Bringing Art To The Country

Planting the seed: Hoping to spark interest in art, local artists Voges, Walker offer workshops for students at Cranfills Gap ISD

“More important than a work of art itself is what it will sow. Art can die, a painting can disappear. What counts is the seed.” Joan Miro, 20th century Catalan painter of abstract & surrealist art

CRANFILLS GAP – Tight school budgets and an ever-growing list of state mandates dictating the classroom curriculum caused the education of the arts to decline considerably in the past three decades.

Inevitably, when schools have to juggle finances, the art classes are the first to fall outside the budget. For one, they are not tested subjects and are not part of the core subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. Additionally, the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act, with its pressure to raise test scores, has reduced classroom time devoted to the arts.

An additional factor in the decline is the public sense that the arts are all good and well, but not essential to being a successful citizen.

This stands especially true for small rural public schools, like Cranfills Gap Independent School District.

School board members Doug Kieta and Ed Rieser recognize the importance of art and the endless benefits of participating in art classes. Drawing from the incredible resources of all the Bosque County artists, Kieta and Rieser initiated art workshops by local artists to give the students an introduction to different types of art.

With the visual arts, there are many areas that cross over into regular subjects, like learning about color, perspective, proportions and balance. Also consider the value of improving coordination, learning to observe, and having a creative outlet. Children learn to focus and have patience in whatever work they perform.  

In a world where students must frequently navigate masses of information to determine which facts are trustworthy and relevant to a particular topic, critical thinking skills learned through art classes are key to college readiness and lifelong learning – another benefit, which ties into the state’s goal to increase college readiness. The visual arts teach all sorts of techniques that will be very helpful in further education and work, for instance with making presentations and reports.

Children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts. In rural Texas, with it’s higher than average population of families in the lower socio-economic bracket these art workshops help students connect with their own culture as well as with the wider world. Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences.

“We hope to bring art to the country,” Rieser said. “There are very talented kids in this school, which need to be exposed to the arts, including dance and music. Let’s see if there is something they would like to pursue.”

With that approach in mind, fourth and fifth grade students participated in a workshop on Dec. 8 by realistic art painter Lloyd Voges, well known for his very detailed landscapes, cactus flowers and images of rural Texas life, including livestock. Besides his art, Voges is an active rancher, raising Dorper-cross sheep, and they were lambing that week.

Always sketching and drawing as a child, Voges preferred to become a rancher. Not until 2008, after surgery had him laid up, did he take up painting to pass the time. And since 2009, he is a full time artist, with a breakthrough in 2011 when he became a lifetime member of the Western Artists of America. Voges believes observation and color are key in translating reality to the canvas.

“Snow might seem white, but there are a lot of colors in there,” Voges said. “It picks up some blue from the sky, and yellow from a light source.”

Being a painter, Voges represented the two-dimensional art. But in the process, Voges showed students how to bring depth in a painting with colors, values, to divide it up in three planes and perspective. For example, objects closer to the viewer are darker; the sky closer to the horizon is greyer. He explained his work process, often using photos as a guideline.

From a few flowing, seemingly random grey lines and shapes, Voges conjured up a landscape with a detailed cedar tree.

“I can’t believe how you changed a big blob into an actual tree,” one student said.

Several students enjoyed the opportunity to add to the canvas, making the sky more vibrant blue, adding a tree, and animal tracks in the snow.

“Artists are the original photoshoppers,” Voges said about the creative freedoms. “The photo is just a guideline. You can add what you want.”

The next day in a workshop provided by cowboy sculpture Jack Walker, seventh grade students took a lump of clay and transformed it into a three dimensional object – a cowboy boot in this case.

In a portfolio of Walker’s body of work, the students marveled at the larger-than-life sculptures of horses and their riders, all manner of animals and livestock. From being a horse-trainer and rodeo rider, Walker’s horse sculptures are unparalleled.

“Sculpting is not hard,” Walker said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it. Just keep looking at the object, keep turning it so you see the different sides, and keep correcting as you go. Look at the curves, the angles, the bulges and the masses. Do not over think it, just use your most important tools – your eyes and thumbs.”

Walker had a chest full of wire and wood tools for carving, trimming, shaping and smoothing the students could use to create their piece. According to Walker, sculpting in clay is an “add and subtract medium,” where you add with your thumbs and take off with wire tools.

Some students were a bit more successful in recreating the cowboy boot, even adding embellishments. Others went off assignment and produced objects that inspired them – a man on a bench, a small ogre, a cross, a lion.

“There is no right or wrong, just as long as they’re creating, ” Kieta said. “Somehow we need to broaden the kids’ perspective. If we spark an interest in one or two kids we’ll be happy. If you kindle a small flame it can become a fire.”

Both Walker and Voges were very approachable, patient and supportive, showing encouragement for the students, pushing them to keep pursuing art, to keep creating.

“Anything you do and what you create is good, for the sole fact that you created it,” Voges said. “Don’t let anybody tell you different.”

“Optimally, we would like to offer art on a regular basis,” CGISD Principal Shana Campbell said. “There are teachers that incorporate art in their lessons, but these workshops are a way to utilize volunteers, to allow the kids get more exposure to art. “

Cranfills Gap ISD already tends to focus on core subjects in the morning, allowing for more flexibility in the afternoon for elective activities like athletics, academic competition, One-Act Play and field trips. Expanding on the success of these two workshops and other local artists volunteering, the district hopes to host new art opportunities for its students in the New Year.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”Pablo Picasso, 20th century Spanish cubist painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and stage designer

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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