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Art graduate connects campus, schools with outreach endowment

February 9, 2012 By Rebecca Quigley

Workshops supported by art graduate Helen Burish have strengthened the connection between area high school teachers and artists in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Photo: Enameling

Middleton High School art teachers Robin Kourakis and Larry Stephens work on enameling projects in the art metals area of the UW–Madison art department.

Middleton High School art teacher Robin Kourakis, a 2000 UW–Madison graduate, made connections with peers from other schools at the workshops and felt reconnected with her alma mater after 11 years.  

“I’m sad that I lost contact for years because it’s such a great university,” Kourakis says.  

Burish organized a series of workshops to provide high school art teachers with hands-on professional development while giving the department’s graduate students and recent alumni an opportunity to share their expertise and talent.  

Burish recently retired from a long career as an art teacher at Middleton High School and joined the Art Board of Visitors – the department’s alumni advisory group.

Because of Burish’s strong ties to local schools, especially Middleton, she identified gaps in the relationship between schools and the university.

Burish and Tom Loeser, chair of the Department of Art in the School of Education, say they discovered that area art teachers felt estranged from the department.  

“I think it was more of a perception problem than a reality,” Loeser says.

Inspired by a desire to reconnect teachers with the department, Burish funded and, with Loeser’s help, organized several workshops for area art teachers. They invited teachers to tour campus facilities, meet students and faculty, learn about the department’s curriculum, and explore innovative techniques in the free workshops.  

“The workshops really had me looking again. It brought the passion back”

Robin Kourakis

More than a dozen high school teachers attended the first workshop in advanced serigraphy led by graduate student Chinn Wang, a 2011 master of fine arts graduate, last fall. The teachers – some of whom came from as far away as Beloit and Janesville – included several art alumni who hadn’t been back to the department in years.  

“I had an amazing experience as a graduate student at UW, and being able to share that with high school educators and also potential future art students was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Wang says. “I have an inherent love of the printmaking process, and I know that the techniques that are second-nature to me are mostly a mystery to the general public.”  

Wang gave a brief introduction to her own work, demonstrated basic screen-printing processes, including her specialty – printing onto shaped plywood blocks that she uses to create three-dimensional print objects.  

“All the teachers that showed up were glowing,” says Loeser.  

Loeser and Burish, inspired by the success of the pilot workshop, recruited alumnus Ken Derengowski, a 2010 master of fine arts graduate, to lead a series of three workshops the following spring in silver ring making, etching and enameling.  

“It all went so well, we just wanted to keep going with it,” says Burish, explaining why she endowed the Helen Burish Art Outreach Fund to continue the semi-annual workshops. “And it all started because I joined the Art Board of Visitors and had just retired, so I had the time.”  

The fund will additionally support sending graduate students to visit the high schools each semester for short-term residencies and bringing high school students to the department for graduate student-led workshops.  

“It was nice to get to see what the art department is like now,” says alumna and La Follette High School art teacher Monique Karlen. “It could really suit some of our students who choose to go on to study art.”

Photo: Serigraphy

Graduate student Chinn Wang, shown at right, demonstrates one of the stages in the serigraphy printmaking process for art teachers. Department chair Tom Loeser, top left, also looks on.

The workshops inspired Karlen to explore what it would take to follow her dream of returning to UW for graduate school, especially if the department is able to offer more evening classes to give teachers the chance to further their education while still working.  

“I think this could segue into getting back into my MFA,” she says. “It’s always good to keep learning… it motivates me to go back and teach my students.”

Karlen recently gave her students etching lessons and was able to include some of the tricks she learned from Derengowski.  

The workshops also opened up “a world of networking,” says Middleton art teacher Bob Elland, who didn’t attend UW but has been to many art department exhibits and MFA open studio days.  

High school art teachers in the region lack a formal network and make rare visits each other’s schools as part of their curriculum renewal process.

“Usually when you go to art showings and events, you see the same people, but this allowed us to meet people we hadn’t met before,” Elland says. “(Now) I feel comfortable calling them.”  

The workshop series serves as a mini-model for what an art teacher network could expand into. And, having a common experience around learning new and different types of artistic processes was fun and useful, he says.  

“We as teachers need to have that spark lit… and get our hands dirty,” Elland says.  

Kourakis spoke excitedly about the new skills she learned at the workshops.  

“The workshops really had me looking again,” she says. “It brought the passion back.”

Kourakis enrolled in a glass course in the department this year after being inspired by the workshops and returning home from last fall’s high school art day at the department to read an alumni magazine article about professor Steve Feren.  

“I read the last line of what he says and it was exactly what I was thinking that day: ‘If you’re not willing to be scared and you’re not willing to fail, then you’re never going to make something that’s lasting,’” she says.  

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