by Bob Bahr
Participants in Susan K. Black’s Dubois workshops know that Mentor Day is a big deal. A majority of the artists teach art to local kids for one morning at a nearby ranch during the workshop, and the results often indicate significant artistic development on the part of the kids—or at least significantly boosted enthusiasm about painting.
But last year the mentoring team—spearheaded by Wanda Mumm, Nancy Foureman, and John Phelps—saw a serious uptick in the interest of students. The 5th Grade wanted to participate, even though the program is designed for older kids, and they took action. “They decided that they needed to influence the decision on whether they would be involved somehow,” recalls Mumm. “So they created a poster board showing the various reasons why they should be a part of Mentor Day. One of the 5th Graders gave the argument that they would be more enthusiastic than the high school students. They came with that kind of bravado. They got their way, and the 5th Graders did take it seriously and show a particular enthusiasm.”
Mumm has noticed another shift among the students in Dubois, starting this fall. SKB has been mentoring Dubois students for more than seven years now, and word has gotten around at the school. It helps that art students from Dubois have won more than half of the blue ribbons in the statewide competition for the last few years. The young Dubois artists have always been interested in seeing that the professional painters and sculptors at SKB make a life of making art. They receive the knowledge that the creation of art is a viable lifestyle. They are taken seriously by people who make art for a living.
“What Danita [Sayers, the art teacher at the Dubois public school] does with the students is just amazing,” says Mumm. “She knows how to handle them and how to give them what they need. But sometimes kids need to hear the same thing from another person. The SKB Mentor Program also allows the kids to zero in on what they need help on. The students aren’t just interested in an experience with SKB artists anymore. Now they have a specific goal. It may be to learn more about painting nocturnes or clouds. This is a shift. They realize that this is an opportunity to get help outside the classroom.”
The SKB instructors get reports that the Mentor Program has acted as a catalyst to get some of the students going on a yearlong project or goal. “What happens on one Mentor Day can be a big influence,” Mumm says. “They get advice, information, and inspiration that can carry through the whole year.”
But it’s all built on the base that Sayers lays down for the students in her classroom. Before the 2016 Dubois workshop began, Mumm, Foureman, and Phelps spent two full days in Sayers’ art classroom, advising the kids. At one end of the classroom, Phelps was helping a young woman understand a change she needed to make to the anatomy of a horse she had in her painting. The musculature in the hind leg was not quite right. At the other end of the classroom, Sayers was laying down a more general truth. “OK now slow down,” Sayers told a student who was toning her surface with very saturated colors. “That green is going to distract from the star of your painting.”
“This isn’t a horse race. There’s no money at the finish line. Take your time.” Ω