New Ipswich art department builds on foundations of the past

From left: Briana Farina-Stewart, Alice Rouse, Cathy Morris (photo by Ella Niederhelman)

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IPSWICH — The IHS visual arts program kicks off with three new teachers ready to make a lasting impact on their students.

The side of high school

In high school, Brianna Farina-Stewart takes on the role that longtime art teacher Virginia Eaton left when she retired. Eaton learned not only art, but creativity, thought processes and love for learning during her 24 years at IMS.

While attending Ipswich High School as a designated “art child,” Stewart recalls running into Eaton often in the art room.

Stewart later went to MassArt to study painting for three years. She then transferred to a small private art school in Portland, Oregon known as PNCA, where she met her husband (they now have two children). She graduated a little over ten years ago.

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In the years that followed, she followed murals as an independent artist and went back to school to get her master’s degree.

Early last year, Stewart returned to the school where her initial love of art originated.

She took a temporary position in high school early last year and eventually moved to high school where she taught at Eaton before eventually taking on her role.

Eaton’s motto has remained above the door and will “always be true in that room,” Stewart said.

It says, “Bring respect, responsibility, and a curious mind to the classroom every day.”

The side of high school

In the midst of a pandemic, a new art teacher was welcomed in the fall of 2020: Cathy Morris.

Morris earned a bachelor’s degree from Montserrat College of Art with a focus on painting and drawing. After graduating, she explored the world of art.

But for Morris, teaching is in her blood. A third-generation teacher and second-generation art teacher, she earned a master’s degree in art education and a graduate degree from the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Now, only in her third year teaching fine arts at IHS, Morris’ classes are overflowing with student interest.

The other asset of IHS’s art department, digital media teacher Alice Rouse, has been in her first art teacher job – ever for just 2.5 weeks.

Rouse spent the past ten years working as a freelance photographer and graphic designer and had her own portrait business, taking portraits of families and newborns, taking headshots and more.

With a master’s degree in graphic design, Rouse also taught at Boston University and Suffolk University.

A variety of learning styles

The new art department works as a unit to overcome all possible challenges in their path and has plans to ensure flexibility and adaptability.

While Stewart shapes the next generation of high school art students, both IMS and IHS work closely together.

Although they work in a variety of mediums, both Morris and Rouse are beginning to embrace the connections between their art.

“I’m so excited to be next to these two other women,” Rouse said. “We’re all at a similar point in our lives, and I think we have the potential to work really well together and build something sustainable.”

Rouse hopes that high school art education will one day become as famous as the music department. “What will this look like in 10 years? 20 years?”

Visions and plans galore

Meanwhile, all three teachers have different visions and lofty short-term plans — all including community involvement.

Stewart seems to be embracing artistic behavior rather than artistic skills. For her, the high school art space is “accessible” and “empowering” for all students, especially those who can be challenged academically. She has plans to make the art room a safe space where mistakes can be made and risks taken.

After years of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, Rouse has great expectations. She looks forward to possible interdisciplinary work with the music department and gradually bringing more students back to the vibrant arts wing.

She believes that projecting digital work outside the classroom—thus “bringing it to life”—will help alert students to the wonder that goes on within the walls of digital media classrooms.

Rouse plans to send her photography students to Ipswich to look for landscapes, while her design students look for local, real-life clients.

Drawing on her connections with various designers and photographers in the Boston area, Rouse hopes to incorporate actual work experience and knowledge into her courses.

Using this experience, she hopes to teach “in a way that helps professionally so that it” [the art] can become a career or a passion.”

On the other side of the art department, Morris has her own goals. She hopes that everyone will have the opportunity to discover what creativity means to them and what art they are proud of.

She cites the power of social emotional learning on the ‘most creative people’ [she has] ever met, “- her students.

Morris will also continue last year’s program called ‘Art All Over’, which showcases art by Ipswich students – individually selected from kindergarten to 12th grade – at local businesses across Ipswich.

The coming year

As both students and teachers begin to get used to the flow of the school year, the three art teachers expect great things to come.

“I’m super excited about the direction the art department is taking with the new faces and fresh ideas,” Stewart said.

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