Baldwin Surrounded by various art projects ranging from award-winning ceramic pieces to shoes made by her students out of masking tape, Inge Balch chatted on the phone with a student concerned about an assignment.
"You think it'll be stupid," she said. "Do it anyway and bring it in. We'll see if it's stupid."
She hung up with a sigh. The Baker University art professor thrives on innovative artwork and she tries to teach her students the value of going out on a limb with their art.
"They've all been brought up in front of the TV," she said. "They've been taught to do what the neighbor does. If they're just willing to go the extra mile and take a chance, I'll be right there with them.
"I give better grades to students who take chances and do something innovative."
That's not to say she isn't proud of her students' accomplishments. Giving a tour of Bennett Art Building, Balch points out a number of pieces that demonstrate true creative effort.
"I LEARN as much from my students as they learn from me," she said. "I really enjoy that aspect of teaching."
Growing up in Denmark, Balch had little choice but to develop a love of art.
"I think when you come from Europe, you're interested in art from day one because you're so exposed to it," she said. "Everywhere you look, there's a statue here or a painting there."
She came to the United States after finishing school and worked as a maid and nanny for a family in Connecticut. She later set out across the country, planning to seek work in San Francisco.
However, she stopped in Washington, Kan., to visit some family friends, accepted a job and never did make it to California. She worked for a newspaper during the day and fried hamburgers at night in a bowling alley, where she eventually met her husband, Don Balch. They were married in 1968, and lived on a farm until 1983, when they and their four children moved to the Vinland area.
BALCH, 46, received a bachelor's degree in ceramics from Kansas State University, and a master's degree in ceramics from Kansas University. She was a lecturer at KU for awhile and now is in her third year as a professor at Baker, teaching ceramics, visual design, sculpture, art education and art history.
Art lovers throughout the country can enjoy Balch's work. A juried national show in Phoenix, which featured three of her ceramic pieces, wrapped up just last week. She also sends her work to the Media Gallery in Garnett and to two galleries in California.
Her ceramic sculpture, "OPEC Slick," won a first place award in a recent Lawrence Art Guild juried competition.
"It was a nice surprise to win it and even a nicer surprise to have someone buy it," Balch said.
BALCH, WHO considers herself an environmentalist, said she frequently draws ideas for sculptures from nature and felt compelled to design a piece that would comment on the horrors of oil spills in the world's oceans.
"I prefer to work with things that make me smile, but I was so ticked off about them ruining the waters," she said. "I think I will probably continue to put these world views into my work."