As a young girl my mother, sisters and I would travel east by train to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibits of ornate armor, enormous Impressionist paintings, articulated marble figures, and Asian and African artifacts stirred my imagination. I stood in awe of their artistic brilliance. I knew early on that the arts would play an integral role in my life.
I received my BFA and teaching credential in 1996 from The University of Montana-Missoula. I have taught in public and private schools; junior high and high school, art museums and operated my own businesses as a sculptor and bookbinder.
In 1997, I began my teaching career at Missoula’s Washington Middle School. Highlights of student work included bear themed paintings on canvas, made into wall hangings and quilted by parents within the school community. Seventh grade students’ wore their handmade animal creations in the International Wildlife Film Festival parade. Sixth grade students drew portraits of city police officers that were displayed at Missoula City Hall. Students taught a printmaking class to their parents sharing newly acquired terminology and knowledge of the printing process.
In October 2000 I successfully established a visual arts program, and taught freshman English and drama at Montana Academy, a private, grades 8-12, co-educational, therapeutic boarding school in Marion, Montana. The entire academic faculty met weekly in collaboration with the school’s therapist as a way to address and meet the needs of each student. Students’ produced wonderful personal works and public art enjoyed by the school community.
In 2002 I applied and was accepted into the Creative Pulse, a Master of Arts in Fine Arts, Integrated Arts and Education graduate program at The University of Montana-Missoula. The program’s emphasis encourages the artist to remain active while becoming a master teacher and leader within the school and community. For my final project, Handsomely Constructed 1860-1920 Ladies Fashions, I created a gown for each decade emphasizing the changing silhouette and how it mirrored women’s emancipated roles within society. Having never sewn a garment prior to this I felt a sense of accomplishment when the gowns were modeled at the Missoula Bon-Macy’s formally the Missoula Mercantile. I chose this location because of its historical reference and correlation to my work.
While continuing work on my master’s degree I worked at the Hockaday Museum of Art, Kalispell, Montana. This provided me with the opportunity to stretch myself as an art educator, in the capacity of Museum Education Coordinator. I was able to work with students of all ages in albeit a small but dynamic museum. I had the opportunity to expand the museum’s education programs into the Kalispell community offering professional development to teachers throughout the Flathead Valley. I became acquainted with regional artists and drew them to the museum to teach in their areas of expertise.
I was contracted, while at the Hockaday, to write curriculum, establish an art program and teach on a limited basis at Summit Preparatory School, a new therapeutic boarding school just west of Kalispell. In spring of 2004 I suspended working at both institutions to devote my full attention to the final presentation of my master’s work.
Summer of 2004 took me to Reno, Nevada where I had the good fortune to work at the Nevada Museum of Art, a dynamic and modern museum; a vibrant work place, full of responsibilities and exciting collaborations with the community. I served as the Associate Curator of Education School/Family Services. My job involved public speaking on behalf of the education department, promoting the museum as a viable educational resource and acting as liaison between schools and community institutions. I also coordinated docent training, created a research format which was incorporated it into the museum’s docent training manual, scheduled and gave school tours, designed art lessons in conjunction with museum exhibits and supervised family outreach programs. It was through this work that I was able to convey my passion for art education. Students were exposed to remarkable art from contemporary to antiquity; regional to international; it was a perfect position to draw them in as future patrons. My energy stemmed from the need to promote the evolving exhibits and the mission of the education department; to bring a rigorous experience to its patrons via the selection/collection of works displayed.
In 2005 I returned to Montana. While interviewing for the high school visual arts position in Libby, with board members, administrators and potential colleagues gathered round, I was asked to describe myself. Without hesitation, I made the analogy that I was like a Border collie; eager to please, pride in a job well done, adaptable to different settings, clever, and agile. At first, I was internally aghast that I had likened myself to a dog, fearing my interviewers would fail to understand my love of dogs and the strong correlation I feel with this breed. Fortunately, the majority was ranchers and due to the rural culture of this community they appreciated and were pleased by the analogy. I accepted their challenge to restore the visual arts program.
Prior to becoming a full-time practicing artist I taught at Columbia Falls Junior High School for two years. My students made amazing works of art. The opportunity to show leadership came in the form of designing and implementing several Pupil Instruction Related (PIR) classes for The Office of Public Instruction (OPI) teacher renewal units toward teaching re-certification.
I am known for challenging my students’ intellect through class work and behavioral expectations. Students are asked to keep a sketchbook, demonstrations are given to support successful management of tools and materials; writing assignments afford students the opportunity to articulate what was learned and are used as an assessment tool. Prominent display of student art plays a role in showcasing academic success. I believe in highlighting cultural diversity through the projects assigned. The behavioral model I utilize is one of “be a blessing to others.” Through continued dialogue, being accessible and the building personal connections, the art room becomes a refuge. I encourage parent and community involvement and feel it is essential to the viability of the intuition. Schools are the loci of a community and it is natural for the two to operate in tandem.
My desire to put some of the ideas that filled my sketchbooks into form, lead me to launch two successful companies Joan Ragan Kallay, LLC sculptures depicting women of strong constitution and Aunt Joan Productions, LLC handsomely constructed journals. What aided my business success was a partnership with the Montana Arts Council through the Montana Artrepreneurship Program, a state sponsored program designed to help visual artists develop sustainable businesses. This sparked other opportunities such as submission and selection of several articles published in a trade magazine. I have also participated in several public art projects.
It has been a journeyman’s passage through the art world and I love and appreciate all facets of my professional life. I get a kick out of being around students; their youthful ideas, their energy and humor. I enjoy connecting them to the art world and how it intertwines and reflects humanity past, present and future and helping them figure out where they fit in the design. Extensive, national and international, travel has allowed me the good fortune of experiencing different cultures and their environs bolstering my desire to share this knowledge. The humanities are deeply embedded in the arts.
The lifestyle choice to be an artist/teacher is a commitment I make knowingly and willingly. I enjoy creating opportunities in which to celebrate the arts.