Instructor teaches students about life through art

Liberty Hill Intermediate School art teacher Susan Barnes shows off some of the clay busts her students have been working on. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

Liberty Hill Intermediate School art teacher Susan Barnes shows off some of the clay busts her students have been working on. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

Susan Barnes knew she wanted to pursue art when she was the tender age of five. She found her calling in teaching once she realized she could make a living by combining her passion for art and love of children.

“I like connecting with kids and trying to get them to think outside the box and use their imagination and creativity,” explained Barnes, who has taught in Liberty Hill since 1998. “To challenge them. Art seems very easy for some people and very challenging for others. When I see my students outside the classroom, like in high school and beyond, they come and see me and talk about what a great experience they had. That’s really fulfilling.”

Barnes teaches art to students at Liberty Hill Intermediate School. In her class, students learn the basics of art, expand on their skills and particular interests within art, and discover how art can be applied to different careers and areas of life.

“I have students that struggle in art, but they enjoy it and appreciate it,” Barnes said. “They can go to a museum, recognize a painting, and say, ‘That is when the Nazis tried to destroy this work of art,’ and so they appreciate it.” She sees her students once or twice a week so she makes each meeting count.

“They do painting, drawing and clay. We do a little bit of all the media,” Barnes said. “I let them have choices to where they get to be the artist and decide what they want to do within a certain theme.”

For example, students are working on clay busts, projects where they learn to make creatures out of clay using art techniques. A bust is a portrait of a subject that can range from an animated cartoon to an animal or person.

“They get the freedom, within a perimeter, of making a head and shoulders of something and they get really excited,” Barnes said. “We also use technology and software programs. We use iPads. I want the kids to be 20th Century artists and if you think about it the future is very visual in social media today.

“The creative spirit kids have if they go into computer technology, animation, graphics, design, architecture or advertising, that’s a great experience and background to have and to utilize,” she added.

For example, she teaches students the basics of using software to build 3-dimensional architectural floor plans and by that night, they may go home and build something beyond anything they or their teacher could have imagined.

Students learn to master the art discipline and also absorb lessons they can apply to other areas of life.

“Problem solving skills, being creative, working together and cooperation,” Barnes said. “We do go into careers like advertising and architecture, things like that, when we look at career choices in the arts.”

She believes in the importance of linking teachers, parents and students together, and then for these groups to work with the local community and businesses to give students a well-rounded educational experience.

She is part of the Parent and Community Team Committee and the District Education Improvement Council (DEIC). She, along with others involved, are charged with finding ways to involve the community with the campuses.

An example of this is her support of a tentative Liberty Hill International Sculpture Symposium to mark the original event’s 40th anniversary. She wants to help the Liberty Hill Development Foundation Board gain community, business and city support to help make the event a success. Barnes said the sculptures provide a great, hands-on learning experience for students. They get to learn art techniques and gain appreciation for the art and history of the sculptures.

“It’s interactive. They learn about the artists and we draw the sculptures and so the students have taken ownership,” she said.

Barnes has art connections throughout the world and wants to find a way for some of those contacts to become involved with the potential Symposium.

“We need financial support, a grant writer to help us out and community involvement to really be able to fund the artists coming from other countries,” Barnes said.

Some international artists have expressed interest in taking part already, so Barnes hopes residents will allow them to stay in their homes for about six weeks, or for local businesses and community members, to offer monetary support to make the travel possible.

“Since I’m more of a 2-D artist, I think we’d also try to include some 2-D artists to come as well and have an art symposium of painters and drawers,” Barnes said. “We may host a studio space somewhere in the school district and that’s just pending.”

She said it is important for school staff to be involved with efforts like the Symposium in order to make students cultured citizens.

“Something like this Sculpture Symposium, it’s about art, but it’s about working together and cooperating with a lot of people who are wanting to come here because of the great school system, the businesses, the community, opportunity for growth, our athletics department,” Barnes said. “I want them to see how we cooperate together and work as a team.”

From a community perspective, she said the Symposium will be significant.

“I was trying to explain this to somebody the other day, that if we pull this off it’s kind of like having the Olympics for arts here in Liberty Hill,” Barnes said. “We’re inviting local artists too. If we’re hosting people from other countries we’re going to have a flag ceremony. It’s going to be a big, statewide event, but also a national event right here in Liberty Hill.

“We may start off small for this fall, but we hope to build on that and invite more artists,” she added. “As long as we have financial support and backing; I have a lot of interest from contacts that would be willing to come and share their art with us. It’s great for our community.”

She said she has already discussed the idea with her students who express excitement at the possibility.

“I think as an art teacher it’s my job to promote the arts in the community and to inspire that understanding and love of learning,” Barnes said.

She enjoys working with the LHIS staff, who she says is always helpful and caring.

“It feels like home,” Barnes said. “It’s a camaraderie. Everyone supports each other. Here, the school is behind your decisions. I have a nice, cool art room. Students at this age are so inquisitive. They want to learn and they’re so helpful.”

She has lived in Liberty Hill since 1997 and loves the cooperative spirit that envelops the community.

“When you see people they smile and say hi,” Barnes said. “Our school system is great. We have our local businesses that support what we do. We’ve got the parks, the Foundation Park, especially. My kids went through the community leagues here. They have volunteers who are just out to improve the community without pay. Plus, we have the Hill Country with pretty trees and rivers and things to do in nature.”

Barnes has three children, Kristy, who is married and is in the Army Reserve; and Kassidy and Logan, who are students at South Plains College. She also has two dogs and four cats. She grew up in West Texas where tumbleweeds and dirt roamed the land. Those elements still pop up in the abstract art work she does today.

“My personal art work is more about my inner strength and spirit,” Barnes said. “I’d like to work on sculptures and clay when the Symposium takes place. I would like to practice and experiment and find out more in that way.”

Barnes earned a teaching certificate from Texas Tech University after earning a BFA in drawing and painting. She later earned a master’s of art education from Texas Tech University Center at Junction. She previously taught at Idalou High School near Lubbock and at Round Rock ISD before joining the Liberty Hill ISD staff.

She invites the community out to LHIS Fine Arts Night from 6:30-8 p.m. on March 31 where students will showcase their talent and work in the arts.

“I would say to students to find the thing they’re passionate about and go for it,” Barnes said. “Make sure you can take care of your family but you want to be happy in your job and do what you love. That’s what I do all the time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end.”