Charlotte artist transforms Jordan-Matthews library’s trash into work that inspires

Siler City, NC – Call them vintage. Or just call them old. But for Jordan-Matthews High School media coordinator Rose Pate, that large pile of old Life magazines that had remained untouched for decades was just gathering dust. Let’s face it: They were trash.

Four collages by mixed media artist John R. Miles III include material from Life magazines contributed by Jordan-Matthews High School.

But that didn’t mean she was ready to bury them in a landfill. “We needed to clear the library storeroom early last year to make a workspace for teachers and so we simply needed to get rid of them,” Pate said. “After give-aways to our history teachers, the next obvious spot was the art department.”

Down the hall and around the corner, some art students studying under teacher Rahma Mateen-Mason worked in the studio at the time, sorting through the stacks, pulling images and words for their own collages. And, after that, when there were so many issues left untouched, Mateen-Mason knew exactly where to send them next: her friend John R. Miles III.

Miles is a collage and mixed media artist working in Charlotte, someone who shares a passion for arts education. After graduating from Western Carolina University with a Bachelor of Fine Art, he returned home and accepted a job with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a high school art teacher. Now, he is a full-time artist whose work appears in many public spaces including Charlotte’s Harvey Gantt Center, Brooklyn Collective and 9189 Studio Gallery.

“Collage has become a lost art form over the years,” Miles explains in an artist statement on his website. “Romare Bearden brought collage to light during the Harlem Renaissance, and I’m bringing it back to light today. I want the world to understand that collage is not just the cutting and pasting of pictures on a page. Instead, it’s more like taking puzzle pieces that were never meant to fit together and manipulating them to not only fit, but also to make an aesthetically pleasing image during the culmination of a long, and tedious process.”

Much of the work he created using magazines from Jordan-Matthews seems nostalgic, which isn’t terribly surprising, since the Life magazines spanned roughly from the 1940s to 1960s. But there’s always a subtext to be gleaned in the work, something left for the audience to interpret and absorb.

Mateen-Mason was happy to share the magazines with her colleague, who made an appearance in Pittsboro last year as an instructor in Chatham’s first-ever All-County Art Workshop. And she was impressed to see what he did turning potential trash into art that has made an impact — not only on audiences, but the artist, himself.

“John was delighted and grateful to get the magazines,” she said. “He was definitely inspired by them.”

More information about JMArts, including a schedule of upcoming arts events and information on membership, is available online at