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July 11, 2017

In April, the Fine Arts studio aide at Johnson County Community College became the first Artist in Residence at Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kansas.

For Juniper Tangpuz, the world is widening.

In April, the Fine Arts studio aide at Johnson County Community College became the first Artist in Residence at Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kansas.

Then, this month, he accepted a position as the fabrication shop supervisor at the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at the University of Kansas.

Good for T.J., as he often is called. Not so good for a lot of people at Johnson County Community College who have worked with him over the years.

“We’re going to miss him, that’s for sure,” said Professor Mark Cowardin, Chair of Fine Arts and Photography, who has been Tangpuz’s supervisor. “He has a whole range of expertise with students. Most artists who went to school learned as much from the lab aides as they did from the instructors.”

Tangpuz’s art is on view at his studio just inside the Oak Park Mall entrance by Barnes & Noble and American Girl. He expresses his art in a range of materials but considers cardboard to be his “native language.” Look for the giant man, built from cardboard from floor to ceiling, or the robot that a child can sit inside. Tangpuz sets his own hours and welcomes visitors when he is there.

Quick look back

Tangpuz grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. His family didn’t have much money. By 5 years old, he was creating toys with cardboard from cereal boxes and other packaging. He attended Longview Community College and finished his bachelor of arts in sculpture at the University of Kansas. Then, in 2006, he joined JCCC as a studio lab aide and became more involved in his own art.

In 2011, when Larry Thomas was still chair of Fine Arts, Tangpuz got a chance to participate in an artist residency in a small town on the Danube River in Bulgaria. He didn’t know how to speak the local language or the many languages of his fellow artists, who came from around the world. For his project, he created a dog named Fido out of cardboard and walked “him” around town.

“The dog was like a ‘wanderer,’” he said. “It broke down the barriers. There is always that barrier that you have to cross over to get to communicate through art.”

Breaking communication barriers

The experience in Bulgaria propelled Tangpuz to study languages. He knows five now. Recently, at his studio in the mall, he listed one word in five languages on his whiteboard. Two girls who were watching smiled when he drew an apple under the words, breaking those barriers again.

Karla Engel, who manages Oak Park Mall, came up with the idea of opening a studio to bring art to the public. She offered the spot to Tangpuz after researching possibilities.

“It’s been great,” she said. “Customers are positive, kids are curious and he is a delight to work with.”

Cowardin said he couldn’t think of any artist who would be a better fit in that role.

“People have fun with T.J.’s work and I think that makes him happy. He is one of the most passionate people I know. He believes in what he is doing and his personality comes out in his artwork.”

To find out more about expanding your appreciation for art or enrolling in JCCC’s Arts & Design classes, contact Mark Cowardin: 913-469-8500, ext. 3607, or