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One teacher shows how "art saves lives"

Local art teacher Sharyn-Hyatt Wade talks about how art class can foster more than creativity

Courtesy of Sharyn Hyatt-Wade

In Sharyn Hyatt-Wade’s studio, students are encouraged to investigate themselves. Her goal is to encourage innovation rather than focus on tests and correct answers.

April 10, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Local art teacher Sharyn Hyatt-Wade believes in gushing. She says that the public education system doesn’t see the need for such effusive praise except when a first grader has painted a rainbow. But her students know that if she loves their work, she’ll scream, jump up and down, dance and tell them how powerful they are as artists.

“Art isn’t about drawing a better apple,” she says. “It’s about becoming a more complex individual. I am happy when I see my students succeeding, not because they shade well or color within the lines but because they can take risks and solve problems.”

Hyatt-Wade has spent 28 years teaching, with 18 at Rock Bridge High School and two as an adjunct MU professor. On the first day of class, she always says: “There will be no tests in this class. We will not be obsessed with the right or wrong answer, but we will be looking for the unexpected.”

In February, MU decided to suspend admission to its undergraduate art education major. The importance of art in schools has long been a subject of debate, and many have spoken out about the choice. The Save Mizzou Art Ed Facebook page has more than 3,700 likes, and there are more than 1,300 signatures on an online petition.

Protestors argue that art education does more for students than make them better artists. Many say that art saves lives, and stories from Hyatt-Wade’s former students give truth to the movement’s tagline.

Click image to enlarge.


By the beginning of her junior year at Rock Bridge, Katy Ross, now 22, was living with her sister and hoping to leave behind self-esteem issues and fights with her stepfather. A quiet girl in baggy clothes, Ross was uninterested in her classes, and her attendance was sporadic because she couldn’t bring herself to care anymore.

That was the year she took art.

In the beginner-level class, she found her talent for drawing. Hyatt-Wade encouraged her, kept her accountable and showed her that she had worth. Ross wasn’t afraid to take chances anymore.

Ross is now studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and hopes to become an art therapist.

“I don’t have a specific teacher who is pushing me to do my best, but I have myself for that now,” she says. “Ms. Hyatt taught me to do it. My quality of life is much better, being independent.”

Ross’ classmate Sarah Brennan, now 21, also found inspiration for her future through Hyatt-Wade.

“(Hyatt-Wade) showed me that you can always be better,” Brennan says. “Not having a 9-to-5 job doesn’t scare me. Not making art scares me.” Hyatt-Wade’s instruction and guidance led Brennan to realize what she could do. She is now pursuing her dream of becoming an artist at the University of Michigan.


For architect Dave Burris, 35, art wasn’t on the radar. High school was a place to be social and enjoy himself; he played football and was good with numbers. But when he took Hyatt-Wade’s introductory art class, it provided the foundation and tools he would eventually use in his career.

“Art wasn’t just crayons and colored pencils and making something pretty,” Burris says. “It’s also about problem-solving and powers of observation that otherwise wouldn’t be taught.”

Meanwhile, his future wife, Kate, was deep into Rock Bridge’s art program and would later go to MU to study art education. Now, they’re the kind of people who, instead of going to beaches for vacation, visit museums with their sketchbooks. They choose to visit Barcelona; Madrid; Washington, D.C. or Chicago ­— places rich in art and architecture.

Katy Ross discovered a talent and passion for art when Sharyn Hyatt-Wade was her teacher. She created this self-portrait, drawn on blueprints, in her high school art class.


High school students are only a portion of the people Hyatt-Wade has impacted. Stephanie Mennemeyer, 33, started student teaching with an educator who screamed at her in front of students and her MU teaching supervisor. By the time she was assisting in Hyatt-Wade’s classroom, she thought she was done with teaching art. Now, she owns a fine arts preschool.

“I was defeated after that first teacher,” she says. “(Hyatt-Wade) was the biggest cheerleader I could possibly have. She showed me that I did have things I could share with the students.”


Shalonda Farrow, 23, doesn’t like to be photographed. She prefers to remain behind the viewfinder, where she feels like she’s in a different world. It’s fitting that the photo series she worked on in Hyatt-Wade’s studio thinking class at MU focuses on escapism.

The series will show in May and documents what it was like growing up in inner-city St. Louis, where her parents still struggle with addiction.

“If I hadn’t picked up my camera, I could have picked up something different,” Farrow says. “I had to be away from St. Louis. They need something to cope, something to escape. I see it as spirituality, as they take part in smoking. I see their souls leaving them with the smoke.”

She will graduate from MU’s art education program in May. Hyatt-Wade was a source of both support and inspiration for how Farrow wants to teach her future students.

Hyatt-Wade’s students mean as much to her as she does to them. At the end of each year, she cries and tells them she’ll always be there for them. Some will never pick up a sketchpad again, but that’s fine. Because it really isn’t about drawing a better apple. She showed students their potential to do more than they ever imagined, and that’s the lesson they remember.

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