Marking the start of her 28th year at Skutt Catholic, art teacher Jennie WIlson was named the Nebraska Art Teachers Association (NATA) 2021 Secondary Art Educator of the Year in the fall.
Wilson has always been an artist.
“As a child I would make things from materials in the yard such as clay or mud, corn husks, and scraps of wood,” she said.
She says this trait was nurtured by the example set by her elders. Her parents were musicians. The women in her mother’s family sewed and designed clothing. Her father’s family owned a shoe repair business, so he taught her how to sew. Her grandfather, who lived with the family, caned chairs and braided leather horse whips.
“All around I saw adults who were resourceful and willing to grow their skills to make something better for our family or to earn a little side cash,” she said.
As an artist, Wilson says her favorite medium is clay so it’s not surprising that she loves teaching pottery. For the past two years, she has also been teaching yearbook and broadcast journalism. She says she enjoys the group aspect of those classes and the need for teamwork.
“I love team projects with any sort of competition or display culmination,” she continued.
Wilson earned a BFA from the University of Iowa in painting with a teaching certification. She is a mixed media artist inspired by nature. She is a citizen on the Cherokee Nation and her work has been shown through Cherokee Nation art shows, exhibits and galleries. Her jewelry pieces can be purchased at the Spider Art Gallery in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Nebraska Art Teachers Association is a professional organization whose mission is to advocate for and advance quality art education in Nebraska. Each year NATA recognizes outstanding contributions to student learning, leadership in curriculum development in local school districts and communities, and participation in professional endeavors on state and/or national levels.
Prior to my first school teaching job, I taught a clay class to grade school students at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan in the summers. To do so I had to do the grunt labor of mixing two large garbage cans of clay per week to supply the program. Even though I did not excel at clay in college (I got a D in the wheel throwing class), I had a love for clay and hand building and sharing the joy of making with my young students. Basically, clay found me!
Deadlines and meeting the guidelines and standards for each contest or situation is important to me. In some ways, the most effective lesson I can teach any student is to meet the deadline and do what is asked to the fullest extent. I am pleased to pass along those effective work habits to my students because I know it can help them in any path they take in the future.
Over the years my students have been semi-finalists in the Vans Custom Culture shoe contest twice. My animation students won an award from the Nebraska Ethanol Board for their PSA sharing information about ethanol last year. Every year, my students compete in the Nebraska Scholastic Art Competition and two of my students have won National Scholastic silver medals. My yearbook students have won certificates in the Nebraska JEA contest for photography and writing, and from the NSAA journalism competition.
I am a Cherokee citizen and I sell most of my art through Cherokee Nation art shows, exhibits, and galleries. I sell there because most of the people who are looking for that kind of art are Cherokee citizens who want a piece that shows their culture in a good way; or they are not Cherokee but want to learn something true about Cherokee people.
There is a bust of Pope Francis in the pottery room. He is keeping an eye on all the kids as they make something from clay.
The Asheville Art Museum just purchased two of my works from the Living Language show they created in partnership with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Qualla, North Carolina. My work is also on display at the new teaching hospital collaboration between the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, OK.
Wedding Vase. Smoke fired clay and copper essence. Private Collection.
Ani/strawberry. Inspired by traditional foods series. Private collection.
The Cherokee Months. Homegrown Gourd Container with wood burned designs and copper leaf.
Creek Life. Wearable art necklace made from rivercane, gourds, and copper and glass beads. Features water striders and a crayfish.
How the Possum Lost His Tail. Ceramic. Private Collection.
Home Invasion. Made from corn husks, gourds, leather, fur, and wood.
Where the Dog Ran. Ceramic. Collection of the artist.