In the classroom
Kathy Browne gives students what they need
Kathy Browne's third-graders at Baldwin Elementary School will come to class on Thursday and fill their desks with pencils, crayons, scissors, glues and other supplies. The supplies Browne has at home in her studio aren't that much different watercolors, oils, paint brushes, paper.
When Browne isn't teaching, she is an artist. And she got her start when she was the same age as her students.
"As a child, I was always doing something," Browne said.
She decorated Christmas ornaments, made quilts and was always drawing. Her creativity didn't go unnoticed, and when her mother asked professionals if Kathy needed lessons, they said, "No, just make sure she has everything she needs. The technique comes later."
As a teacher of many subjects, Browne makes sure her students have everything they need to learn. And she looks forward to the first day of school as much as she looks forward to a summer of painting landscapes with watercolors.
A special blend
Browne applied several layers of paint to her life before becoming a teacher. True to her childhood talent, she earned a fine arts degree from the University of Kansas. Her studies emphasized textile and fabric design.
From college, art took her in many directions before leading her into an elementary school classroom. She was a weaver. She restored antique dolls. She was a book buyer for a book store. She was a substitute teacher. She worked with children in psychiatric hospitals.
"The doll repair was something I could do at home when the kids were young," said Browne of her children Cole and Lauren, now 18 and 21.
Browne later attended Baker University and became certified to teach art and she started teaching art in the Baldwin school district's three elementary schools. After adding to her certification, she started to teach in the classroom.
This is her sixth year teaching at BES. She has painted murals on the walls of her room. She sculpted clay figures for the fish aquariums a "Mother Goose" shoe, a dragon tree, a volcano on Mars. She even uses her art when she teaches.
"I think every teacher brings what they are good at into the classroom," Browne said.
She said artists and teachers have energy in common.
"If I to pick one thing, it is the energy level," she said. "As a teacher, I am visually oriented. I draw pictures to make complicated things easier."
When her students go home for the summer, Browne retreats to her upstairs studio and the landscapes of Kansas and other travels.
She is often inspired by the way sunlight falls on a winding stream, a row of maple trees, a house made of stone. Sometimes she paints on locations. Other times she takes pictures and paints from her studio. Often it is a combination of both.
"Usually I can't finish a whole painting right then and there, so I take photographs," Browne said. "Sometimes I get impatient, and can't wait for the pictures to get back. But sometimes I need the photography for the light."
Drawing always came naturally to Browne, but in her beginnings as an artist, she was a print maker using fabrics and textiles. She turned to watercolor she also paints using oils and acrylics because of its flexibility. The equipment used for print making is not as portable as a handful of paint brushes and a palette of paints.
"I came to watercolor pretty late in life," said Browne. "I like to bike and I can bring my paints with me.
"Plus, it's challenging. If I can paint watercolors, I can paint anything. It's a challenging medium."
In her studio, photographs of landscapes yet to be painted hang on the wall. Older photographs are filed by subject in an oak cabinet nearby there is even a file for live trees, and one for dead trees. On the slanted ceiling that follows the pitch of the roof, Browne displays some early stages of her paintings and the artwork of her children.
When there is time, such as the summer, Browne sets a goal of how many paintings she wants to do. She balances her own work with what she paints for others.
"Mostly it's Victorian homes that people want done," she said. "My goal this summer was to do three new paintings."
Browne is a charter member of the Baldwin Community Arts Council. Many of her works are for sale, but she also donates several pieces each year to use as fund-raiser for different organizations, including the arts council. Several of her watercolors are on display at The Signal office, which will be open during Art Walk from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.
When her son isn't playing baseball, she attends the monthly Art Walks.
"I sure enjoy them," she said of the art displays downtown. "I think they are a neat deal."
When she paints, Browne herself becomes a student often drawing her subject several times before painting begins. In that way, she is not much different than the third-graders she teaches.
"It takes a long time to get proficient at it," Browne said, referring to her watercolors, but also to many other aspects of life.
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