By: Liz Richter, Louisville Artist and Educator
This piece was created for KMAC Couture 2015. The materials are classroom leftovers from all the media I’ve taught: painting, drawing, weaving, clay, wood, mixed media, and recycled art. An idealization of my expectations as an art educator, Arts Warrior tells the story of the struggle to balance my desire to impact students through education with creative ambition and personal expression. I also created this work to draw attention for the pressing need for more trained arts educators in our elementary schools.
Like many millennials, I found myself disillusioned by my career choice less than 10 years after college; struggling to find balance in the workload as an educator while maintaining my personal commitment to creating as an artist. While moving my home studio, I found stacks of notes and letters from my time in the classroom. I decided to create this piece as a way to visually reinterpret my teaching experiences. The dress itself is laminated paper weavings pieced together. I made the warp from my folder of sentimental notes and drawings from students and co-workers when I taught, and the weft was my portfolio of project examples, like the Kindergarten Build-a-body, Van Gogh’s landscapes, and Romare Bearden Cityscapes. I laminated it all to make it stronger, but it’s also a wink at elementary teacher’s love of lamination, even in the digital age. Weaving together the words of affirmation from students with the content I taught so passionately was a cleansing process, and one that was interlaced with memories of blood, sweat and tears. I wove in silence and thought, like indigenous weaving circles.
As important as expressing my personal struggle for balance in the field of art education, I wanted to raise the issue of what I witnessed continually, traveling to schools and teaching more than 2,700 Louisville area students as an art teacher and scholastic residency artist for KMAC Museum: the essential need for more quality arts education in our elementary schools. I’ve seen firsthand the power that visual art education affords our children and we have a unique opportunity to increase support. Fund for the Arts, LVA and KMAC are supplementing schools with artistic experiences, but more is needed.
The embellishments on the dress, shoes and headpiece were all leftover supplies from old projects: CD weavings, mini loom weavings with leftover yarn, pompoms and friendship bracelet supplies. The headpiece was made from brushes I had been saving for students. The necklace consists of clay beads and leftover wooden legs from a folk art animal project and represented all the memories of those mediums, like using attempting to use power tools, hauling 500 lbs. of clay into schools, and teaching Kindergarten pattern using colored beads. I wove Ojo de Dios, “Eye of God” on the wooden staff. This Mexican folk art project is almost an art teaching cliche. It makes a cross on one side and an eye on the other and represents protection, sovereignty and responsibility. On the runway, she walked defiantly, holding the staff as a call to battle like a Crusader. The silhouette was inspired by both 1920’s and Native American fashion, as well as looks from the runways of Cavalli, Etro and Chanel.
This work is dedicated to all of the art educators I’ve met who have shared resources, mentored and encouraged me, while facing challenges and hardships along the way. These warriors have sacrificed their time and personal artistic practice in order to empower students through the Arts. To all the JCPS teachers I visited through Fund for the Arts scholastic residencies and especially: Laura Corkum, Donna Cook, Lisa Martel, Tammy Cusick, Joy Davis, Mara Ezerins, Michelle VanTine, Shaelyne Meadows, Beth Jackson, Beth Thomas, Carol Horst, Brenna Schlader, Melisa Gano, Carrie Neumayer, Jackie Pallesen, Marcia Goss, & Alana Alford
KMAC Education Team: Kat Lewis and the Education Board, Dane Waters, Sarah McCartt-Jackson, Ramona Lindsay, Susie Hammond, & Julie Yoder
The model for the runway show was Natasha Sumatko, an art student from the KY School of Art at Sullivan University, and the makeup artist was Autumn Sharp.