Serendipitously, two former students and their accomplishments recently blipped across my radar screen. Via Facebook I learned that Suzi Mitchell Hyden, GHS Class of 1985, will have her artwork displayed at the Depot Coffee House for the month of February. Facebook also led me to check out the Etsy store of another alum, Kirby Faulkner Rader, Class of 2004. I immediately decided to talk with these ladies about the creativity going on in their lives.
The typical window available to me as high school teacher/observer of students was ages 14-18. Suzi spent much of that time in the room next to mine under the tutelage of John Zeilman, the ideal art teacher for her. With her own key to the almost-forgotten school darkroom and access to the second darkroom John constructed in his classroom, Suzi not only learned to use many types of cameras – she also began to discover alternative avenues to creating photographic images. In fact, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in photography from the University of Cincinnati. She considers herself a cyanotype artist, employing skills she developed at UC: an alternative, camera-less photographic technique resulting in the striking, blue-hued art pieces she produces – and that will be on display.
Also at GHS, Kirby’s art curriculum provided a welcome interlude in her busy schedule, routinely packed with challenging courses. Guided during those years by art teacher Todd Buschur, Kirby developed her identity as a multi-media artist, with interests in photography, painting in water colors and acrylics on a variety of surfaces, sewing, embroidery, and jewelry making. Her vocational goal was speech therapy, for which she received undergraduate and graduate degrees at Miami University. Fresh from college and far from my observing eyes, the futures of these talented young women eventually lay before them – with diverging roads just as Robert Frost had described. Then life happened, and that has made all the difference.
Suzi’s year with the local arts council did not build in her the direction and confidence she expected; she subsequently abandoned her artwork and for almost a quarter century poured her creativity into the English teaching position she currently holds at Springfield-Clark Career Tech Center. Suzi and husband Bryan raised two sons, she received a master’s in education, holding teaching licenses in English and visual arts – all as her home darkroom simply provided storage space. Conversely, at Kirby’s first speech therapy position she noticed a nurse carrying a bag fashioned from repurposed materials. Kirby’s mental note: she could have made that. Not so long after, three daughters entered the lives of Kirby and husband Steve – “simultaneously” being the operative adverb. Mom, Dad, and triplets were joined by a fourth daughter in short order, and serious Mommying became the name of the game.
Ultimately and fortunately, Frost’s phrase explaining “how way leads on to way” intervened to bring both Suzi and Kirby back to art. The pandemic and its lack of routine activity gave Suzi time for nature walks to collect materials for her renewed interest, her return to cyanotype. As for Kirby, the memory of childhood silhouettes made for her and her sisters at an historical fair motivated her to create the same for her daughters. And the original cards she had regularly received from her grandmother gave her the inspiration and impetus to find time for her own art.
And now, an invitation to Suzi for a local art display and Kirby’s Etsy store have come to pass! What I really wanted to discuss with these artists, however, was the essence of their creative process, their thought patterns when they are “in the zone.” It was fascinating to learn that a truly satisfying part of Suzi’s art is connecting with nature. In her work with the plant life she collects, her eye travels, her mind travels, and she allows nature to guide her in creating pieces that capture its beauty and intricacies. She loves the many variables involved in cyanotype and the unpredictability they provide. And there are discoveries: weeds are some of her best friends – and she is even domesticating herself by adding sewing techniques. Equally compelling are the blocks of time devoted to her artwork Kirby must chisel out of the ongoing day-to-day required to accommodate all aspects of her busy life. She approaches those time periods having researched her work until technique guides her. It is then that she loses track of time, the world becoming mere background. A major principle guiding Kirby’s creative process continues to be how to use her creations to make life more beautiful for others.
What a joy to reconnect with these former students, even to reminisce a bit. Long before I knew her, Suzi was taking art classes at the Springfield Museum of Art, and her dad handed her that first camera on one of their hunting trips. Years before Kirby showed up in my classroom, she exhibited her artwork in the county fair open class and loved the art projects teacher Katha Dill planned for her second-grade class. Later she exquisitely embroidered a formal, one of her final 4-H sewing projects. I count myself fortunate to have crossed paths with these artists during their formative, adolescent years. I am even happier to witness this portion of their lives, when their talents and choice of roads have led to opportunities for public recognition.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.