Johnion Hunt: Art student designs a campus icon


The Pine Needle

Few people get to put their mark on an institution the way Johnion Hunt has at UNC Pembroke. A digital art major, he designed one of the iconic images of the university – the nameplate of the student newspaper.

If Hunt’s contribution is remarkable, so is his story. A first generation college student, his graduation will come after more than 10 years in dogged pursuit of a college degree.

Hunt is well acquainted with UNCP’s heritage, and the nameplate design is an homage to the university’s and the newspaper’s history. It is packaged in a sleek, unique and visually pleasing design.

“I went to the library and looked at old copies of The Pine Needle,” Hunt said. “I used the same lettering they had in 1957. I was surprised to see the old newspapers, especially 1953 when the nameplate was hand drawn.”

As The Pine Needle’s cartoonist, Hunt had already put his mark on the paper, but the nameplate will be a lasting testament to his talents as an artist. In a campus interview, he explained the motivation behind the design.

“I am from this community, and I’ve seen how local people have contributed to the university,” Hunt said. “I wanted to contribute.”

The front-page nameplate incorporates elements from campus, past and present. The 14 pine trees represent the trees in the Quad, and 14 is the number of editions of the student newspaper each year. It also displays the founding date for The Pine Needle, which will turn 70 years old in 2016.

For color, Hunt chose green to represent a dynamic university.  “I chose green because it represents growth and harmony and the anticipation of good things,” he said. “Green makes it pop and come alive.”

At the base of the trees, Hunt feathered in brown to represent the university’s strong roots. The lettering and trees rest on a banner designed to look like a folded newspaper.

Flying overhead is a hawk. An important symbol for American Indians and as the university’ mascot, the hawk is “a symbol of strength, vision and power,” he said.

The overall theme, Hunt said: “You always want to remember where you came from.”

Hunt’s design work includes the masthead on page two, and the nameplate for the sports section. It features BraveHawk, like Atlas, holding up the nameplate.

“I wanted BraveHawk to look more muscular for the sports section,” Hunt said. “It represents the peak performance of an athlete.”

Hunt stared as the newspaper’s cartoonist during the spring semester. A squirrel is the star of his strip.

“I named him Sammy the Squirrel,” he said. “He one of the campus squirrels, friendly, helpful to students and an intellectual. Sammy gives a lot of good advice to students.”

 “I’ve always liked putting pencil to paper,” Hunt said. “In grade school, it used to get me in trouble.”

The education of Johnion Hunt, who will turn 39 soon, is a story in itself.  He dropped out of high school to help support his family.  While working as an auto mechanic among other jobs, he did earn a GED.

“I was the man of the house,” he said. Hunt’s work on cars gave way to jobs as an independent building contractor doing carpentry and home renovations.

“One day, I just said I need to go back to school,” Hunt said. “It was difficult, but I did pretty decent.”

Hunt started at UNCP in 2003 and will graduate in December 2014. “School was off and on, but I stayed there, that’s the important thing,” he said.

He attended classes during the day, working sometimes until midnight. His studies often ended at 4 a.m., and it was up at seven to start all over. On weekends, he worked on cars.

Obstacles followed on the coattails of challenges. A repetitive stress injury to the elbow of his drawing hand could have stalled his progress. He arranged classwork outside the studio, and UNCP’s Accessibility Resource Center provided him with two note takers.

 “It worked out, but I was worried about whether I would paint again,” Hunt said. “I am doing physical therapy. It feels better.”

Choosing art as his major was the easiest thing for Hunt. However, digital art proved a challenge.

“I wasn’t into computers, because they didn’t have them when I was in high school,” he said. “The first day I showed up in digital art class, I almost dropped it. But I found inspiration in digital art, and I’m in the advanced class now.”

Hunt named digital art professors Dr. John and Margie Labadie as inspirations. He credits Art Department chair Dr. Richard Gay for telling him about the opening for an artist at the Pine Needle.

With graduation on the not-too-distant horizon, Hunt took a moment to look back on his education. “I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed college,” he said. “I really enjoyed it; it was a learning experience. The newspaper has been great too.”