Van Go exhibit to reveal artists behind teachers

Class time at Van Go is about the students.

Teen apprentice artists toil all day at school then hustle to the warehouse-style Van Go building in East Lawrence, where they spend another 20 hours a week learning to make art while earning minimum wage.

At their side are teachers whose expertise comes not necessarily from an art education degree but from the school of hard knocks: All are professional artists.

And because they devote nearly every spare minute at Van Go to molding budding painters, ceramists, printmakers, sculptors and glass artists, they rarely have time to share their own work with the kids.

Sally Piller intends to change that — if only for a limited time.

The Lawrence printmaker and Van Go instructor has organized an exhibition of artwork that showcases the diverse talents of Van Go faculty. The Van Go Teaching Artists Show opens Friday at the Van Go studio, 715 N.J. It features 13 artists, most of whom will be on hand for the opening reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. that evening.

“It occurred to me that these were all really good artists,” Piller says of her colleagues. “I thought it would be interesting for the public to kind of see what’s behind the education that these kids get at Van Go because the results that they’ve been getting, I think, are really, really impressive.”

The artists who will show work are:

    Lawrence artists, from front left, Ardys Ramberg, Laura Ramberg, Sally Piller, and from rear left, Bob Gent, David Van Hee and Michael Krueger will show their work in an exhibition that opens Friday at Van Go Mobile Arts, 715 N.J. The artists all have taught in Van Go's JAMS (Jobs in the Arts Make Sense program).

  • Piller, printmaking
  • David Van Hee, sculpture
  • Kathy Ledeker, calligraphy and illumination
  • Kendra Herring, mixed media assemblage
  • Bob Gent, glassblowing
  • Mary Anne Jordan, fiber art
  • Cima Katz, printmaking
  • Ardys Ramberg, sculpture
  • Laura Ramberg, ceramics
  • Michael Krueger, printmaking
  • Dan Hermreck, ceramics
  • Ann Kuckelman Cobb, painting
  • Nan Renbarger, fiber art

Artwork by 13 of Van Go’s teaching artists will be on view Friday through Sept. 18 at Van Go’s studio, 715 N.J. A reception will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.Dr. John Walker, a blues musician from Nebraska, will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The show will be available for browsing during the performance. Tickets are $9 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased for $7 by calling 749-2557.Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, call Van Go at 842-3797.

The artists teach in Van Go’s JAMS program (Jobs in the Arts Make Sense), which caters to high-needs and underserved youth ages 14-18. The students come from a variety of circumstances, including low-income families, single-parent homes and the juvenile justice system. A few struggle with mental illness.

It’s a new experience for the teaching artists.

“If they’ve taught, it’s usually not been in an alternative setting like ours,” says Lynne Green, executive director of Van Go. “I think they’re always amazed at how wonderful our children are and how determined they are and how eager and hungry they are for the skills.”

Artist Van Hee has learned a greater respect for teaching during his experience at Van Go.

“It’s exhausting and hard,” he says.

Van Hee will show a few of his signature painted metal masks and an ultra-long gourd that he grew from an overhead trellis and then adorned.

Faith Darnell, a Free State High School junior who helped paint the sesquicentennial mural at the Lawrence Public Library during the spring JAMS session, says the program’s tight schedule didn’t permit students to see much of their teacher’s artwork.

But she once snagged a ride from Kathy Ledeker and spied some of the artist’s work in the back seat.

“It was really good,” Darnell recalls. “I liked it.”

She even credits Ledeker with influencing her decision to look into attending art school.

“It seems like she’s making a pretty decent living at being an artist, and then she works with kids and for the community,” Darnell says. “I think that’s really nice.”

She’s not the only one who’s been impressed by Van Go’s teaching artists. Students evaluate their experience at the end of each JAMS session, Green says.

“And when they write to us in their comments, the majority of kids say that it is just a huge thing that they’ve gotten to work with professional artists.”

The feeling is mutual, Piller says of working with the kids.

“I loved it,” she says. “Even though I think a lot of them are carrying really intense burdens in their lives, they try so hard and they’re so glad to be in that program.”