Teaching from Experience

Northland art instructors draw on real life experience in the field.

Whoever said, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.' was processing some trauma. Many of the best teachers in the Northland teach from a place of real-world experience. While they still may be able to crank out a mean syllabus, these four art teachers are walking the walk and passing on lessons based in reality to their students.  Meet four artists that are in the trenches of creating in the real world. 

Mixed Media

Andrea Lee 

Andrea Lee, Ph.D. is more than just the assistant professor of art and curator of the Campanella Gallery at Park University. She's also a talented mixed media artist that blends textiles such as doilies or quilting squares with acrylic paint to create multilayered pieces that speak to the contributions of women through the ages. She also works in collage, which blends paper adhered to canvas. 

Lee says that much of her recent work features birds, butterflies, and pollinators, as she works through creations that address environmental issues and the ongoing fight for pollinators and a healthy environment. 

Lee says that she tells her students to follow their hearts but with open eyes when it comes to commercial art as a career. 

"This is not a career that you walk across the stage at graduation and you hand an employer your diploma. Some of my students do want to teach, as well. So I encourage them to have a plan for their career, but to still explore. I'm biased, but I believe that we have some very talented students," she says proudly. 

She also encourages her students to create space for themselves to create art once they are in the real world. 

"Even if it's a small space where they can be creative and have their art supplies, that they can allow themselves that creativity. It's a practice, just like anything else. It doesn't grow without the opportunity to practice," she says. 


Lynn Richardson-Ludwigs

As an adjunct professor, Lynn Richardson-Ludwigs teaches at both Park University and Maple Woods Community College. Although she teaches a variety of classes, she feels most comfortable with a pencil in her hand, creating lifelike faces and bodies. 

Richardson-Ludwigs took an unconventional path to teaching, receiving her undergraduate degree in art, and then devoting the next 30 years to being an international flight attendant and mother. During that time, she also procured her Master's degree in fine art, which she said was the optimal way to study. 

"When you can go look at the Louvre for inspiration, it makes studying pretty easy," she laughs. "I was able to visit most of the major galleries in the world during that time." 

While drawing is where she feels most comfortable, she says that she's still exploring new mediums all the time. 

"I went to an exhibit by William Wiley, who was a local artist who died about a year ago. He said, 'Before I die, I want to try it all.' And in this exhibit were drawings, sculptures, ceramics, everything. And I thought, you know that's me." she says. 

What draws her to, well, drawing? She says the devil is in the details. 

"I like the small details of the figure and the face. I like people with a lot of character. And some of my work borders on the surreal, such as a series called the Wedding Party, where the characters in a wedding party are all fish. But even when surreal, they are detail-oriented." 


Laura Lenhert

Art is personal for Laura Lenhert. She has taught students drawing, design, and ceramics at Park Hill High School by day for 28 years but by night, she creates custom ceramic platters and ornaments adorned with hand-painted images of clients' homes, favorite cities, and pets. 

She started her business in 2006 but art has always been a part of her life. 

"I really like to make connections with people and to create art that is sentimental. I started making the personalized platters that have people's homes on them in 2006. For my father's birthday, I gave him a platter with his childhood home on it. He was so emotional when seeing his home. I realized it connected a memory of family for him that was special. I like creating that for people. It does not matter what the house looks like it is the connection to a memory," she says. 

While Lenhert has made a go of art professionally, she really just wants to impart an appreciation of art and craft to her students. 

"My goal is for my students to have an appreciation for art and for anything handmade. It is not important to make art your profession but instead to use creativity in your everyday life. My hope is that they create something that gives them joy," she says.


Holly Distefano

Holly Distefano loves working large. As an elementary art teacher, she may stick to 8 by 12 inches most of the time, but outside of class, she's more comfortable doing what we all tell our kids not to do--paint on the walls. 

Distefano found her calling after taking a break from teaching to raise her kids. 

"I got a little bored staying home and started experimenting with the decorative arts--faux finishing, etc. I ended up going to a couple of schools to master the techniques and working with home builders. Then I started painting the walls in my kids' rooms, challenging myself to work large since I had always worked in fine art type projects," she says. 

People started to take notice, and she quickly gained a following, painting murals of dinosaurs, sports teams, and even beer label reproductions in larger than life sizes on walls around the city. 

Most recently, she completed a mural on the seventh floor of Union Station for a project open to graffiti artists and muralists. She chose an image that had a message of acceptance and unity, featuring large faces, something that she's been working on perfecting. 

When school comes back, Distefano will be moving to a new role--arts education for special education students. This new position will allow her to dip her toes into art therapy, helping kids dealing with a rapidly changing world cope in creative ways. 

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