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Art teachers converge to boost creativity

PABLO — Stones as big as Volkswagen buses hunkered in the rock yard at Cold Springs Granite Company, according to Corwin “Corky” Clairmont, nationally-renowned artist and art instructor at Salish Kootenai College. 

Clairmont chose a black granite “bus” with some flecks of crystal. The granite company sliced it into slabs to construct the Warriors/Veterans Wall of Remembrance at Eagle Circle in the center of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Complex.

As the artist who created the monument, Clairmont used pen and ink drawings on parchment and vellum and made both his drawing and carvings to one-third scale. Then the granite company made it larger to put on the huge monument.

Clairmont was one of the featured artists at the first Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts 2015 summer institute. 

Funded by the Office of Public Instruction, the institute was an opportunity for the Montana Arts Council and OPI “to give arts education a much-needed boost in Montana’s public schools,” according to the website at

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau came to visit the institute. 

“Since OPI co-sponsored the event, I thought I’d come up and check it out. It’s a really fantastic experience for teachers across the state with high quality artists,” Juneau said.  

Held on Salish Kootenai College campus, the week-long professional development program gathered 23 teachers from around the state of Montana, who could take the information and share with other teachers to integrate the arts into their classrooms.

Emily Kohring, director of arts education for the Montana Arts Council, said the teachers chosen from the application process are geographically scattered across the state; six educators teach on reservations.

The institute had instruction on Native American art, visual thinking strategies, journaling, dance, art integration, storytelling, puppetry, music and movement. 

After visiting the Warriors/Veterans Wall of Remembrance, Clairmont invited the group to his studio where they made monoprints.

“Have a lot of fun. Try not to get overly serious,” Clairmont advised. 

Frank Finley, SKC department chair for cultural arts, was another of the instructors during the week. The participants created PVC flutes and four-inch hand drums with Finley. 

“They are very engaged as a group,” Finley said. “They pay attention to what’s going on.”

Wes Hines, who teaches art in Kalispell, learned a lot and enjoyed the course, even though he’s been an art teacher for 38 years. 

Kalispell needed a wrestling coach and an art teacher, and Hines fit the bill so he moved here from Oregon and never left. He used to teach Jurien metals and sculpture, but now he works with digital media, video and photography with his students.

“Now it’s three-d modeling and what their imaginations can dream up,” Hines said. 

Ceramics is a favorite medium for Teresa Heil, who teaches K-12 art in Frazer. The whole school has about 140 students, and Heil said the students help with a lot of the art prep work. 

The teachers will be MAC/OPI emissaries, taking new ideas, projects and information back to their peers, students and communities.


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