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The creators behind the classes

Local artists enrich art-for-everyone environments

January 30, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

These teachers have no time to stay after hours in the classroom. Instead, they are off to create artwork of their own. They teach at Access Arts, Appletree Quilting and the Columbia Art League, three places that have classes for artists of all levels. However, it often takes a professional to lead these art-for-everyone classrooms, and these women are ready to create.

Jennifer Wiggs

Teaches at: Access Arts, Columbia Art League
Personal style: Gouache on paper (opaque watercolor)

For Jennifer Wiggs, beginning a painting is like looking into a bakery window and licking your lips before letting your eyes impulsively pick a cake to try. This giddy feeling is how Wiggs describes herself when she sees color on her paint palette.

She says color sparks a conversation within her and becomes an inspiration that leads her through paintings often without a clear idea of the subject matter. She lets this inner dialogue guide her brush instinctually. “It’s more like jazz,” she says, “where one musician does something, and you react to it.”

Although Wiggs lets her brush lead the way, her inner conversation isn’t always an easy one. Shawna Johnson, the executive director of Access Arts, first met Wiggs as a college student when Wiggs taught art at MU. To Johnson, Wiggs stands out as an artist and a teacher because she’s completely devoted to her work. Also, she isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions to find deeper meaning in both her and her students’ art.

A show this past September at Orr Street Studios featured 27 of Wiggs’ watercolor paintings that merge colors together into jagged organic shapes. One of the pieces is titled “Cake Landscape,” and she gave it to her 20-year-old son because it is his favorite piece in the collection. He had never owned one of her paintings before.

Wiggs is working on a new collection of large oil paintings. Anticipating the adrenaline it will bring, she looks forward to branching out into a new medium. “I’m excited about it because it’s like jumping off a cliff,” she says.

Teaching tip: Don’t bore your students. Get materials into their hands and let the passion you have for what you do inspire your teaching.

Helen Feldker

Teaches at: Appletree Quilting & Viking Center
Personal style: Free-motion quilting

Sometimes Helen Feldker sketches her designs onto fabric and follows her lines with a sewing machine. Other times, her needle begins bobbing with nothing more than the machine, fabric and an idea in her head. She considers herself an artist, but she doesn’t sell her work. People don’t understand the amount of time and money that go into the craft. “The price tag alone would freak them out,” she says.

One of her upcoming classes is about how to create a throw pillow with a multi-textured background and free-motion red flowers. Materials for these projects cost close to $150. After making the display pillow, a co-worker asked Feldker if she could buy it. Feldker told the co-worker jokingly that she would start the auction at $200.

Generally, Feldker takes techniques from books or classes and uses these skills to create original pieces. Her projects range from painting on quilts with melted crayons and fabric pastels to making 2-foot-tall “pottery” baskets out of clothesline, fabric and thread. She says she’s currently in the middle of more than 80 projects.

Feldker’s willingness to try new techniques translates to the classroom. Bev Price, a student at Appletree Quilting & Viking Center, says Feldker’s remarkable patience is what stands out and makes students feel confident that they, too, can try something new.

Feldker is entertaining the idea of contacting Bluestem Missouri Crafts in hopes of selling her pieces. But for now, most of her pieces become gifts; it’s her way of avoiding the sticker shock.

Teaching tip: Take classes from other teachers. You can learn how to be a better teacher by watching and borrowing teaching techniques from people who inspire you.

Valerie Wedel

Teaches at: Access Arts, Missouri Valley College in Marshall
Personal style: Installations, usually video on fabric

Valerie Wedel says her artwork is “like being inside a waterfall.” Her technique involves creating a video and projecting it in a large area over fabric. The fabric is draped on one wall, and videos projecting from other sides of the room fill the space between. There is no beginning or end to her pieces. A viewer has to be inside the piece to fully see it. Thus, the audience becomes an active part of the art.

One of Wedel’s favorite installation pieces is titled “The Tree Who Became a Seed.” Wedel said this piece, which was featured at Orr Street Studios this past summer, was about change and helped her work through change in her own life. “In my experience, I’ve found my subconscious can kind of communicate with my everyday self.”

Although Wedel specializes in installation art, she struggles with difficult technology. She says one of the most challenging classes to teach was an animation art class because she was learning the program with the students. It was a good reminder, she says, that teaching is a good way to continue learning as an artist.

Wedel is currently working on a piece she hopes to show in Oklahoma. In the future, she hopes to expand her stage and show more of her work beyond Missouri.

Teaching tip: Encourage students, adults especially, to relinquish the fear of making mistakes. Not everyone feels like an expert when he or she comes to a class, but everyone has the ability to think aesthetically.

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