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Finding Lessons in Art and Nature

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January 5, 2016

Alison Blake: Art Education

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Alison Blake's work "Chronic Imbalance" received the William G. Boyce/Friends of the Tweed Merit Award at the annual Student Exhibition held in spring 2015 at the Tweed Museum of Art.

Alison Blake has always loved art, but when she’d tell people she was thinking about majoring in art, there was the “what are you going to do with that?” response that made her hesitate.

But answers came after high school graduation when the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native decided to take a job at a pottery studio for a year while she thought about her future. There she discovered the magic of teaching. “Working with the kids, helping them figure something out, it was really inspiring,” she recalls.

Bolstered by the knowledge that she wanted to teach art, she began searching for a college. Her boss at the pottery studio had gone to UMD and recommended it. That intrigued Alison because she was familiar with the city. “My family used to come up to Duluth for vacation.”

Doing some further research, Alison discovered UMD’s Art Education major. “UMD has a strong education program, and I really liked the art department. It seemed like a good fit.”

Like many artists, Alison draws inspiration from nature. Being immersed in Duluth’s natural world was a bonus. Adding environmental studies classes to her curriculum, she's discovered that she wants to make nature an integral component of her art education courses. “Art and nature – they go well together. Kids don’t get enough environmental studies in school. I’d like to teach them more about it – especially with everything going on with the environment and global warming,” she says.

Now a senior, Alison is gaining confidence in her ability to teach. She’s predominately worked with elementary school-aged kids. “Last year I worked with middle school kids and really liked it.” This year she is adding teaching high school students to her list of experiences. 

She continues to create art. Last spring, she submitted a work to the Student Exhibition held each year at the Tweed Museum of Art. At first glance, the piece appears simple, even pretty. A series of embroidery hoops hold fabric pieces splashed with bright colors. But a closer look reveals holes in the fabric, burn marks and black smudges. The piece, entitled “Chronic Imbalance,” was inspired by Alison’s personal experiences with people who have borderline personalities. It's a mixed media work and includes embroidery, wood burning, and collage. She even used fireworks to create the work. "That's how I was able to achieve the vibrant colors and the scorch marks. It also supports the theme of unpredictable moods and inappropriate displays of anger," she says. Suddenly the piece isn’t so simple. 

For her efforts, "Chronic Imbalance" received the William G. Boyce/Friends of the Tweed Merit Award. In addition, Alison earned the Raymond W. Darland All-American Scholarship for her academic efforts. “I was shocked and amazed. I don’t think I’m someone who really stands out. I’m more introverted and like to observe.”

Obviously her professors had been observing her too. The scholarship has eased her financial burden in her last year at UMD. It’s allowing her to wholeheartedly devote herself to becoming a teacher who hopes to connect children with the natural world around them. 

Visit the UMD's Art Education program website for more information.