Art teacher looks beyond the classroom

One of the featured artists at this year's Blueberry Arts Festival is Cloverdale's Mary-Lou Williams.

Artist Mary-Lou Williams is one of the featured artists at this year's Blueberry Arts Festival.

One of the featured artists at this year’s Blueberry Arts Festival is Cloverdale’s Mary-Lou Williams, an art teacher at Clayton Heights Secondary.

An instructor for 32 years, Williams, Fine Arts Department head, has never stopped pursuing her own varied artistic interests, painting, sculpting, drawing and doing pottery.

“I’ve always done art,” she says, explaining she’s amassed a huge body of work over the years, in addition to frequent on-the-job demonstrations of technique for her students.

A recipient of the B.C. Art Teacher’s Excellence in Art Education Award for 2012, Williams  loves teaching, and finds inspiration from her students.

“I love the teenagers and I love art. It’s just a natural fit for me. I can take my personal experience and development as an artist and help them with their own development.

But this spring, she decided it was time for a change.

“It’s time for me to start looking further than the classroom. My passion’s always been promoting my students’ art in the community,” she says. “I’m trying to realize that I have to let that go.”

She’s participated in several other shows over the past 30 years, but is now treating her artist with a renewed seriousness.

[Blueberries by Mary-Lou Williams, will be on sale at the Blueberry Arts Festival.]

Williams has already begun testing the waters, entering a couple of juried art shows, including the Arts Council of Surrey’s recent Just Birds exhibit.

She wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She was surprised and delighted when one of her paintings was awarded honorable mention for Works on Canvas.

“I got really pumped about that,” she laughs.

Her work is also being exhibited at Surrey MLA Jinny Sims’ constituency office, the third emerging artist to do so.

She’s become involved in a wider community of artists, too. This year she also became a director on the Arts Council of Surrey’s board.

“The Surrey Arts Council is really supportive in giving emerging artists and practicing artists the opportunity to show their work,” she says, praising the newest exhibit space at the Newton Cultural Centre.

“There’s a strong core of Surrey artists that are working really hard and getting their work out there.”

The Cloverdale Blueberry Festival is another avenue of reaching out. She and her daughter will be there selling paintings and pottery.

She does some portraits, but finds herself drawn to landscape and nature subjects much more frequently. Dogs and cows are also favourites of Williams, who lives on a farm in Cloverdale where she and her husband have a herd of Maine-Anjou cattle.

“Ha, I’m a busy lady sometimes!”

“Being on the farm, I love animals,” says Williams. “Those things always seem to find a way into my paintings.”

While excited about venturing into new horizons on the artistic front, she’s also looking forward to getting back to her students again.

“It’s very rewarding to see someone master something. That lightbulb comes on and they have an aha! moment,” she says. “I love my job. I love it, because every day’s different.”

The students often inspire her. “There’s always that flow back and forth. I get creative energy from them, and they get it from me.”

On Saturday at the Blueberry Arts Festival, she’ll also be volunteering for the Arts Council of Surrey, spreading the word.

“What you put into your community, you usually get back in handfuls. I love Cloverdale.”

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