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Terry Maxwell: The Blackboard Jungle

August 23, 2007

As a member of Angelo State’s biology faculty, Dr. Terry C. Maxwell has been known to capture all sorts of animals without ever touching a single one of them.

Maxwell uses his artistry to capture them in pen-and-ink on paper or in chalk on the blackboards of three classrooms in the Cavness Science Building where the ASU Biology Department and the ASU Natural History Collections are housed.

“I never had any really formal instruction in illustrating art, which is basically what I do,” Maxwell said. “It’s a lifetime of practice.”

Practice makes perfect in Maxwell’s case because his eye-catching blackboard art in Cavness Rooms 111, 119 and 123 has become an ASU student attraction and likely holds a longevity record for blackboard work.

His chalk portraits of a fish, two salamanders, two birds, three frogs and four large cats are all 15-20 years old. Not only do biology students see his illustrations but also the readers of the San Angelo Standard-Times, which run his weekly nature column “Naturally Texas.”

His art avocation, though, blended nicely with his formal education as he holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management and a Ph.D. in wildlife and fisheries science, both from Texas A&M, as well as an M.S. in biology from Angelo State. He has used his artistic talents to illustrate his love of nature, especially birds.

Today the former Biology Department head is curator of birds for the Angelo State Natural History Collection, a prime resource for field biology. He is also one of the most popular professors on campus, twice named by the Student Senate as the outstanding faculty member in the sciences. He has also been honored by the Faculty Senate and the Alumni Association for teaching excellence.

In 2007 he was named a Piper Distinguished Professorship by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the teaching profession. This statewide award is the highest classroom recognition for university professors in Texas.

Despite all the contemporary recognition, Maxwell considers himself old-fashioned.

“I am one of the few people apparently remaining who passionately defends holding on to the old-timey black blackboards,” he said. “Everybody’s gone to the fancy whiteboards with the erasable marker or the green boards with the yellow chalk.

“I practically chain myself to a blackboard when they are threatening to take it down and replace it because I can’t do my art on anything but a blackboard,” he said. “I’m sure the day that I retire somebody in charge of boards will say thank goodness he’s gone and we can put something modern up there.”

Maxwell and his wife, Ann, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from ASU, share many field study experiences and a love of art.