CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Deborah Herndon craves knowledge.
How else can you summarize an intellect who has earned a master's degree in urban planning, a doctorate in mineral economics and a law degree?
Vivacious and verbal, Charleston artist Herndon is a photographer on a mission to explore how human institutions and architecture reveal culture and can facilitate conflict resolution. "I'd probably been a war correspondent," she said, "except I don't want to get killed."
She has participated in 32 juried competitions in the past two years and received eight awards, including a first place in the "You Are Here" regional juried exhibit at the Parkersburg Art Center. Her work has been shown in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
Herndon's print process on commercial-grade metallic paper creates a saturated, reflected 3-D effect with light.
Her art expresses her vision for understanding cultural cues, human connections and avenues for resolving disputes; that vision evolved from three varied graduate degrees and a wide range of personal experiences.
She spent her first five years in Rockbridge County, Va., and moved with her family to Huntington when her father took a position with a law firm there. She went to Cabell County public schools through high school and then launched her winding path through higher education.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in sociology and anthropology from Marshall University in 1976, she went directly to the College of Architecture at Virginia Tech. She said she felt a growing interest in "how people come together into a built environment." She looked at architectural details everywhere she went and wondered, "Why those images, why those choices? You just know looking at some architecture that something is going on, and I wanted to know what it was."
Herndon had an early perception that urban and regional planning was the solution to many social and cultural issues. "I really thought all you had to do was plan it right," she laughed.
A few years after she completed her master's degree, federal funds for urban planning projects started to disappear; by this time she had also earned a master's degree in geo-environmental studies. Her first marriage ended when her son was very young, and she had a driving motivation to keep improving her skills and education so she could support her family. She heard about a doctoral degree at Penn State in the field of mineral economics and was fascinated.
"I didn't have any calculus," she said, "which was like saying I wanted to study Japanese literature and couldn't read Japanese."
In her early years, her maternal grandmother had taught her that it is "possible to make something out of nothing," and she leaned on that belief and convinced the university she could succeed in the program.