Aldridge stared in disbelief as art professor Dr. Jim Meade of The
University of Southern Mississippi showed her midway through the
fall semester of 1987 the grade she was making in his painting class.
humiliated and shocked," Aldridge said. "I was really
Prior to attending
Southern Miss, Aldridge had breezed through her art classes in elementary
and high school, never making below an "A." Her artwork
won awards, and she was the obvious choice when elected president
of the Hattiesburg High School Art Club. She had enjoyed the benefits
of art lessons as a child, and the encouragement of her parents.
Then, in Meade's
class, she was faced with a choice. "He (Meade) said 'I know
you're better than this.'"
Up to that
point, Aldridge said, she thought her performance was, at the very
least, up to par with what was expected in college. "Everything
had been so great before, but at the time I just didn't realize
that I hadn't really gotten serious about my work," she said.
"I just thought, 'Geesh, I've really got to figure out what
to do.' I began to realize that I just wasn't focused. I just made
the decision to get serious about it and take a long look at myself
and figure out how I was going to change."
herself to her craft, and today is a successful graphic designer
with David Carter Design in Dallas. And she's still making the grade,
so to speak. This past February, her advertising design project
for one of David Carter's clients, Lajitas, The Ultimate Hideout--a
resort in the Big Bend, Texas, area--took one of the top awards
at the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International's
awards ceremony in New York City.
In stark contrast
to her "D" in Meade's class, the award she received at
the HSMAI ceremony - the Adrian Award - is, appropriately, in the
shape of the letter "A."
approximately 1,500 entries from around the world, her project,
which included a brochure, sales kit and collateral materials, also
received two gold awards and one silver at the ceremony. The HSMAI
competition is the largest travel-related design competition of
its kind in the world.
surprised at Aldridge's success. "Our job, as faculty, is to
get them to reach the next level, from amateur to professional,"
he said. "Sometimes, you have a moment of truth, like she did,
to decide whether to reach that next level. I believed at the time
that she had the potential, and obviously she did."
Even as a professional,
Aldridge still enjoys art as an expression of herself, blending
her passion with the needs of her clients. "It's fun, continuous
fun," said Aldridge, who joined Carter's firm in 2000. "What
I enjoy about it is trying to come up with a successful solution,
graphically, to a problem; that is, how can I, through color, typography,
visuals - all those elements - create something that communicates
the essence of my client, what they are and what they want to portray.
It's also very satisfying to be able to design something that makes
a client happy and then gets them recognition."
thrilled with her award and the attention it has brought to her
employer, any personal gain comes second to the customer's needs.
"It's only a success if it's a success for the client,"
her boss is equally thrilled and considers it a success, not only
with Aldridge's award, but also to have her on his team. "I
like working with her, and I know everyone else in the studio agrees,"
Carter said. "She is one of the most creative designers I've
worked with. Lajitas, the Ultimate Hideout--the project she has
won numerous awards for--is just one example of her creativity.
Even though Lajitas is fresh in many minds, she easily moves on
to the next project without missing a beat."
also working on a packaging project in Bangkok, Thailand, for a
newly created international spa company called "CHI."
on keeping his award-winning employee busy. "In order to keep
her from any normal family and friends contact, we also asked her
to design a 16-page brochure for a newly opened hotel and spa on
San Antonio's Riverwalk," Carter said.
success is proof that a person can make a career out of something
they enjoy doing, said Dr. Vicki Bodenhammer, director of the Mississippi
School of the Arts in Brookhaven and one of Aldridge's former art
teachers at Hattiesburg High.
I think of Donna, I remember a dedicated student who was not afraid
to follow her dream of becoming an artist, especially in a time
when seeking a career in the arts was not necessarily considered
a viable option for gainful employment," Bodenhammer said.
"I would be delighted to hang one of her works here in our
permanent collection (at the Mississippi School of the Arts) as
an example of quality Mississippi artists."