source of inspiration.

“I think using nature as a way to represent identity or self or relationships has always been really interesting to me and it’s aesthetically amazing,” she said. “My mother has always had a garden and we have acreage on my parent’s property and so I feel like I’ve always been in the weeds.”

When the contest was brought to Stanislav’s attention, her piece “Magnolia Rooted” was what she first entered, and then she entered “Magnolia Transplanted." Stanislav said the contest organizers told her that the latter spoke more to her artistic voice.

Once she won, they also involved Stanislav in the process of choosing a spot and setting up her piece.

“It’s near the pond, kind of in a shady spot, so it’s a little tucked away,” she said, “I like the shade, it’s really nice for a cooler spot so you can sit and enjoy…It’s beautiful where it is and I think it looks great.”

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Being involved in the process and having her work displayed meant a lot to Stanislav. 

“To be one of the first, or to be the first part, of this project that they’ve started, that’s really special as well,” she said.

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