Q&A by Rev. Tamara Mitchell and June Nystrom
This article was originally published in PCJH’s Winter 2023 Pinnacle, “Seeing God in the Arts”
Tammy: Thank you for meeting with me, June. You taught art to elementary students for 25 years here in Jackson. Please tell me about what it was like teaching art.
June: Teaching art has been the absolute joy in my life. I loved getting kids excited about coming into the room and making something. I would have whatever we were working on set out like placemats at every table. You’d see anything like clay, wire, pipe cleaners or paint and then I’d say, “today you’re going to make something so cool.” The kids loved the challenge of creating different forms of art. We did way more than just painting. We would weave with polar fleece or make sculptures with random objects. I had big boxes full of weird stuff like broken toys, caps from jars, toilet paper rolls and things like that. Then we would turn it into something fun, like a building or a person or a robot. I wanted to put in front of them something to touch and feel. We would do puppets and you could see their eyes light up doing puppet shows. I would have so much fun!
TM: I can see the joy you have and the wonderful memories you treasure. Tell me, how did teaching art help you in your faith in God? How did faith and your love for art intersect?
JN: I guess loving children like Jesus loved children. When you see all those little eyes and all the hands making stuff and everybody’s art is coming out differently, it makes you realize how special everybody is. I think that God created such a variety and has made everything be so interesting. I am always learning new things about people and about how to represent the world and how to understand the world. Having a strong faith helped me share with kids, You’re going to be OK. We need to be kind and good to each other and help each other. Faith helped me think more positively. Then the student would have something tangible and special to take home and share with their family. The children would inspire my faith. I had one fourth grader in my Art Room and we made little wire people. His little wire was reading a book. He had written on one side of the page L,O, and on the other side, V,E. He told me that his person was reading the Bible and it’s all about love. I thought this kid was really special. But I’d see that again and again. Children would just know things and say things that just feed more into your love for God and your appreciation for God.
TM: You have also shared your talent of knitting by making hats for others, and especially for the Big Five Drive we have each year. How did that begin?
JN: Part of art is knowing the order of the colors on the rainbow. So, if they learned the colors, I’d let them have a hat. Then that practice just grew and I started making hats for all kinds of reasons. The school started using them as part of their reward system and part of the school store.
TM: You also have graced PCJH with your painting for Vacation Bible Adventure and a wall in the courtyard.
JN: I like to show people what I see. For example, look at an aspen tree. There is just such symmetry and beauty. They are all connected in their roots as if they are holding hands. Some of the largest organisms in the world are aspen groves. I just can’t help but see the beautiful nature. It is so important for people to slow down and look at what’s right in front of us, especially here in Jackson. I also enjoy painting close-ups.
TM: When we look at this beautiful creation, we recognize that it’s pointing to something so much more and beyond ourselves that we don’t understand.
JN: It is a beautiful mystery that can appreciate and give thanks to God. I think that can apply to our friends, too. We do not understand everything about them, but we can love and appreciate the mystery of who they are. That is why the Holy Spirit is my favorite person of the Trinity. Because even though we may not understand God, there is purpose behind God’s love. Things have been made so wonderfully and so perfectly. There must be a God. I feel like anything I can do is a gift I’ve been given.
TM: Thank you, June, for not only sharing your gifts but being a gift to us at PCJH and our community.