New ASMSA arts instructor fired up

4 months ago

Sara Henry likes the challenge her choices of medium provide her as an artist. Whether it is working with wood, metal or clay, the three-dimensional aspect of each medium offers an opportunity for her and her audience to experience her art from various perspectives.

“I like the challenge of creating a piece of work that can be viewed from all sides,” Henry said.  “I like to get my hands around the whole piece. There’s something about art that takes physical ability, mental ability and technical ability where you mix all these parts together. That’s what’s really special to me.”

Henry is the new arts faculty member at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts. Her specialty is ceramics, but she also works in metals and wood. She hopes to offer a metalsmith class in the future.

Her addition to the faculty continues the school’s efforts to enhance its legislated arts mission.  She is the school’s second full-time art instructor, including Brad Wreyford who joined the ASMSA faculty in 2014 as its first full-time art instructor. That same year, the school used a $15,000 grant from the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, Inc. plus other institutional funds to convert the former library computer lab into a visual arts studio. A $50,000 grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation in 2016 allowed ASMSA to offer several new arts courses including Modern Design and Regional Arts Survey to the program.

Henry said seeing the school invest in the arts program was one of the reasons she was interested in joining ASMSA’s faculty. 

“It’s really encouraging to hear from the administration how they want to grow the program. I feel like part of a team and will have input on ways to make improvements. That was a selling point for me,” she said.

Building any program is a risk, she said, and school administrators have shown they are willing to take that risk on her and her ceramics abilities. It took a chance on students being interested in a course that had never been offered before by purchasing a new kiln for her classroom, she said. It will allow students to fire their own creations.

The risk has paid off so far, she said. Eighteen students signed up for her ceramics courses, only three of which have ever previously made anything out of clay. Henry is encouraged that students were willing to take their own risk on a course that they were not familiar with.

“I think there are lot of misconceptions about the difficulty of ceramics,” Henry said. “There is this first thought about coming in and making a coffee cup and how to color it. Then they realize they have to come in and work really hard, almost harder than many of their other courses. They have to come in outside of class to flip their works so they will dry. They have to build outside of regular class hours. There can be a lot of after-hours work they may not have been prepared for. I think once they get their first finished work however, they will be even more excited.”

Henry said she has always had a passion for making art. She started taking art classes in high school. In community college, she began working with fibers. She took a 3D design class which led to her working with wood sculptures and metal casting. Her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska at Anchorage is in subtractive wood sculpture. 

She happened to take a pottery class to help balance out her undergraduate degree work. That’s when she discovered she could really make anything she wanted with clay rather than having to carve it out of wood. She could sculpt with it more easily and more quickly.

“Clay can take on any kind of texture and any color. It really opened up this array of possibilities that I didn’t know were possible before,” she said.

Discovering this new medium led to her earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics from State University of New York at New Paltz. It also led to a career serving as an instructor, adjunct professor, artist in residence and a visiting artist at schools and galleries in New York and in Lincoln, Neb. One of her grandmothers had lived in Nebraska when she was growing up.

Henry established a successful career using her passion for art as its basis. It was something she wasn’t sure she could accomplish early on. When she first expressed interest in art and developing a career as an artist, her parents weren’t supportive. That led to years of her questioning whether she should follow her desire to be an artist or find a different career.

“I fought tooth and nail to get where I am now. It was the most difficult thing I could think of to do. It occupies my time and mind and emotions fully. It encompasses my whole life. I’m not making things for the sake of making them. It’s my way of contributing to society. It’s a way to start conversations on many topics. It’s a way to bridge the gap to younger generations to help bring them up to where I am,” she said.

“I had to prove that to myself. There were so many times I tried to talk myself out of it. But it was really something I wanted to do. Nothing else satisfies me.”

That’s why she is excited to work with younger students. She wanted to find a school with students who were driven to learn.

“I’m a lifelong learner and I want to be in a place with like-minded people. I want to teach students who are excited to learn. I want to show them they can have meaningful lives. My students come into class ready to go. I look at the work they are doing and putting in the time I’ve asked them to do. I can tell they are willing to go above and beyond,” she said.

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