Smith finds art helps make connections [UPDATED]Published 4:37am Monday, July 8, 2013 Updated 6:38am Monday, July 8, 2013
Traveling art teacher Barb Smith removed her glasses and wiped away a couple of stray tears Wednesday morning while telling one of her many stories about former art students.
This story in particular, was about how Smith’s art class essentially saved a young woman’s life. The woman planned to commit suicide.
“’You know what, Barb? You were my angel,’” Smith said. “’You got me over my bad period.’”
Smith was overcome with emotion thinking back on that memory. Another student, a young boy who had a heart ailment, took Smith’s class and ended up selling some of his paintings. He died at 12.
“It kept him going, and his parents,” Smith said. “He had something to look forward to. Artwork is something that can keep people from feeling so sad.”
She’s taught art techniques to millions of people, ages 6 to 94, for nearly 40 years. She’s traveled to England, Canada and every state in the country except for three to share her teaching gifts with others. She loves her work, teaching and the people.
“It’s a good feeling,” Smith said. “It’s an excitement that I don’t think anybody will ever understand.”
Smith has three canvas paintings of historic Fergus Falls sites that will be raffled off in August. The paintings are displayed at Lake Region Healthcare, and $1 raffle tickets can be purchased at the senior center. All the proceeds will go toward the senior center.
She got the idea for some artwork at the center and first wanted to paint some clouds and sky downstairs on the ceiling. But with small canvases, those could be moved around, so she set to work last fall on the paintings. They include spots like Lake Alice, the Fergus Falls water tower, city hall, Otter Tail County Courthouse and the Regional Treatment Center.
The paintings will join about 80 others she has on display at Lake Region Healthcare, from other projects she’s taught.
“I could sell them, I thought, ‘well, why not just donate them to the senior center and they’ll raffle them off?’” Smith said.
Her journey down the artistic path started with her shop, A House of Crafts, with opened in Fergus Falls in about 1970. The company that she works for now had wanted to promote its products in her store. Then artist Sue Scheewe wanted Smith to become a traveling teacher for her.
“That’s how it all started,” Smith said.
She began with just a five-state area. It’s grown over the years into a nation-wide and global endeavor.
She traveled and taught art, but there were difficult aspects as well. She would usually be away from her home and family for a couple weeks, return just long enough to unpack, and then leave again. She even had to turn down teaching a class for the wives of Green Bay Packers football players because she already had a booked-up schedule.
Now, Smith enjoys keeping up with her 17-year-old granddaughter’s sports and activities. Cheering her on at games was something she never had with her own kids, Smith said.
Art wasn’t in the cards for her from the start. She initially went to college for business and became a secretary, which she hated. She never thought she’d be an art teacher.
“It just happened,” Smith said.