Makers of nations

Springfield Museum of Art exhibits Artist as Teacher

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: “Voodoo Zoo” oil painting by Ron Anderson; photo: Ron Anderson

They are the makers of nations: the selfless women and men who shape the future by passing on their wisdom, their strengths, and their ideas. They are the teachers who patiently take on new, enthusiastic students both young and old and encourage them to be the very best version of themselves they can be. They toil relentlessly to improve their skills, reach out to students in need, and advocate for those art students who can’t advocate for themselves. Some of those teachers are even students themselves. They’re not all art teachers in the classical sense, mind you. Some of them just teach art for the sheer fun of it.

The Springfield Museum of Art is proud to sponsor a number of those very special artists this year, in their Artist As Teacher exhibition. “We had a significant and quality representation of works in our permanent collection of artists who taught art. This is an opportunity for us to celebrate their own work,” says Executive Director Ann Fortescue.

According to Fortescue, there are about 25 works of art in the exhibition. Those works include a beautiful blend of two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces. From the oldest piece in the exhibit, a 1908 oil painting titled “Portrait of William Merritt Chase’s Son” by artist Ethel Cook, to a more modern, if eerie ceramic sculpture by artist Tom Bartel called “Fifty Five,” the exhibition is a brilliant collage of whimsy, inspirational, and soulful pieces.

Artist and associate professor of ceramics at Ohio University Tom Bartel talks about the passage of time and how people are influenced by it as the inspiration for his haunting ceramic sculpture. When asked about his work, “Fifty Five,” he replies, “In my view, the figure is a representation of a figurative object that simultaneously resembles ‘the child’ and ‘the elderly,’ yet is neither.” Bartel jokes that ironically, he created the piece when he was 28. Now that he’s 46, however, his views toward aging and the criteria for what it means to be old have changed.

Just as our views as people change over time, so too can a painting. Artist Ron Anderson’s work, “Red’s Room” started out as a painting about the outdoors. Initially, he painted a brownstone with the original characters playing checkers in front of it. It was one of his first color pieces; previously, he had only worked in black and white. Anderson experimented with various types of lighting, textures, and colors, but wasn’t happy with how it was coming out, so he put it in his garage where it sat for a few years. It wasn’t until his landlady stopped by one afternoon and commented about how she liked it and suggested he finish it that he pulled it out of retirement and worked on it until it became the piece it is today. “It’s mostly about making bad choices and finding yourself in dark places,” Anderson says. For Anderson, art isn’t about the final product; it’s the process of creating it that’s the fun part.

“It’s a problem when you tell kids they can only do things one way,” Anderson says. He goes on to explain how thinking outside the box allowed him to reinvent his piece. Today, he continues to encourage his students to always think outside the box and enjoy what they’re doing even if it doesn’t fit the mold.

Looking at the individual pieces in the exhibition, one gets a sense that art teachers are truly an outside the box sort. From the dazzling curves of the “Blue Baskets” glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly to the mesmerizing, “Dark Duo (Diptych)” acrylic on canvas by Julian Stanczak to the quirky and playful “Summer Surf” oil on canvas by Ralston Thompson, the exhibition is replete with works that demonstrate how the artists push the limits of the human mind.

Looking at the artwork, it’s hard to imagine where the world would be today without the genius of creative minds. Thanks to some very creative artists, the exhibits are as fun to look at as they are inspiring. “It’s a nod to both current active member artists as well as to the teaching artists that have made such a significant contribution,” Fortescue says.

For parents of creative children, the exhibition is a great and affordable way to spend a rainy afternoon.

The Artist as Teacher Exhibition will run throughout the summer season beginning on March 12 and will run through Oct. 23. Artist as Teacher will run concurrently with the 70th annual Juried Artists Exhibition, which will run from June 25 through Sept. 4. Admission for museum members and children under 17 is free. Admission for non-member adults is $5 and for non-member seniors $3. For more information about the museum, upcoming exhibitions and membership, please visit or call 937.325.4673.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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