Art ‘Teacher of the Year’ unlocks kids’ talents

ART TEACHER OF THE YEAR for the State of Maine is Stevens Brook Elementary School's Cathy Grigsby of Bridgton.

ART TEACHER OF THE YEAR for the State of Maine is Stevens Brook Elementary School's Cathy Grigsby of Bridgton.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Holding a colorful portrait before an intrigued group of sixth graders, Cathy Grigsby described the art technique of “pointillism.”

Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism, according to Wikipedia.

The technique relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones.

Once she explained the “technique” and offered various suggestions — including using a faint pencil line to outline their image and then later erase it once the work had been completed — on how to approach their assignment, Grigsby handed each student a blank postcard, and asked them to create an image using pointillism.

“You can create any picture you want but it must be appropriate — no violence,” she said.

Grigsby is a believer that inside everyone is either the ability to create or appreciate art. She has spent nearly three decades helping young children tap into the arts.

Recently, Grigsby was named the 2013 Maine Art Education Association’s “Elementary Art Educator of the Year.” A resident of Bridgton, Grigsby teaches at Stevens Brook Elementary School.

“Your commitment and dedication to the continued advancement of art education in Maine is to be commended,” the organizations announcement read. “We are happy that we are able to celebrate this with you, your community and the state.”

Grigsby will be presented the award at the MAEA Awards Celebration on Friday, April 5 at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

SAD 61 Gifted & Talented teacher Ann Diskin nominated Grigsby for the honor.

“I was really surprised! There are so many amazing art teachers in the state of Maine, that this honor is truly humbling. Elementary art teachers are very hard workers, as most of them see 100 or more students a day, which is daunting in itself. Add to that, keeping track of 100 pieces of art every day and the many, many materials that must be organized to produce the art, and it is quite a juggling act,” Grigsby said. “In past years, winners of the Art Teacher of the Year have been people who have been very active in the MAEA. This year, they changed the format to recognize a teacher from each of the three grade levels (elementary middle and high school). Since I have not been on the board of the MAEA, I can only imagine that what set me apart was having published over 10 articles for ‘Arts and Activities’ magazine, as well as my work with the Bridgton Art Guild (BAG) and Gallery 302.”

CUT SC sbes banner CONGRATULATIONS TO MRS. GRIGSBY — This banner was created by Mrs. Cathy Grigsby’s special art students over the course of two years. Each student created one panel and one letter using the disperse dye method, which is printed on polyester fabric. The banner will be on permanent display at Stevens Brook. Pictured, left to right are: Jonah Tafuri, Emma Crawford, Cody Chute, Alli Vogel, Hannah Thurston, Mrs. Grigsby, Isabella Wears, Cody Ducette, Grace Ross, Lucas Rogers, Griffin Figueroa, Kayla Currier and Becca Roy. Students absent at the time of the photo were: Tyler Silverblade, Olivia Thompson, Veronica Messina, Haley Fernald and Grace Chute.

CUT SC sbes banner
CONGRATULATIONS TO MRS. GRIGSBY — This banner was created by Mrs. Cathy Grigsby’s special art students over the course of two years. Each student created one panel and one letter using the disperse dye method, which is printed on polyester fabric. The banner will be on permanent display at Stevens Brook. Pictured, left to right are: Jonah Tafuri, Emma Crawford, Cody Chute, Alli Vogel, Hannah Thurston, Mrs. Grigsby, Isabella Wears, Cody Ducette, Grace Ross, Lucas Rogers, Griffin Figueroa, Kayla Currier and Becca Roy. Students absent at the time of the photo were: Tyler Silverblade, Olivia Thompson, Veronica Messina, Haley Fernald and Grace Chute.

As a teacher, it is really a “novel thing” to be recognized for one’s work, Grigsby added.

“I believe every teacher ought to be recognized for the amazing things they do every day under incredible pressure from many outside sources in our society,” she said. “Personally, I will always cherish the moment I walked into my room last week and saw it covered with banners, balloons, flowers and cards from all the kids! And then at school meeting when I received a standing ovation from the students and teachers. Wow! I am so lucky to be able to work with such great teachers and students!”

Presently in her 28th year of teaching at SAD 61, Grigsby first earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, “which as you may know is not really a degree that qualifies a person for any job.”

“I did a lot of different kinds of jobs before becoming a teacher: I had my own leather crafts business, I was a waitress. I did massage. I was a newspaper reporter. I sold legal books. I was a Title 1 teacher.  I was a substitute teacher,” she recalled. “It was as a struggling single mom that I decided to go back to school to get my teaching certificate. Even after that, it was another five years before I started teaching.”

When asked to describe her approach to teaching art, Grigsby simply answered, “I believe every child is creative and every child can be successful in art.”

“Art is one of the few places in the curriculum that asks a student to come up with their own unique approach to an assignment. In doing so, students must learn to use all kinds of problem-solving skills. At the same time, they must cooperate with their classmates in the use of materials, cleaning up, etc. All of these skills are crucial for many kinds of jobs that exist in today’s world, and even more importantly they are key in approaching life with the knowledge that there are many ways to solve a problem and that creativity is not a limited quality that only belongs to the select few,” she said. “I have many students for whom art is the high point of their school week. In our drive to push students faster and faster in the academics, we must remember to find a balance, to honor the unique place in each of us that finds joy in creating something that is ours alone.”

While some students may excel in art, Grigsby truly believes every student possesses some degree of “artistic skill.”

“It is my job to help every student develop artistic skills. It is gratifying to me to see those students who ‘think they have no artistic ability’ do something that surprises them and is really an amazing work of art!,” she said. “It is simply a matter of not putting limitations on yourself and of being willing to work at it.”

Trying to balance a classroom of students with varying artistic abilities can be a major challenge.

“It has always been a struggle finding a way to meet the needs of the gifted students because typically they need more time to complete every project and the schedule allows only 40 minutes per class,” Grigsby said. “In the regular classroom, I often have a second project for the students who finish early so I can give more time to the students who need it. I also have always had a special class at least once a week for students who are gifted in art. There have been years where that class took place during the regular school day, but most years the class is after school (on my own time). I try to keep the class to 10 students and we are able to work on more complex projects that take much longer to do. That class currently is only for fourth and fifth grade students.”

A banner (see photo) Grigsby and her students recently presented to the school is an example of one of the things they created in special art.

“This class not only helps to meet the students needs, but it also gives me a chance to challenge myself and to be able to spend more time with students in a way that is less limiting than the regular schedule,” she said. Grigsby is always very proud to see former students succeed in careers using artistic skills she could see they possessed at an early age. One student that comes to mind for Grigsby is Adam Toews, who is very successful in the graphic design field.

Who unlocked Grigsby’s own interest in art?

“I did  not have an elementary art teacher, but I just remember at a very young age spending hours drawing. My mother was always doing crafty things like sewing and making things for church functions, so I had materials around to work with,” she said. “My first external encouragement was when I won a ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ poster contest when I was in the sixth grade. The award came with a $10 check and my picture in the newspaper. Heady stuff!”

She has no real personal favorite form of art.

“I love everything, which makes me a good art teacher and maybe a less conventional artist. In the art world, people often stick with one medium, but that seems quite impossible for me,” she said. “The media that I use the most for Gallery 302 and any other exhibits are fiber art, pastels and printmaking. I also love working in clay, but do not have access to the right kinds of kilns and glazes.”

What does the future hold for Mrs. Grigsby?

“I am nearing the end of my career as an art teacher because I am getting close to the age when I can retire, but I am still excited about teaching and always coming up with new ideas,” she said. “I have another article, which has been accepted for publication and at least two more ideas for articles I want to write before I retire.  I’m sure I will continue to be involved with Gallery 302 and BAG and I am hoping to show my work in other venues. I would like to teach some classes for adults when I retire. I am also planning on renewing my involvement in the quilting world.”

Art is certainly a passion that will continue to be a major part of Cathy Grigsby’s life — be it in a classroom at Stevens Brook Elementary School or an instructional space elsewhere down the road.

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