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Oxford’s Women on the Move: A Stroke of Genius

By Anna Grace Usery

Rosie Vassallo is the LOU community’s go-to as the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce’s administrative assistant. Not only can she tell you about the happenings of Lafayette County, she can also show you her expertise in painting. She’s carried her love for art with her since she was a child, and now she uses it to the benefit of the community. HottyToddy.com’s Anna Grace Usery talked with Vassallo about her story. 

Rosie Vassallo is a familiar face in the Oxford-Lafayette community as she is the first face you see upon entering the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce. Photo provided.

Usery: You mentioned you grew up in Texas. What part? As a child what did you envision for yourself personally and professionally?

Rosie Vassallo: I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. While my parents didn’t have a college background, their goal was to have me and my siblings all get a college education. I worked hard in high school to get a scholarship which enabled me to attend Texas Christian University and graduate with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design. My dad instilled in us a very competitive spirit – not to give up but to work harder to achieve greatness. I thought I wanted to go into special education, until I substituted while attending college. I quickly realized that major was not for me. I enjoyed drawing and painting since the fourth grade. I became even more enamored in drawing that year when I received my first blue ribbon. Dressing for success has always been important to me since an early age; I used to think of the beautiful clothes I would be able to purchase once I graduated from college and got a job.

Vassallo’s specialty is painting animals. Photo provided. 

Usery: How did you make it to Oxford?

Rosie Vassallo: My husband Steve graduated from Ole Miss and our goal was to one day live here. He says it only took 44 years to make Oxford our home.

Usery: Where did you begin your career?

Rosie Vassallo: My first job after graduating from TCU was with Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers, in San Antonio. I had responded to a silkscreen position and was offered another job, working in the sign shop. In less than one year, I was awarded “employee of the month” and was promoted to creating marketing ideas for their 55 stores. I was also awarded the prestigious Cash Award of the Eleanor Onderdonk Memorial Award at the San Antonio Art League exhibition where only seventeen cash prizes were awarded from more than 1,000 entries. We then moved a number of times due to Steve’s fantastic promotions and I found different occupations wherever we relocated. So I held various positions from a graphic artist, to an illustrator, decorator and art teacher, worked for a Lawn and Garden Center where I designed their ads as well and won two first place awards in advertising.

Vassallo’s rendition of Ole Miss’ head football coach Matt Luke.

In McKinney, Texas I had the unprecedented experience of my students sweeping every top award, from first place to third place, in every category of the county’s fifth grade art competition. I’m proud to say my art students have won state, national and international competitions. Finally moving to Mississippi, my art background continued to be an asset as I became the Executive Director for Madison’s City Chamber of Commerce for 13 years. I created many of their marketing materials. During my tenure with the chamber I was named to the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 50 Leading Business Women, as well as Who’s Who in Mississippi. Today, I work as Director of Retirement Attraction for the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, where I have been able to use my artistic background in designing ads for our members, and donating paintings for our fundraising events. In 2016, I was nominated to the Lafayette-Oxford-University Women of Distinction. In partnership with Jeff McManus we created the “Landscaping Camp” campaign which was designed to raise awareness on beautifying ones yard as Ole Miss has been named the Most Beautiful campus by a number of national publications, while showcasing Oxford MS as a preferred retirement destination. We were awarded the PRAM Award of Excellence this year, among public relations professionals in Mississippi. I produced a painting for each of our speakers and created one specifically to make into a print to thank our sponsors and campers.

Throughout my career I have been recognized with First Place awards in the media of watercolor and oils in Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas.

Usery: Wow, you’ve had a wonderful career! As far as painting goes, your specialty is animals. Do you have a special connection to animals or is it something people just asked you to paint? Who in the community have you painted for?

Vassallo painted Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter’s two poodles after they passed away.Photo provided.

Rosie Vassallo: Our nine children (dogs) have been the love of our lives. Pets are all so precious and hold such a special place in one’s heart. I love painting them for others. It makes me smile and feel so good when I complete a commissioned painting, that I can’t wait for the owner to see it. I call myself a pet portrait artist and have been commissioned to paint hundreds of pets. One special painting was presented to Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter at The Economic Development Foundation’s “First To Know Breakfast.” It was a painting of his two poodles that had recently passed away. Others who have commissioned me in Oxford include Michelle Mason, Tony Deal, Megan Berry, Molly Mogridge, Sasha Hedges, Sam Deleeuw, Amy Holmes, Margaret Britt Baker, Gail Miller, Scott Romero and Allen Kurr. In addition, I have done paintings of Ole Miss coaches and have donated paintings to various nonprofits for fundraisers such as Doors of Hope, St. Joseph Catholic Church, United Way and Oxford University School, just to name a few.

Usery: Take me through your creative process.

Rosie Vassallo: I work from photographs and start with a pencil line drawing. No one in Oxford had heard of anyone painting upside down until I shared my techniques with others, which I learned in college. This really brings so much more detail to one’s painting. I start with the eyes because if they are not captured just right, you’ve missed the whole emotion. Once I am almost finished I turn the painting around to see how it looks and always excites me when I get to this point. I love to paint with acrylics and watercolors.

Usery: What’s your favorite thing about being so immersed in the LOU community?

Rosie Vassallo: My favorite thing about the Oxford-Lafayette Community is that there is always something to do… lots of fabulous entertainment.

Usery: What do you love about Oxford?

Rosie Vassallo: What I love about Oxford is its small, safe community with everything you’d find in a large city. In addition, the people here are very friendly and always ready to help others. Oxford is an easy city to navigate.

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