Art where two cultures meet: NAU professor’s art bridges being Black and Japanese

Edgerton's self portrait

Edgertons self portraitBeing born half African American and half Japanese American into a household concerned with expressing its cultures inspired Debra Edgerton to discover her heritage through art.

Edgerton, a senior lecturer in Northern Arizona University’s School of Art, is internationally recognized for her exquisite watercolors, mixed media work and scrolls made with handmade paper and found objects.

“My parents met during the occupation of Japan during WWII. My dad grew up during the depression and fought in a segregated unit in the Army. My mom (Japanese) was warned not to express her culture once she arrived in the U.S. because of the aftermath of the war,” Edgerton says. “No one in the family talked much about where we came from and I thought that was normal. But when my mom passed away I realized that I didn’t know enough about my heritage.”

Despite a youthful desire for a career in architecture, Edgerton always knew art would be a part of her life. In graduate school, she started documenting stories in a visual format recreating her cultural experiences.

Edgerton began teaching at NAU in 1993. Her current classes include drawing, color theory, watercolor and artistic video creation. “I inspire my students to find their own voices, whether they are the fringe of society or not,” she says.

She is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society, and a lifetime member of the Transparent Watercolor Society.  Edgerton continues to win numerous awards and grants, including artist residences in Italy and Japan. She has led international workshops and co-collaborated on a study abroad program to Austria resulting in two tile mosaics installed by students in the School of Art. Edgerton’s work is in a collection of paintings on African royalty in the United Negro College Fund’s permanent collection.

NAU Communications