Thursday August 03, 2017
They say there is strength in numbers, a turn of phrase used to indicate that a group has more influence or power than one person. But the adage also lends itself to the concepts of connection, encouragement, and resolve. It is why Strength in Numbers is also the name of a group of Vermont art teachers who come together for monthly meetings to support each other in their art making. According to these teachers, it gives them the purpose they need to engage and persist in making art. One of the members is Lisa Bird of South Burlington. She and the other teachers in Strength in Numbers currently have their work on display in their annual art show at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.
Dorsey Hogg, an art educator herself, established Strength in Numbers as part of her capstone research project at Saint Michael’s College in 2012. An art teacher for over 12 years at the time, Hogg’s research was sparked by her own frustration at feeling little connection to actually making art. “I had many projects in my loft that were started, but never finished, and I found it difficult to call myself an artist,” recalls Hogg, who struggled to find time to even contemplate making art between teaching and her responsibilities at home. Hogg’s research focused on how art teachers identify as teachers and as artists, which got Hogg thinking. “To connect with my identity as an artist, I felt I needed a supportive like-minded community. And when I started asking around, I found out that I was not alone!” Thus Strength in Numbers was born. She says, “We found that having the group is our excuse to find time and space to make art. I feel that this structure of supporting each other and having expectations to show and meet is what fuels my art.”
For Bird, the experience of being part of Strength in Numbers has been more than positive. She says, “As an art teacher you are often on an island by yourself. At least it feels that way. It is hard to find time to create your own art and push yourself to keep at it. Joining this group has shown me that I can make time and that it is important to keep making my own art.”
A graduate of Green Mountain College with a master’s degree from Saint Michael’s College, Bird has been making art her entire life. “My mom tells me that I used to gather the neighborhood kids and hold art classes.” Bird grew up in Pennsylvania, but has lived in Vermont for over 12 years, almost five of them in South Burlington. She says, “Vermont has always felt like home to me, even when I was a young girl and visited.”
Having previously taught in Sheldon, Bird will be the new kindergarten through fifth grade art teacher in Shelburne this coming fall. She credits her own elementary art teacher for her path in life, adding, “She inspired me to share my own creativity with others. Her classroom was the one place in school that all were welcome and all were honored just the way they were. Because of her, I wanted to share that in my own classroom.” Understanding the power of art to enliven communication and spur interaction, she adds, “The arts have brought community to my life. Art is the outlet that allows people the chance to connect and get to know each other on a deeper level.”
As for her own art, Bird says, “You name it, I will try it. In college I really enjoyed textile arts. However, most recently I have been trying my skills at painting.” Her painting in the Strength in Number show is the result of an intuitive painting course she took by international artist, author, and teacher, Flora Bowley. Intuitive painting, Bowley writes, is, “based on the notion that you don’t need to begin with a preconceived painting in mind. Instead you can allow your paintings to unfold organically over time through bold mark-making, experimentations with color, and a curious mind.” The piece Bird shows at the Fletcher Free Library is composed of several layers of paintings with multiple colors and textures. Bird says, “The idea behind the art was to allow your intuition to tell you what the next steps were. The painting changed at least 15 times before I considered it in a place that I could show it.”
If both teaching and making art are not enough to keep someone busy, Bird recently upped the ante by adding a new creation and job title to her full schedule. She and her husband had their first child. Bird says, “We bought a little ranch house to start our lives in. We knew that we would someday have kids and both being teachers, we thought South Burlington would be a great area to raise children in.”
The Strength in Numbers Art Teachers Annual Art Show will be up for viewing through August 27. According to Hogg’s research, all of the participating art teachers reported that after making the effort to create their own art, they were more satisfied with their jobs as art teachers. Hogg adds, “Even now, so many years later, I feel so much more accomplished as an art teacher because of the art that I am making on my own.” Bird can only concur, “I feel extremely fortunate to have the art bug to share with others.”
Strength in Numbers: Art Teachers Annual Art Show, Fletcher Free Library, Main Reading Room, 235 College Street, Burlington. Through August 27. For more information: www.fletcherfree.org.
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper