Tom Howard . . . continued from page 1
Howard's practical parents rarely reveled in the natural beauty surrounding them. "Any trips that we took were always purpose-filled. Seeing the landscape. . . was just something we did because we were at a family reunion or going up into the sinks of Logan Canyon to cut timber for firewood," he remembers. "Those opportunities were rare enough that for me that when I had a chance to be in the open, unfettered, untouched landscape, I was just that much more significantly impacted by it," he says. "It just kind of sunk into my psyche a bit more, and it just became the thing that I craved that much more."
Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, the painter moved to this inspirational area at about age three. Since those early years, Howard has felt compelled to create. "I've always wanted to be an artist, ever since I can remember," he says. "I used to spend hours up in my room just drawing with magic markers and pencils and crayons and stuff, just to make images."
The Springville Museum of Fine Arts was the setting for what the artist describes as one of his earliest, most formative experiences. While enjoying a weeklong stay with his grandparents, a young Tom Howard accompanied his grandmother to the museum, where she practiced as a violinist with the Utah Valley Symphony. While the musicians played, Howard found himself alone with the art.
"I just had the whole museum to myself. I got to walk around and see the art on the walls," he says. "I remember at that time, I had a very specific response to what I liked and didn't like. Abstraction, anything remotely resembling avant-garde, I just categorically denied," he recalls. "The landscapes I loved. I loved looking at them, studying them." Howard was about four years old. "Even at that time," he says, "it had an impact on me."
This impact followed Howard through his childhood, pushing him to pursue a career in art. After completing high school, the painter studied graphic design and illustration at Utah Technical College (now Salt Lake Community College). While the school offered only commercial art programs at the time, one course veered from practicality. "I studied water color painting the whole way through because it was the first medium, the first opportunity I had to access this thing called fine art," he says. "Developing drawing skills and seeing skills and design and composition skills apply across the board," says Howard. "But, for me, I knew that it was fine art that I loved and somehow I wanted to be there some day."
After being fired -- "mercifully," says the artist -- from a post-graduation graphic design job, Howard returned to school, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Utah. While this education moved him closer to his passion for painting, after graduation, the artist chose to support his family of seven by working again as a graphic designer. Until the nineties, Howard poured his talent into projects for Wasatch Front Regional Council.
"Finally I decided I was going to go for it and get a masters degree and try to pursue fine art more full-time," Howard says. In 1995, the painter received a Masters of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University. "I've been working as an artist ever since," he says. "I paint and teach."
An adjunct faculty member at Salt Lake Community College, the educated artist is very aware of his deliberate creative process. "I just lay my wash down and then begin to wipe-out the highlights and paint in the dark areas as I want them to be," he says. "The image begins to build from there. By doing that," he says, "all I have to do is basically worry about drawing and value. And then I paint the local color on top of the image."
With palette knife and brushwork, the artist adds color in carefully texturized strokes. "When you get up close, suddenly the details just break down into strange marks," he explains. "That's what I enjoy doing: laying the texture, being not only descriptive of form but also just an interesting mark in and of itself," he says. "When you step up, you see evidence of how the piece was made. You see that it's a painting. But, when you step back very far, it all pulls together," he continues. "That's the fun part of it: to create those two levels of reading, that type of interaction for the viewer."
Throughout this process, says the painter, "I try to be as honest and straight-forward as possible about my representation of the landscape. I'm not trying to necessarily aggrandize it," he says. "I guess that's part of what makes me a realist more than anything. I'm just trying to paint it for what it is as I find it and just paint it in a loving manner," he continues. "I just try to bring all my skills to bear to make it as correct and beautiful of a representation of that scene as I can make it and let it stand for what it is."
Large, messy projects, such as Jackson Pollack action painting, can be done at a small school. We did ours in the gym. The pitfall is that after doing some projects at a small school, it might be tempting to try it with a class of 27 students. Smaller class size doesn't mean less work. Classes move faster and require more preparation. On a couple of occasions I have come up short, when the class finished my project far ahead of schedule and I had another half hour to fill. Time to punt! Lesson learned: Be prepared with extra activities.
Special Feature: Artist Residencies
A Week in Dutch John
Teaching Art in Rural Communities
by Terrece Beesley
It's March, 2008 and I'm arriving in the rural community of Dutch John, Utah, near Flaming Gorge, car loaded down with art supplies, groceries, and entertainment options intended to last me a week as I participate in the Utah Arts Council's Artist in Residence Program. With no grocery stores, no Reuels, Michaels, or Utrecht, I am clearly out of my element, and I'm a bit nervous. Have I thought of all the details? Have I planned adequately for student projects? Will students and teachers be happy with what I've planned? Will I get any of my own work done?
My stint as artist in residence was an adventure, one I'd encourage other artists to try. Here's my story.
The Utah Arts Council's Artist in Residence Program was founded with the belief that artists make an invaluable contribution to the educational process. Residencies and exhibitions are yet another way to bring the contemporary art and artists featured in the series directly to local communities and audiences. Providing an opportunity to interact with new work and new ideas, residencies can initiate important conversations and create forums for further public dialogue. In residencies ranging from 10 to 290 days, artists have in-depth contact with one or more target groups of participants. In addition, other participants may be involved in a residency through schools where the artist is scheduled 20 hours per week. The remainder of the week is free for the artist to pursue his/her own work. There is usually a public event involved as well as in-service programs for the teachers.
In my situation, because the school is small and I was teaching the entire school, we split my sessions into two one week trips. Otherwise I would have tied up the entire school for two weeks.
Working at a small rural school demands a great deal of planning. Lesson plans must be provided to the school far ahead of schedule so they have time to order supplies or, in some cases, drive to pick up the supplies an hour or more away. Planning out even the tiniest details for student projects is essential because there's no quick trip to the store for forgotten supplies. Internet hookups are dependent on the local gas station or restaurant. Fortunately, what Flaming Gorge and other remote schools lack in resources and nightlife, they more than make up for in scenic beauty and outdoor activities.
The isolation of these small rural schools is a factor with advantages and drawbacks, which the teachers have addressed in a number of creative ways. Children in remote schools are not cut off from the world; with wireless internet and satellite they are just as tuned in as anyone else. One of my younger students was addicted to Sponge Bob Square Pants, and every project last fall turned out resembling Sponge Bob. Student test scores are comparable or higher than those of children in larger schools. Teachers and staff fill in where needed, including preparing lunches and driving the school bus. What these small remote schools do desire is one-on-one contact with professional artists. Dedicated teachers who write and receive grants every year keep a steady supply of artists on their way to Flaming Gorge.
My class sizes were grouped by age. One class had eleven students consisting of kindergarten, first and second grade students. The second class was eight students in third and fourth grades. Flaming Gorge has no fifth and sixth grades this year. The challenge is to teach all grade levels at once, keeping the project simple for the younger kids, while challenging the older students and entertaining kids who aren't particularly interested in the arts. The very small class sizes make it possible to know and help each student personally.
Everyone knows everyone else in Dutch John, so it feels like a real community. People tend to take care of each other. When I tried to buy four stamps, with only enough money for three, the postmistress gave me the stamp and told me to put the remainder in the mail box the next day. Everywhere I went children greeted me, and their parents talked to me about the day's project. The entire community came out for Gallery Night, leaving to attend a town meeting as soon as we finished.
There is enormous gratitude for artists willing to travel so far to be with the students. The artist can be a catalyst for change, the creative spark that helps a classroom, school, district, or community realize that the arts can be part of everyone's daily life as well as a valuable element in students' ongoing education.
As an artist in residence, I am grateful too for the opportunity to stretch, grow, and share my gifts, and for the hugs when I walk in the door.