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A career path shift for Beattie turns into a lifelong involvement with art

Wanda Beattie works at the wheel in the Wayne Center for the Arts pottery studio. Although she retired in the spring from Central Christian School, Beattie has found she still has plenty of opportunities to teach art.

Tami Lange Mosser

When it comes to art, Wanda Beattie is sort of a Renaissance woman.

She draws. She paints. She knows art history.

And she throws a mean pot, too.

All this from a woman who figured she'd spend all her working years teaching first grade.

At first, it seemed as though Beattie's prediction was right. Following graduation from Cumberland College, she worked for eight years in a first-grade classroom in southern Kentucky. After that came an additional three years as an elementary-level reading instructor.

But Beattie wanted to be close to her family, which was scattered across Michigan and Pennsylvania. So she split the difference and came to Ohio. “It looked like a nice place to be.” She came here with no job; “just came on faith,” she said.

Almost instantly, she realized there was going to be a problem. With 11 year's experience and a master's degree, Beattie had priced herself out of the market. A friend from Oak Grove Mennonite, where she was attending, told her she might pursue an open position with Central Christian School in Kidron. “And within three days,” Beattie said, “I had a job teaching high school art, which I had no background in.”

That is not to say that Beattie didn't have an artistic side. “As a kid, I always enjoyed painting and drawing and stuff,” she said. “But I didn't do it as a real big hobby. I had other things I was interested in.”

But with her new job, she got up to speed and quickly. She took art history classes at the University of Akron, took a ceramics class at the Wayne Center for the Arts and, when she turned 50, took a trip to Europe to visit some of the world's great museums.

And somewhere in the midst of all that, Beattie's true artist started to emerge. “I found out I could do a lot more in the art field than just crafts,” she said. During what was to become a 25-year tenure at Central Christian, Beattie taught art history, ceramics, drawing and painting and sculpting. She continued attending classes at the arts center, where she took ceramics with Carli Moorefield and then with Sam Sheller.

It was Sheller, Beattie said, who suggested she move from student to instructor at the center. Now retired from the school classroom, she spends even more time at the center, most recently as a teacher in its artsOUTLET program, a 12-week scholarship program for third through sixth graders, most of whom live close to the South Walnut Street facility.

Working with children still makes Beattie happy. “They come in and they want to know how to do something and they want to be there,” she said. It can, however, be difficult when one child sees how naturally the work might come to another and Beattie said that is the point where she tries to explain how each medium can be approached differently and can be mastered in a variety of ways.

She been away from Central Christian only since spring, Beattie said, but “I miss the kids and a lot of my friends are there still. It's interesting walking into my classroom and knowing it's not mine anymore.”

But she doesn't mind. A former student of Beattie's has taken her place.

In addition to teaching, Beattie served as the school librarian for a while and also designed sets and props for drama productions and did photography for the yearbook, not to mention the 100 mugs she made for a school anniversary.

Beattie has found her work is taking on bigger and bigger dimensions. For several years, she designed the annual corn maze at Ramseyer Farms in Smithville, and also created the American Gothic cut-out so visitors can pop their own faces in the painting for a photo. Though she's cut back on her work there, Beattie noted she has a garage full of pumpkins awaiting painting.

“Do I feel like I'm retired yet?” Beattie asked. “No, because I'm always (at the arts center) and I'm doing a mural on a friend's garage.” Said mural started as an acrylic painting of a ‘57 Chevy and now has spilled over to a 1950's style diner, complete with jukebox. It took, she said, “lots of hours. I didn't keep track of what I did.”

Beattie is as surprised as anyone at the artist's life she leads. Surprised, but pleased. “God has given me many gifts,” she said, “that I had fun finding out I can do.”

Published: September 29, 2014
New Article ID: 2014709299979