Art teachers show off talent

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — For Shelby County’s public school art teachers, finding time to produce original art can be a challenge.

“It takes so much energy and so much time to be a teacher that it’s really easy to put your personal art on the back-burner,” Thompson High School art teacher Dian McCray said. “It’s like we tell our students, ‘you’ve got to use it or lose it.’ We forget that we’re supposed to be doing that too.”

Thanks to a new exhibit at the Shelby County Arts Council, teachers had a reason to create new art and show it off to the community.

The Director’s Invitational Exhibit, highlighting the talent and professionalism of art teachers in the county’s public schools, can be viewed through Feb. 25. An opening reception was held Thursday night, Jan. 13.

Art from nine teachers is on display inside the art council building at 104 Mildred Street during normal gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s a great opportunity for everybody in Shelby County, not just us teachers,” said McCray, an art teacher for 31 years.

Susan Gordon, the art council’s director of arts and education, came up with the idea for the exhibit.

“A lot of times they don’t try to put themselves out there or are afraid to put their art out there,” Gordon said of the county’s 40 public school art teachers. “We try to offer a safe environment for them to come and be able to show their work.”

Gordon said she perceived a “disconnect” between the arts council and teachers. Both are dedicated to promoting and teaching art to local students through a variety of programs. Moving forward, Gordon just wants to make sure they’re on the same page.

“We’re all fighting for the same cause,” Gordon said. “In tough economic times, you know what goes first – it’s the arts. We want to fight because we all believe deep in our hearts that arts are vitally important, just as important as math and science.”

Gordon approached arts council executive director Terri Sullivan and suggested a director’s invitational exhibit, the most prestigious exhibit an arts council can host.

“We wanted to connect with the teachers,” said Gordon, who sent invitations to every public school art teacher in the county.

The arts council is hoping city and county decision-makers will visit the exhibit.

Gordon said she’s invited “local politicians, school board members, judges and others” to the exhibit to “let them know this is important.”

Kathy Stewart received her invitation to submit art and initially declined. She didn’t think she had any suitable works to contribute, despite teaching art for 20 years.

“This is an interesting idea,” said Stewart, who has spent the last five years splitting teaching time between Calera Middle and Calera High. “I thought about it again and decided it would be good to do. It’s a great opportunity.”

While Stewart contributed three paintings for the exhibit, third-year Thompson High School teacher Tym Davis offered a pair of abstract clay figures.

Each figure consists of two figures intertwining in different ways. The figures are four and seven inches high and titled “In the Spotlight” and “The Kiss”, respectfully.

Davis, who has taught art for 12 years, started working with clay figures in 2003 while teaching a unit on sculpting figures. In his own work, he looks for unusual poses and positions.

“I still have this sense of wonder at how things go together, how things go from being a lump of clay – a heap of mud – into something that I intended it to look like,” Davis said. “I really enjoy seeing that in my students when they get that same realization.

“Most of our focus is about the students,” Davis said, “so it has a special feeling when we get something of ours out.”

Laura Alvard has taught art for 14 years at Shelby County High School and 22 years overall. She has three paintings on display. Alvard said she wishes more teachers participated but understood why more didn’t.

Submitting work required teachers to produce art between November and December. With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday, and end-of-semester duties at school, some simply didn’t have the time.

Alvard decided it was worth her effort, and McCray agreed.

“Not every teacher feels this way, but I think it’s important – especially at the high school level – to let your students see you working and exhibiting,” McCray said.

One of McCray’s students brought her family to the reception.

“I got real tickled,” McCray said. “That’s really cool.”