If you’ve ever taken an art class here at the high school, you have had Randy Walbridge as a teacher. His classes include principles of art and design, drawing and painting, sculpture and ceramics and studio art. While most students know him from classes, they may not know much about his own art journey.
Walbridge attended Western for his undergraduate in painting, drawing and sculpture as well as his teaching degree. For graduate school, he attended Southern Illinois for sculpture.
“I took two or three art history courses at Western and that’s where I first started to connect art movements with what was going on politically and historically in other parts of the world and other time periods,” Walbridge said. “That was when I first started to care about history.”
Before studying at Western, Walbridge says that he only really paid attention to the larger art movements throughout history. As he studied more in his art classes, he began to gain interest in the current art movements across the country.
“Now I think I’m much broader in my appreciation [of art movements]. When I was in college I was really interested in what was happening in New York in the 70s, with Post Pop and Robert Raushenberg and things like that,” Walbridge said.
Pop art and the Post Pop movements are described as the art of pop culture and mass advertising. They often take common objects from life and use them in their art pieces to reflect some part of society. The movements were huge in New York–the art center of the world at the time.
“It was difficult to monitor, but you could hear about it or read about it in the monthly art magazines,” Walbridge said. “The writings in those magazines are pretty cryptic and I never did like those, but I could just look at the pictures to pick it up that way.”
When he’s not busy helping students with their art, Walbridge tries to squeeze in time to create his own pieces. While he works in a multitude of mediums, Walbridge says he has always remained partial to painting.
“I really enjoy painting and I never really get enough time to do it,” Walbridge said. “That’s usually what happens. I get an artwork started for a demo or something, and I never get to finish it. I usually can finish a couple of paintings now and then.”
Along with drawing and painting, Walbridge has also studied and worked with welding and bronze casting. Although they are admirable mediums, he said that he still prefers paints to mold making and working with metals.
“Of course we don’t really have the facilities for [welding], though I actually have a welder at home,” he said. “The process of making an original then molding and casting it is time consuming and I think you lose a sense of immediacy. Painting is more immediate.”
Applying his technical art skills and experience to the classroom has been an ever changing experience, especially with the rise of digital art. Walbridge is a strong advocate of technology in the classroom for students to get a more accurate idea of what current art careers are like.
“If you’re involved in creating graphics or something you have to know how to draw. The computer won’t do that. Applying that technology is the creative component.” Walbridge said. “In this day and age companies, especially large corporations, are really concerned with innovation. And of course the entertainment industry, advertising, commercial art–those are all huge industries. They want creative people.”
Walbridge has worked hard to create an environment in the art studio that can effectively foster creative energy. A longtime art student, senior Kirsten Nelson said that the freedom the creative art classes Walbridge offers are one of the best things about the courses available at Gull Lake.
“Mr. Walbridge’s classes are always really informative and fun. He’s always willing to help you with a project that you’re working on or give some advice on how to achieve your ideas,” Nelson says.
Even with a tight schedule, Walbridge creates projects whenever he can. Nelson says that she has learned from watching Walbridge work on demonstrations or his own work throughout her time in various art classes.
“Being able to see first hand how something is done and then getting to try it out yourself is always a good way to learn something,” Nelson said. “Especially when somebody like Walbridge is doing the example since he has so much experience.”
For Randy Walbridge, he said that one of the best parts of his job is being able to help students realize their creative potential.
“Watching kids develop a sense of applying their ideas to something that is tangible is one of my favorite things about working as an art teacher,” he said. “It never has been about training someone to be an artist. We’re teaching critical thinking, so you can determine what’s worthwhile and what’s not.”