An Arts Education Spotlight
by Ashley Lodato, Methow Arts’ Education Director
Step into the Winthrop Gallery or the gallery at Sun Mountain Lodge and you will see some oil paintings that you might mistake for photographs. Featuring snowy basins, backcountry skiers, and white-capped peaks, the paintings capture a startlingly realistic representation of the snow’s texture, the shadows, and the sunlight of the scenes. “Just step closer,” though, says artist Margaret Kingston, and you’ll see that the canvases are indeed a painter’s interpretation of a particular moment. “I try to play up the atmosphere and feelings that occur from the image,” says Kingston. “I’m trying to capture the breathtaking moment of beauty that I think most people can relate to during an experience in the mountains.”
It was that breathtaking beauty of the mountains that brought Kingston and her partner, Jonathan, from their home in New England to the Methow Valley in 2012. Kingston, a state-certified K-12 visual arts teacher, had been teaching at Thornton Central School in New Hampshire when the couple made the move, and had developed a curriculum of National Standards based visual arts lessons. Now Kingston pulls from that curriculum in her work as a teaching artist for Methow Arts’ Artist-in-Residence program, which provides classroom residencies to students in six school districts in the Okanogan region. “I teach interdisciplinary arts,” says Kingston, “any subject matter through creativity and hands-on experiences.” She adds, for example, “Students love to learn about the solar system as they draw each planet using pastels and make them look 3D.” Or they can experiment art from other cultures by painting Chinese dragons with watercolors or by exploring light/dark harmony in Japanese Notan papers.
“Just step closer,” though, says artist Margaret Kingston, and you’ll see that the canvases are indeed a painter’s interpretation of a particular moment. “I try to play up the atmosphere and feelings that occur from the image,” says Kingston. “I’m trying to capture the breathtaking moment of beauty that I think most people can relate to during an experience in the mountains.”
Kingston’s parents were dedicated to providing their children with ample arts education experiences while they were growing up, from dance lessons to art books to materials. She was also lucky enough to have regular art instruction in school once a week from kindergarten through eighth grade—something that most of today’s public elementary school children do not enjoy access to. Kingston filled her high school schedule with art electives and in college decided to become an art teacher. “I knew I enjoyed working with younger kids from my many years as a babysitter and camp counselor so the decision to combine art and teaching was a natural fit for me. I got my first teaching job after I graduated,” she says, adding “I am very passionate about the importance of art education for the unique skills that are built, ways of thinking, and also for the relief that it provides some students in their day. I often hear from students that art is their favorite subject.”
After getting her bearings in the Methow Valley’s art world through teaching for Methow Arts and Confluence Gallery, Kingston participated in her first local show last winter: Confluence’s “In a Land of Snow and Indigo” exhibit. She also currently shows at Sun Mountain Lodge and has joined the Winthrop Gallery co-op, which puts her in the big league of local professional artists who are selling their work. “It’s a unique feeling, when other people are interested in what you are making,” she says.
Contrary to popular perceptions, says Kingston, there are plenty of artists in this area who are not starving. They’re using their art backgrounds and artistic imaginations creatively to make a living doing what they love. “My partner [who owns eqpd] is a product designer, so is his employee, Anna,” says Kingston. “I know multiple graphic artists, two clothing designers, photographers, painters, sculptors, glass blowers, architects, woodworkers, skilled carpenters, jewelry designers, a bird house builder, and gallery employees.” All are practicing some sort of art form as part of their careers, in a community that is singularly welcoming to artists. That’s why it was so surprising to Kingston when she learned that most public school children in the region do not receive regular, formal arts instruction until sixth or eighth grade, and why she feels so strongly about the importance of the art residencies and classes offered by Methow Arts and Confluence. “People are creative by nature and they will benefit from learning an artistic vocabulary and techniques at a young age,” says Kingston. “Most importantly, they need to learn that they CAN make art. It’s not about talent, it’s about practice, knowledge, and finding the materials that interest you.”
View Margaret Kingston’s profile page here.