Art Education — Part I

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Written by Clara Gunderson Hoover

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Mother (Marion Gunderson) was disappointed that the Rolfe Consolidated School did not offer art in any grades.  We had music in elementary grades and listened to the different instruments in Peter and the Wolf but had no art production or appreciation during the time I was in school (1947-1960).
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Carla Jones, as pictured in the 1965 Rolfe Ram yearbook.

In the early sixties, Carla Jones began teaching art in Rolfe.  During her at least ten years in Rolfe, she taught high school art, junior high social studies and, sometimes, elementary art.  My sisters Martha, Louise and Peggy remember Carla as encouraging students and giving them a great deal of latitude in choosing projects.  Martha recalls, “Carla was my first formal art instructor who had me really ‘look’ at something, to see its shape, the lines, the texture, their relationships, and had me do exercises related to those topics on newsprint.  Her lessons were an important foundation for me and very relevant to [art] classes at Iowa State.”

Recently I’ve reflected on things Mother and others did to help us not only learn about art, but also create art.  Arts and crafts were part of vacation Bible school (VBS).  Steven Graeber is an accomplished potter who grew up in Rolfe and later moved with his family to a farm near West Bend.  He now lives in Evergreen, Colorado, and said his first experience with clay was as an elementary student in VBS.  My brother, Charles, was in the same class, and Mother was their teacher.  They worked with slabs, coils, free forms and pinch pots.  Arts and crafts were the primary motivation for my sister Martha to attend VBS where she made plaster of Paris handprints, loom-woven potholders and small items formed from Popsicle sticks.
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Vera Fisher invited the girls in her high school Sunday school class to her home after school to glaze ceramics and fire them in her kiln.  While few of these projects were original creations, we enjoyed making them and learning about the ceramics process.

From the February 5, 1953, Pocahontas Record-Democrat.

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At least one summer, Mother drove me and some of my siblings to Pocahontas for lessons with Grace Pearl Walters in her Art and Hobby Shop, which at that time was located on the west side of Main Street across from the Rialto Theatre.  Grace was known as the “Bird Lady,” perhaps because her store also sold pets, and traveled to shows and fairs with her items.  I have only a vague memory of being in her classes and suspect I made enameled copper jewelry and created something with beads.

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Pictured is Clara painting at the kitchen table with one of Sharon (Wickre) and Jerry Rickard's sons. (Sharon and Clara are classmates from Rolfe's class of 1960.)

In the summers when I was young, I occasionally accompanied Mother when she painted on location with members of the Barr Art Association.  Once we went to the gypsum plant near Otho; another time we went to either the Pocahontas or Gilmore City elevator.  I took my own small stool, paints, watercolor paper and coffee can of water for rinsing paintbrushes.  Getting to paint with the adults was a treat.  As children, we sometimes watched Mother paint at home and enjoyed seeing her paintings propped up in the kitchen or dining room.  Later, as adults, we smiled as Mother and her grandchildren* (or children of our friends) painted on papers spread across the kitchen table.

City Hall, Gunnison, Colorado, watercolor by Marion A. Gunderson, 1964. (Click on image to enlarge.)

The summer after her sophomore year in high school, Martha traveled with Mother to a watercolor course in Gunnison, Colorado.  Martha went on some of the painting outings and enjoyed the scenery and peacefulness of the surroundings but doesn’t remember doing much painting herself.  Martha said she was always interested in art and was influenced by Mother as a 4-H leader and by her artistic background, use of color and way of arranging things.  Influenced by both Mother and Carla Jones, Martha majored in applied art at Iowa State.

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*Mother had seven grandchildren. Four of them are pictured here.

“Art Education — Part II” will be posted later this week.

Mother was born 92 years-ago today. Happy Birthday, Doll!  :  )

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

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5 Responses to “Art Education — Part I”

  1. Marti Carlson Says:

    Clara, reading this made me realize how much I really appreciate Mother and Carla’s influence.

  2. Steven J. Graeber Says:

    Hello Louise – I’ve got a photo of me with some of my pots that you could add to this if you would like. Steven

  3. Louise Gunderson Shimon Says:

    Below is what I wrote to Clara when she asked me several weeks ago what I remembered about my “art education.” I wrote to her only about my K-12 public school art education.

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    At present, I don’t remember anything about elementary art or junior high art, or Carla Jones those years.

    I do remember that when students would tell Carla why they couldn’t do something, Carla would say, “Can’t never did anything.” I’ve found myself repeating that to students!

    I also remember when I was a senior (or maybe a junior…I know it was one of those years because I had my driver’s license), Mother really wanted me to take art. I was hesitant because I felt I was not talented enough to do well in an art class and didn’t want to risk getting a bad grade on my report card. Mother talked with Carla Jones about my concerns. (I don’t recall if Mother and I talked with Carla together, or if it was just Mother and Carla). As a result of that conversation, there was a contract between Carla and me. The terms of the contract were that if I completed all of the assigned projects, I would earn an A on my report card. If I did not complete the assigned projects, I would receive a C. I.e., I knew I would not be getting a B, C, or D on my report card.

    I don’t know if we had a list of possible projects from which to select a few, or if there was a defined “everyone will complete every project” list.

    I do remember that one of my projects was a mobile. For another project I block printed fabric with the intent of my sewing a matching top and shorts set. The fabric was a light green woven and the ink was a blue (almost as dark as navy).

    I also remember that Carla was always a support for speech contest participants. Mrs. Knoll (high school English teacher) was the drama/speech sponsor (or coach, or whatever the title was). Every year (freshman through senior), I would participate in Interpretive Prose at speech contest (since it was a rule established by Mother and Daddy that we had to participate in speech contest…but I liked it, too). In preparation, during a free period I would take my speech to the art room while Mrs. Jones’ art students were working and read my speech to her so she could offer constructive criticism. I’m pretty sure she helped me all four years.

    Carla also “took tickets” at basketball games, and I think while doing so, in the breezeway (between the gym and the classrooms portion of the school building) would crochet. I think sweater vests, but maybe other things, as well.

    She was always fun. She had control, she had our respect, she educated us, and she was fun.

  4. Louise Gunderson Shimon Says:

    Marti, I’m with you on appreciating Mother’s and Carla’s influence, although it is present in you more than in me. Thank goodness neither of them gave up on me.

    Whenever Mother would try to interest me in going to the Blanden Art Gallery in Fort Dodge, or some other art experience, as a teenager and younger I think I was unenthused. I’d certainly jump at the chance now, but, hindsight is always 20/20.

  5. Clara Hoover Says:

    Steven: I should have remembered that I had some photos of you with your pottery on the day we all met in Charles’ office. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have offered those photos to Louise unless I had checked with you. It would be fun for you to send photos to Louise.

    Also, perhaps you can confirm what we’ve recently discovered–that the City Hall building is actually in Crested Butte, not Gunnison.

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