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MFA program checked all the boxes for WCU alum: culture, mountains and academic rigor

Lap Work and Leftovers. 2020. Fabric, chain, concrete.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a decade of work and life experience, Kentucky native Mo Kessler wanted to find a master’s program that checked all the boxes when it came to culture, experiencing the mountains of Western North Carolina and of course the master’s program itself. 

After doing a Google search, Kessler found Western Carolina University and the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts. Kessler did a deep dive on the college’s webpage and discovered that WCU’s Master of Fine Arts program with a concentration in sculpture would be a great fit.  

“The location, first and foremost, is what drew me in,” Kessler said. “There is never a bad photo of Cullowhee and I was also interested because of the connection WCU has with the EBCI. The language studies and incorporation around campus is wonderful.” 

I always say WCU is a small school with a giant reach and the visiting artist program shows that.

- Mo Kessler

Kessler, who was living in Greensboro at the time, decided to visit WCU’s campus for an open house in 2019 when J. Morgan Kennedy, sculpture associate professor, discussed the sculpture program.  

“I was looking at Morgan’s work and thought it looked really familiar,” Kessler said. “It turns out that Morgan was my undergrad mentor’s peer in graduate school, so it was like a full circle moment.”  

Kessler applied and was accepted to the Master of Fine Arts program. 

“When I met the rest of the faculty, I knew I had found my people here at WCU,” Kessler said. “I was blown away by the facilities and studio spaces. It definitely checked all of the boxes.” 

In addition to the EBCI connection, Kessler was impressed by the incorporation of the ideals from the Black Mountain College’s philosophy that the arts are central to the experience of learning and had admired the teachings for several years before coming to WCU. 

Kessler also got to participate in the visiting artist program, meeting artist Ann Hamilton. 

Aggregate Demand. 2021-2022. Plexiglass boxes, TV/VCR combos, video, fabric, light diffusing film

“Ann Hamilton is my living hero,” Kessler said. “I always say WCU is a small school with a giant reach and the visiting artist program shows that. It allows for intimate learning opportunities and a chance to really mine artistic knowledge from the artists.” 

When asked what the most impactful aspects of WCU were, Kessler shared that the faculty support, meeting students where they are, the freedom and the challenges professors offer their students makes the MFA program second to none.  

Kessler graduated in the spring of 2021 and now resides in Baltimore working as an operations manager for Paradise Labs, which makes molds for dioramas for zoos and other organizations. 

“After graduation, I was able to teach for a year at a community college and was cold called for my first solo show at the University of South Carolina Upstate,” Kessler said. “I also did a residency at the Vermont Studio Center and I am getting ready to my second solo show at a decommissioned dairy farm in Kansas in November.” 

Kessler’s future career goals are to continue traveling, have more projects supported by residencies and eventually be fully income-supported.  

To see more of Kessler’s work, visit   

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