Arts News

Syndicate content

Winslow Corbett '98 has made a name for herself in theater

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Gretchen Corbett 63's daughter Winslow Corbett ’98 has made a name for herself in theater. She’s acted in New York and throughout the country and appeared in a Lifetime TV movie. Gretchen reminisces about Winslow’s first professional acting job, at age 15 in “Arcadia” at ACT in Seattle: “Some people remember seeing their child go into 1st grade. But for me it was walking down the street and stopping a block from the theater, watching Winslow walk down the block alone.” She says that Winslow is quite different from her mother: “She’s good at playing roles I could never touch. She has femininity, humor, and a lightness of spirit. We’re good friends.”

 

 

Dreams are Powerful

Send by email
Celebrated actress Gretchen Corbett '63 was destined for a life in the theater, and a Catlin Gabel teacher gave her the background for success
From the Winter 2010 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

One evening at the theater set young Gretchen Corbett’s life on its course. She was in Ashland with her family to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as they had done for many years. They would sit in Lithia Park in the afternoon reading that night’s play, and then they would go to the performance. That night’s play was “Hamlet.”

 “’Hamlet’ completely blew me away,” says Gretchen. “I could not sleep after seeing it. I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of a life in theater, and how moving and important the story that the play told felt to me.”
 
Her dream was to be onstage at Ashland. She got there, eventually. “Dreams are powerful, as everyone knows,” says Gretchen.
 
But before she got to Ashland, she received theatrical training at Catlin Gabel that she credits with helping her become the powerful, lauded actress she is today.
 
The much-beloved “Mrs. Jo,” Vivien Johannes, taught Gretchen English and theater. Mrs. Jo demanded energy, excitement, and passion from her students, and woe were you if you came to class without something in mind to discuss or debate. “If you didn’t, she’d tell you that you were just a pip on a log, and you should get out,” recalls Gretchen.
 
They worked on scenes in Mrs. Jo’s class for two or three hours a day, performing a play a year. Her eclectic repertoire included some pretty heavy going, like Euripides’ “Trojan Women” and Ugo Betti’s “The Queen and the Rebels.” Mrs. Jo’s space at first was a roped-off section of the Barn, until she and her students designed the Nutshell (the name, incidentally, from a line in “Hamlet”) and the school built it for them.
 
“Mrs. Jo required us to tap into our self-motivation and passion,” says Gretchen. “This has been essential to my growth as an artist.”
 
Gretchen won entrance to Carnegie Mellon University through an audition. She was almost immediately cast in Euripides’ “Electra” (which she loved: she had spent two years working on Euripides with Mrs. Jo). And her dream came true when she finally got to Ashland, performing during the summers. After two years Gretchen left Pittsburgh and returned to Portland, taking English classes at Portland State.
 
That didn’t last long. “This was the sixties, the Kennedy years, when the country believed in the arts,” she says. That fall a representative of a government-sponsored program offered Gretchen roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Our Town” in the Repertory Theater of New Orleans, playing to 2,000 high schoolers a day. That phase of her life lasted until she came to New York a year later.
 
Gretchen was in the city on her way to Europe when she met an agent. “I didn’t know about agents. I didn’t even know how to hail a cab,” she says. But he saw her talent and potential, and soon she was cast in a film, an off-Broadway show, and a Broadway show. “Thanks to Mrs. Jo I could handle heavy classical stuff,” she says.
 
“When I first played Broadway I walked on the boards as a very young girl with a lot of stage chops. It was unusual to be so young and hit the back of the house with your voice and personality. It was one of those things that has to be learned,” says Gretchen.
 
She spent 10 years in New York on the stage, in productions with many notable actors, including Alec McCowen, Julie Harris, and Irene Papas, and directors that included Michael Cacoyannis and Abe Burrows. She loved her life in New York theater, so much so that when Universal Studios offered her a contract for film and TV, she refused. The second time they offered, she decided to give it a try and went to Hollywood.
 
Her life became a constant whirl of roles in films and television, most prominently the unforgettable role of lawyer Beth Davenport in The Rockford Files with James Garner. She also appeared in The American Revolution, with Michael Douglas and James Woods, and a long list of TV series and episodes, including Marcus Welby, M.D., Kojak, and Columbo. She worked so incessantly on so many projects that it’s hard for her to recall everything she’s done, she says, explaining that TV filming takes only a couple of weeks at the most for each project.
 
And TV work is particularly crazy and demanding. “You do an astonishing amount of work in a day, shooting 12 hours with a script you may have gotten two days before if you’re lucky, and then you have to walk and talk so you don’t block anyone’s light and you’re in complete synch with the cameraman and the 150 people behind him, and you have to create a believable character and bring life and truth to the words you’re saying.”
 
She began losing her appetite for TV and film, and felt more pride in her stage work. “I didn’t own a TV and was making a living doing TV. Something was wrong,” she says. When it was time to enroll her daughter Winslow Corbett ’98 in middle school, LA schools were uninviting, and Gretchen looked back to the Catlin Gabel she had loved. She and Winslow moved back to Portland, Winslow entered 7th grade at Catlin Gabel, and Gretchen found herself at a loss.
 
Gretchen wanted to pursue stage acting in Portland, but the local theater community was a hard one to break into. She found other ways to express herself, including learning to throw pots, but that just wasn’t who she was. After serious soul-searching, she found a way to bring theater back into her life. Gretchen had served as resident director in LA at a nonprofit organization that nurtured new plays and playwrights, so she was familiar with nonprofits. She took a deep breath and launched the Haven Project, which paired underserved children with local theater artists to create and perform plays.
 
“I had no idea how to get the Haven Project going, but I like having a steep learning curve. I simply started writing grants,” she says. Thanks to Gretchen’s grace and determination, the Haven Project was a great success for its 10-year duration. In its day the Haven Project produced 90 plays a year, with over 200 Portland theater professionals touching the lives of 700 children. “I liked making a difference in kids’ lives, and I liked giving artists a way to give back, in the way they knew best,” she says. Her nonprofit venture brought Gretchen into the lives of Portland actors and playwrights, into the city’s public eye, and onto its stages—where she has received continual acclaim.
 
Gretchen has acted in many plays with several Portland theater companies, and is a core member of Third Rail Repertory Theatre. She will continue to act, and to awe Portland audiences. When you hear her talk about what it means to her to act on stage, you can feel in your own bones the intense physical and intellectual commitment she has to her art.
 
“I’m an intuitive actor yet it takes a long time for the character to set in my bones and heart, and for me to discover the character’s secrets. I’m curious about people, especially those so different from myself. I care about literature and the way a story is being told. I care about the brain that has created the words I’m speaking.
 
“I’ve played characters who have had wonderful senses of humor and a more positive outlook than I have. Recently I played a suicidal woman in “A Lesson from Aloes,” and it took me months to get back to myself. Now I consider more carefully. Acting is so internal that it becomes physical, and it can become difficult to stay healthy.
 
“At its heart the experience of acting is like any creative art form. What comes out of me surprises me as much as it surprises an audience. It’s as if I’m not in charge. At its best it feels like a religious experience. That’s the creative process. After you do all the work on a character you come to that place. I imagine the same is true for writers, musicians, and painters.
 
“Some actors are attracted to theater because they like to have fun showing off, like kids. That’s not my impetus. I’m personally shy, an introvert. I open my heart in front of an audience so that we can share and learn together about being human.”
 

Places Please

By Gretchen Corbett ’63
 
Hamlet pondered
way out on the apron
That’s all it took.
I moved onto the boards
met my family out on the ice
found home in make-believe rooms
with no walls.
 
Years collapse. Cities merge.
 
All over the globe
rehearsal halls without windows
invite unexpected music
I walk down taped-on-the-floor steps
into the heart of a stranger.
 
Countless nests I’ve built
in backstage branches of tumbledown barns
sleek city centers
gilt-edged arenas
each dripping peonies and
pink powder
each pinned with reminders on mirrors
about flying naked
tight rope walking
the fat lady in the front row.
 
Places please. Places.
 
Move down secret, blue-lit corridors
past fly rigging and brick
to the edge of the boards
wait
and breathe
and wait
‘till a hush falls
and wait
then an oboe
inside my body
takes over
the stage erupts
spills exquisite light.
I step out into it.
Send life out into the darkness
 

Photo: Owen Carey
Nadine Fiedler is the editor of the Caller.

 

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Jazz pianist, senior

posted in
Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passion: jazz piano

“Music is a big part of my life. I played classical music for many years, but when I learned about jazz at a music camp I went to in the summer before 8th grade, it really excited me. The instructors there told us that if we loved music, we might consider pursuing it as a profession.
 
That planted a seed for me. I didn’t decide to be a professional back then in 8th grade, but eventually I did. I slowly began playing more jazz and learning more about music. I started to practice jazz more diligently in my sophomore year and developed an ambition to be a great musician. The end of that year, I auditioned for the American Music Program, directed by trumpeter Thara Memory. The first time I played for him, he took me outside and told me I didn’t know anything about jazz, and that I would have to catch up a lot to get into music school and get a scholarship. But he let me into the group. It’s a pre-professional program for high school students, and Mr. Memory starts from the assumption that we should be the best high school jazz band in the country. The group has won national competitions, including the Next Generation competition associated with the Monterey Jazz Festival, and Wynton Marsalis’s Essentially Ellington competition in New York.

I’m excited to be working on music and aiming for a career as a musician. My hope right now is to get into a good music school and get a scholarship. I want to develop my own musicianship, and I want to play with like-minded musicians who share my ambitions.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Photographer & scientist, senior

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: science, photography
Interests: diversity, dance, writing, languages

“Since elementary school I’ve dreamed of becoming a pediatrician and working in other countries. I’ve volunteered at a cancer rehabilitation center in India, and I’ve worked with kids as a volunteer. I love kids, and I love science.
 
Two years ago I started experimenting with the camera and Photoshop, and I started doing a lot of portraiture. I posted my work online, and I began getting outside referrals. I’ve done one wedding, and I do portfolios for models and family portraits. I like to shoot in the city or in nature with no fake lighting and no backdrops.
 
I love portraiture. It’s satisfying to take pictures of people and see them in different ways. It’s great to make them feel beautiful and capture their emotional qualities and their uniqueness.
 
I plan to go to medical school. It’s hard to find colleges with strong programs in both medicine and art. I want to be a doctor, but I also love travel and would like to document it in photographs.
 
I’m co-leader of Speed-Ujima, the diversity club. It’s really important to me because I’m part of a minority group in the Upper School. It’s important to let people know that being different is okay and that they shouldn’t hide it. We get the word out that we won’t tolerate racism.

Rahee means traveler in Urdu and Hindi. It’s a piece of fate, from the time I was little, and it’s come true.”

Self-portrait: Rahee Nerurkar

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Violinist, 7th grade

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passion: playing the violin
Interests: robotics, soccer

“I’ve been playing violin for six years, and for the past two I’ve been in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. I started by playing fiddle tunes, then I got more serious and got into classical music. I like having weekly one-on-one lessons from a teacher who focuses on where I need to improve. I love playing really hard classical music. It takes a lot out of you, and I like that.
 
At MYS we perform four concerts a year, and before them we rehearse weekly for six weeks. I get more precise in my performance because I’m playing in a group, and playing for people. Concerts make it all come together for me.
 
I’m a programmer this year in robotics. It’s challenging to take different ideas about how to use pieces of information in a way that is logical, fast, and consistent. I would love to go on in robotics. I also play classic soccer, which I love. Robotics is individual, but you come together at competitions. In soccer you’re with the team the entire time, and you play as a team.

I really like challenges. I love to be challenged in every way possible. Music and robotics keep presenting challenges to me.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Ballet dancer, 3rd grade

posted in
Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passion: ballet
Interests: reading, piano

“I started formal dance training at 4, and started in the Oregon Ballet Theater at age 7. The first time I saw the Nutcracker it grabbed me and it didn’t stop. I auditioned for the Nutcracker, and I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
 
Dance brings out people’s souls. You can express your feelings in ways that don’t hurt other people. You can bring out your emotions in dance. Movement brings you into the dance. It feels like you’re flying, like you’re whirling. It can be colorful and fast, or slow and sad. It’s really about moving, and then music winds in and brings extra color to the dance.
 
We train really hard, three times a week. The teacher is very strict, which is traditional for ballet. You have to work hard to stay on top of the pack.
 
The fun time in class is when we’re warming up, when we all share with the other dancers and help each other stretch or learn a step. We have to work together as a community, and the teacher doesn’t interfere during the warm-up. No one likes it when the teacher yells, so you want to do well to make her happy.

I put my head and shoulders and heart and soul into dancing. It’s a hard life, but rewards come in dancing and performance. The costumes, music, and community come together to make a wonderful experience.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Math & puzzle problem solver, 5th grade

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: math, puzzles, soccer
Interests: acting, music

“I’ve loved math since 2nd grade. I do a lot of Sudoku, and now I’m working on the harder ones. I like all kinds of puzzles, and math and logic games.
 
I like the mindset of having to figure out where to put something. You can really feel it when you’ve accomplished something. I like logic puzzles. I like following a train of thought.
 
We’re doing multiplication and division in 5th grade, and I like the problems. I go for the challenge math in my homework, which has percents or fractions or logic.
 
I play classic soccer year round, and it’s really fun. It’s one sport where your size doesn’t matter and you have to work as a team. Where you are when you don’t have the ball is as important as when you do. It’s a thinking game: where should I be? Where’s my mark?

I also take some acting classes and did improv classes over the summer. I enjoy memorizing the script line by line, and it sticks in my head. I work to project, stay in character, and not make nervous gestures. Acting can help in life. It helps you get confidence in speaking in front of an audience. I’ve learned to focus on myself and what I’m doing. Then I’m not so nervous.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Tango & aerial dancer, 10th grade

posted in
Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: aerial dance, tango

“I started aerial dance classes in 2nd grade and now perform with AWOL, Aerial Without Limits. I love aerial dance because it’s creative, and I love music and combining it with movement in trying to convey a message. I particularly like to choreograph: I listen to music and imagine movements for a long time before I feel ready to put it together and try it out with my peers. I also like that it is a physical form of art— it takes strength and skill, and I have to constantly challenge myself. I see myself doing things I never thought I could.
 
It’s thrilling and a little bit scary. I can be up in the air 30 feet holding on to a piece of fabric without any nets or harnesses. I’m just on my own and have to be able to focus. Oddly, I’m a little bit afraid of heights, but that just makes it more fun!
 
Working in aerial dance has raised my self-esteem. At the beginning I knew nothing, but now I can actually help teach others, which is fun.

I also love tango. I’m going to Argentina this summer to study tango. I will also work with an aerial dance company to learn their style of aerial dance, which uses bungee cords. I am interested in how to creatively combine the two kinds of dance. I love both of these arts for similar reasons. Musicality—it’s fun to play with music, and tango is all improvised. You’re silent when you dance in tango or aerial, but there’s a lot of connection.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Installation artist, senior

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: creating art installations, outdoor exploration
Interest: track & field

“For my first art project I hung an old picture frame with a picture of a galaxy set into it on the big, inviting blank wall of the science building, hung to appear like a window of the building itself. Another time I set up a spider’s web of wires, with tin can phones on the ends, connecting six trees in the campus forest. You could hear the sounds of the trees groaning in the wind through the wires.
 
I have two projects right now of trees wrapped in string. There’s almost nothing more stereotypically organic than a tree, and the strings contrast as a straight line you don’t often see in nature.
 
Art is a key facet of how I see myself. I enjoy the outdoor program just as much. I’ve been to truly amazing places not many people know of, and seen many wonderful things. These trips are a source of inspiration, and I think about these places every day.
 
My art is a product of wanting to explore methods, tools, and ideas—and wanting to do something different for the first time. It’s realizing my daydreams and not always about other people seeing it. It’s very personal.

Sometimes something clicks and I think about an idea a lot. The vast majority of ideas I come up with are things I’ll never do, but that’s not an unfortunate thing. Is that art? Thinking about it, for me, is as important as the actual creation.”

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Actor, researcher, senior

Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: theater, scientific research
Interests: journalism, teaching & mentoring

“I’m co-editor of CatlinSpeak, our student newspaper. Working for the paper is always fun, and I love when we hear from others that our writers are doing something valuable. My hope is to pursue a senior project in journalism. I’d like to work for a college paper someday.
 
Acting is a great challenge. When you’re doing it right—and this has only happened to me a few times—you forget anyone’s watching. In the big triumphs, you walk off stage and feel like you’re still on because you’re still that other person. Acting is a chance to study the life of someone else. I learn something each time I play a role.

I have an internship at Shriners Hospital, which is a part of OHSU. I found a niche in a lab that studies structural protein in connective tissue, and its relation to symptoms of Marfan syndrome. I study mice for connections between genetics and physical appearance, and even made a discovery over the summer. The moment I looked at a slide I had made and realized I was seeing something no one had ever seen before was thrilling. It’s wonderful to know I’ve helped with research that has the potential to help people. The science community is full of quirky, intelligent people, and I get to talk with the people I work with about things I couldn’t learn from anyone else.”

 

Interests, Passions, Magnificent Obsessions: Singer-songwriter, artist, senior

posted in
Send by email
From the Winter 2010 Caller

Passions: guitar, singing, visual art

“I like songs that tell or imply stories. It’s a form of communication, a different language. When you’re playing with others or singing together you establish an understanding that’s hard to find anywhere else. Once a week on campus about seven of us eat lunch, talk about music, play, and sing, which I love. I’ve also done some performing locally.

 When you play something crisp and simple, someone will remember it more than a blazing guitar solo. Last summer I went on a creative binge and wrote and recorded 20 songs that were sort of folk-bluegrass-rock. From the first song I wrote to the last, they got quieter, more delicate.
 
I’ve also become more prolific visually. I’m getting more into sculpture, have done a lot of drawing and painting, and have started throwing pots after school. I consider it a constant experiment. I like working with layers and layers as I figure out the medium.
 
It’s hard to separate visual art and music from each other. They inform each other. If I can’t communicate something on paper, I can turn it into a song.
 
More and more I like working with people. This is my first year as a peer helper, and learning to listen is important. It’ll come to my generation to communicate to people. Whether you’re communicating through music, or learning a language, or interacting with others, there’s so much to be gained and nothing to be lost by making a connection and trusting someone.”

Beginning School Art Show

Send by email
Beginning School Art Show in the Cabell Center, February 22 - March 29

The Beehive is having an art show in the foyer of the Cabell Center. Families are encouraged to take a tour before or after school to see our children’s exuberant artwork.

Thoughts from 8th graders: upcoming performance, Ptld. Center Stage

Send by email
Third Angle blog, February '10

A group of 8th graders, led by drama teacher Deirdre Atkinson, will be performing their interpretation of Mark Applebaum's graphic score, "Metaphysics of Notation," at Portland Center Stage at noon on Friday, February 5. All are invited! Deirdre collected her and her students' thoughts about the month-long process on the blog of Third Angle, a partner in the production. This was an amazing invitation for our students, and a rare chance to work with professional arts organizations on a deeply creative project.

"Noises Off" Photo Gallery

Send by email
Upper School Play

In his plot for Noises Off, English playwright Michael Frayn plays on the concept of a play within a play, in this case a dreadful sex comedy titled Nothing On—the type of play in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men drop their trousers, and many doors continually open and shut. Nothing On is set in "a delightful 16th-century posset mill" that has been converted to a modern dwelling for which renters are solicited; the fictional playwright is appropriately named Robin Housemonger. Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains a performance of the first act of Nothing On. (Wikepedia)

Click on any image to start a slideshow.

Senior Joey Lubitz wins top regional art award

Send by email
 
On January 14 senior Joey Lubitz will be awarded the Gold Key in art, the highest regional award given annually in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program, sponsored by New York’s Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. As a result of Joey’s Gold Key standing, his artwork will be forwarded to New York City for national judging. Nearly 30,000 high school students from across the country win regional awards, and 1,000 of those go on to earn national awards in the competition.
 
Joey’s artworks, from the portfolio he entered in the competition, will be on exhibition at the award ceremony, to be held at 6 p.m. at the Pacific NW College of Art (1241 NW Johnson St., Portland) on Thursday, January 14. One of his paintings will be purchased for the permanent collection of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.
 
Senior Rahee Nerurkar received a regional Honorable Mention award for her photography portfolio.
 
Founded in 1923, the Scholastic Art & Writing program is the oldest, longest-running, and most prestigious recognition program for student achievement in the visual arts and creative writing in the United States. The 12 top national winners each receive a $10,000 cash award to help pay for college, plus special recognition on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization, identifies teenagers with exceptional artistic and literary talent and brings their remarkable work to a national audience through the awards program.
 
Congratulations, Joey and Rahee!
 

 

Music Rotation Rocks!

posted in
Send by email
I Don't Want to be in Love

First 8th grade Music rotation rocked out to I Don't Want to be in Love by the Good Charlottes.  Enjoy their performance.

Audio: 

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Megan Amram '06, co-author of Hasty Pudding Theatricals, featured in Harvard newspaper

Send by email
Harvard Crimson newspaper article, September 09

Former students praise music teacher Don Wolfe

Send by email
Oregonlive.com article, August 09

Theatre that Gives Life to a Community

Send by email
Will Weigler '77 builds plays so that people can be heard
From the Spring 2009 Caller

Imagine a Northwest community made up mostly of loggers and Native Americans, and imagine they don’t have much to do with one another. How would you bring them together? Will (Chaz) Weigler ’77 recently took on that challenge, and his answer was to have them work together to create theatre.

Will spent eight months with residents of Darrington, Washington (population 1,100) and the 400 members of the nearby Sauk-Suiattle Tribe creating a musical play. People from both communities, aged from 18 months to 85 years, came together to tell their stories and dramatize their historical relationships with one another and their common relationships with the mountains, forests, and rivers that surround them—and they performed the show to sold-out audiences. It’s a perfect example of what Will has been striving to do with theatre for many years now.

Applied theatre caught Will’s attention in a big way when he was an undergraduate at Oberlin College. He had hitchhiked to St. Peter, Minnesota, to attend an international conference on people’s theatre, which celebrates the lives and concerns of people and their communities. Looking to start his career after graduation, he thought about where he had most felt “alive and happy and connected.” He went right back to St. Peter to the theatre company that produced the conference, ready to immerse himself in this vision of theatre as a catalyst for community building.

That work has become Will’s life work, and it’s taken him down many paths as he has explored the role of theatre in diverse communities. He spent time in Portland producing and directing Peace Child: A Musical of Hope with 75 kids at the then-new Portland Center for the Performing Arts. That led to his co-founding a youth theatre company, Young Actor’s Forum. Turn Loose the Voices, a video adaptation of their performance about young people’s perspectives on prejudice and the value of diversity, has become a widely used teaching tool for diversity awareness training. Will’s reflection on the process of collective play creation became an award-winning 2001 book, Strategies for Playbuilding: Helping Groups Translate Issues into Theatre.

Will is now a doctoral candidate in applied theatre at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. He is researching brief moments in theatre performances that have stopped audience members in their tracks and prompted a sudden personal insight (and he invites Caller readers to contribute to his study at www.aesthetic-arrest.com).

He manages to finds time for acting, storytelling, and public speaking. For Will there’s always a next big project, and right now he’s working with faculty, students, and local theatre artists to establish an international applied theatre center in Victoria. Will hopes that it will serve as a laboratory for improving understanding of how theatre can effectively promote positive social change.
 

Art History Through Their Fingertips

Send by email
Dale Rawls's 8th grade art students "become" noted artists
From the Spring 2009 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

Art history can be bewildering for middle school students. The works of famous artists can seem remote, lost to time and the changes of culture. But art teacher Dale Rawls has found an antidote to that.

Dale Rawls teachingThrough study of famous artists and art periods, and research into their social and historical contexts, each of Dale’s 8th grade students chooses what intrigues him or her—and then create a work of art, a copy or a work in that style, over the class’s 18-day unit. The students immerse themselves in Andy Warhol, say, or Wayne Thibaud, or Jackson Pollock, and in the act of interpreting they come to learn right in their own eyes, hands, and brains what makes that artist unique—and the challenges and joys of art-making.

The process begins with students learning to do web-based research on artists and periods. “I have them see that artists don’t create their work in a vacuum; they train, they perfect their craft, they reflect their culture,” says Dale. Then they choose to either make a direct copy, or work in the style but with their own subject matter. That exercise leads directly to problem solving as they grapple with questions about the materials the artist used, and finally how to turn this image and idea into something real—something on paper or canvas, or created with a camera and altered in Photoshop.

Dale builds on what he’s taught before, and what the students already know, by using the same vocabulary of art that he’s used forArt by Koby Yudkin '13 after Shepard Fairey their first two years in middle school, concepts such as composition, light source, symmetry, color, and texture. “This project is a real epiphany for many students,” says Dale. “They realize how they can use a particular color, or make the work a particular size, and they become more self-directed. They ask for help, and they struggle with it, and I have to zoom around and help everyone, but it’s a project they really run with.”

This class is also these students’ first experience in formal painting composition. “In the midst of all this work, I show them how paintbrushes differ and teach painting technique,” says Dale. “This work teaches safe risk-taking, because you can just paint over it if you take a take a chance and fail.” It also provides a high level of understanding in design and media for more advanced art studies in high school.

The result is amazing. Some works are more polished than others, but they all capture the essence the student responded to in the first place. The students take enormous pride in their finished project: one Warhol-inspired painting sports a huge, confident signature, ANNE—just like Andy Warhol would have done.

 Dale RawlsDALE RAWLS
Dale Rawls got his start in art when a perceptive teacher in his Hillsboro high school recognized his artistic talents. He went on to study at Portland State University under many renowned local artists. In later pursuit of a master’s in education he examined whether making art feeds teaching or vice versa. “I concluded that each nurtures the other,” he says. He and his wife, Barbara, whom he married when both were at PSU, have maintained a studio and shown in galleries for 35 years.

“I love that Catlin Gabel values me both as a teacher and an artist. I’m not just teaching here, I’m talking about what’s essential to my being,” he says. One of the best things a student ever said to him was that Dale doesn’t teach them just so they learn technique, he teaches them how to articulate important things in their lives through art.
 

 

 

Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller.