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ReelChatter of the Month

Meet artist and teacher Beth Hannah, our February ReelChatter of the Month! 

Tell us a little about yourself! 

If I’m not teaching art, I’m spending time with my family. I have two girls ages 6 and 10. Being a mom is my favorite part of life. Trees and weird socks (though not nearly as awesome as my kids) are also pretty awesome. 

When did you start noticing your love of art?

Some of my earliest memories are of coloring in my Care Bear, Rainbow Brite, and My Little Pony coloring books. As a tiny kindergarten student, art class was my favorite part of the school day. I decided then that I wanted to be an art teacher and never looked back. All the way through high school I was lucky enough to have amazing art teachers who kept me inspired. One particular art teacher who I had both in elementary school and then again as a high school student passed away my senior year. Realizing the huge impact that she had played in my life rid me of any doubt; being an art teacher was what I wanted to do.  

Tell us about working as an art teacher & about your teaching philosophy!

My kindergarten dream of becoming an art teacher came true. I’ve been teaching art for over 20 years in a variety of capacities. I spent some time working at a camp doing nature based art education. I was a graduate assistant while completing my master’s degree in art education at Kent State. I worked at an alternative school doing art with students struggling with emotional and behavioral issues. I’ve worked at multiple local art centers running workshops, private lessons, and homeschool art classes. Currently, I have three different part time jobs. At Learning Ladder I teach homeschool art classes, run an art club, lead skill-based art workshops, canvas painting pop up events, and assist in art-themed birthday parties. I recently started a job as a Kent State University student teacher supervisor for the art education department. Finally, I also have been teaching art classes at day centers for adults with disabilities for nearly 10 years.

Working with adults with special needs has definitely influenced my teaching philosophy.  I hear so many people say “I can’t draw.” I always dispute this…everyone can draw. Everyone can create. People tend to get stuck on the idea that art needs to look nice or pretty by traditional standards. I regularly have to jump in to stop staff members (at various places that I’ve worked) from doing my student's work for them. In the staff members' eyes, the student isn’t doing the art project as neatly, or perfectly as they think they should. How then will the student be able to feel proud of what they accomplished or created? This also can lead to the student feeling as though they have failed or are unable to do the art project themselves when this is far from the truth. Art is so much more than making something that looks ‘nice,’ ‘pretty’ or is a successful realistic rendering. While learning skills and techniques and creating realistic looking art are all important and have their place, focusing too much on perfection within that can squash someone’s desire to create or even try. I like to incorporate some freedom and choice making into my projects and lessons so the art can take on more personal meaning. I try to relate what is being taught to my students' interests and also allow room for them to veer slightly from what is presented or expected. This gives them some space to express themselves.   

Tell us about the role art has played in your life & about the benefits of creating art!

Art can be therapeutic, healing, relaxing, fun and can be an outlet for what we don't have the words to speak. Art is all of this for me. When I’m painting or drawing it calms me down. I can focus better. I feel like I have this inner need to create. It’s always there…but it’s even more powerful when life feels less than perfect. In college I struggled with depression. I filled up sketchbook after sketchbook with drawings. Drawing helped me process what I was going release it in a way. It cleared my mind. Ultimately it was a caring professor, a counselor (who luckily was a great fit for me), and a new job where I spent my days doing art with kids outdoors that pulled me out of depression. Creating art, though, got me through the toughest days while I was living in it. I later had a gallery exhibit of my drawings. Taken out of the sketchbooks, I had enough drawings to cover the walls of the gallery space from floor to ceiling. I don’t think I really knew it at the time but being willing to take the pages out of the books and put them on display was a healing step for me. No one but me really understood what the drawings meant but I think it gave me some closure on that whole chapter of my life. A bit similar to a songwriter performing a deeply personal song in concert for the first time, sharing art can be a way of sharing part of yourself, being vulnerable, and letting go.

I love sharing the power of art with others through teaching and giving my students the tools they need to express themselves. If you feel like you can’t draw…  try it. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to have your drawing look like any particular ‘thing.’  Just draw…to draw and see what happens. Or go get some paint or clay and just create. I think that is when art becomes the most therapeutic; when we don’t put pressure on ourselves and we let go and allow ourselves to get lost in it. Maybe you’ll find some peace and calm, maybe you’ll be able to express something you didn’t have the words to say, or maybe it will simply bring you some joy.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I don’t necessarily believe in guardian angels in the literal sense, but I absolutely believe there are certain people in life who can take on that kind of role…without even knowing it. The kind of person who always seems to come around with just what you need at just the right time in your life. The ‘caring professor’ I mentioned earlier is this person for me. She taught me nearly everything I know about being an art teacher, is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, is a huge advocate for gender equality & women’s rights, has the hugest, most welcoming heart, and really truly is an amazing woman. I am so grateful for her presence in my life, for always supporting me and believing in me, for being someone I felt comfortable going to when I was struggling, and for continuing to think of me when opportunities well suited to me have arisen even decades after I was her student and colleague. 

Why is mental health awareness important to you?

You never know what it’s like in someone else's shoes so it's important to move through our days treating those we encounter with patience, caring, and kindness. Even people who you are close to who seem to have it all together might be silently struggling. I think it’s easy to forget that. With physical illness it’s more apparent. Often there are visible symptoms and people are expected to seek help through a professional's care. Mental illness should be no different and yet there is a stigma that exists with counseling and therapy.  Due to this stigma and because it is often unseen I'm sure there are far more people struggling with mental health than anyone knows or could guess. I'd like to think with more awareness will come more understanding and acceptance and thus more people seeking help and encouraging others to get help. 

What is a quote you live by?

'The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment'  -Buddha

The idea of living in the moment has been something I try to remember day to day. It’s easy to get caught up rehashing the past or thinking about what might or could be yet to come. While we can learn from the past and strive for things to happen in the future, really the only time we have is NOW. This exact moment of time. Thinking in this way helps me appreciate each moment more. 

Reading any interesting books or binging any good shows?

II read a lot. I love Perks of Being A Wallflower, Traveling Mercies, The Poison Wood Bible, and The Nightingale.


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