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'Blugold Spotlight' features Wanrudee Buranakorn

| Jesse Yang (story + video)

When she isn’t in the field shooting photos of figures and nature, Wanrudee Buranakorn is in the classroom teaching the next generation of artists about tactile art and photography. The UW-Eau Claire professor of art & design has a knack for working with her hands, learning about materials and how their properties can be recycled and manipulated to make practical products, like furniture, books and household items.

From a young age Buranakorn lived and breathed the creative arts. Born and raised in Thailand, her father was a professional photographer and trained her to be a photographer.

“It all started from loving a process and making and doing things with your hands," Buranakorn says. I’m deeply in love with the handmade process of photography, in terms of mixing your own chemicals and brushing onto papers to expose them. I do all of my digital prints myself and on alternative materials, such as canvases, and I make frames for them.”

With English being her second language, photography is a familiar, unspoken language that she says allows her to communicate with others.

“I wanted to stick with the language that I knew, something that I could do without having to speak," Buranakorn says. "Photography can show more than what meets the eye. It can convey feelings, expressions and give people the opportunity to use their imagination to escape the real world.”

No matter how big or small the project, Buranakorn puts herself in the viewer’s perspective, whether it’s making homemade soaps and lip balm, taking photos or putting together a book.

“How people view the artwork is so important. When people use their hands and gain the skills in which to develop that form of art for the viewer, the experience is so much more unique and intimate.”

In the classroom, the artist teaches beginning to intermediate and advanced level courses, including bookbinding, photography and studio art practice.

“We get to teach a lot about how to make crafts and the awareness of materials — how paper expands when you use glue. Even though they learn about materials in other art courses, they eventually get to learn about grain direction in paper, which makes for a more meaningful appreciation about the project.”

Learning art at the collegiate level brought a new level of appreciation for Buranakorn. While earning two master's degrees for photography and book art at the University of Alabama, her photography professor inspired her to pursue a career in teaching.

“I gained a perspective from her that I’m able to use in my teaching," Buranakorn says. "I’m imparting knowledge to students who are aspiring to become the next generation of artists. I get to continue that mentorship spirit that I learned as a student from my professor and instill that knowledge into my students.” 

College is a critical time period for students, and to have the privilege to witness and be a part of their journey as an educator is a rewarding feeling, she says. The added bonus? Being able to learn from them in return.

“Blugolds work hard, and they’re willing to be pushed to get a good end result. They’re also nurturing and flexible and willing to learn and be better.”