The students were settled into their seats in the art classroom at Flathead High School as Valentina LaPier, on her third day as the guest teacher, gave instructions.
Today would be all about painting.
The first two days involved instructions, she said; the students had already painted the background on their canvases with two solid block colors. In Wednesday morning’s class, they would begin painting a self-portrait.
“Remember, this is an impression of yourself,” LaPier told the class, “not realism.”
Further down the high school halls, artist David Dragonfly was helping other art students with the printmaking process. One teenager pinned up his work in the hall outside of the classroom.
“Look how cool this one turned out,” the student said.
“Oh, that one turned out real good,” Dragonfly replied, then pointed out the differences between printing with oil paints and watercolors.
LaPier and Dragonfly spent the week of Feb. 6 through Feb. 10 at Flathead High as part of the Artists in Schools and Communities grant program, offered through the Montana Arts Council and the National Endowment of the Arts. It is also provided in part by the state Indian Education for All program.
The Artists in Schools and Communities Program supports various residencies for local working artists, including artist visits, short-term and long-term artist residencies, and special projects.
As guest teachers, the experienced artists brought a new point of view for the students and expertise in their chosen fields.
Chuck Manning, a staff art teacher at the school, said artists come once a year through the program to provide the teens with perspective from those who make a living through art.
The week with LaPier and Dragonfly, both with Blackfeet heritage, went very well, Manning said.
As a painter, LaPier works primarily with acrylics to capture her life and experiences as an artist in the 21st century, her Blackfeet background and her personal self-expression.
She began painting as a young girl, and sold her first free-form work at age 14. LaPier became a full-time artist in 1987, and splits her time between East Glacier and Kalispell.
Her work is eye-catching, with many colors and shapes working together on the canvas to create a unique, contemporary perspective. It has been exhibited in San Francisco, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Washington D.C. and Montana, and is included in private collections throughout the world.
LaPier said her lesson for the students would be about expressionism and how they see themselves, which can be a tough and revealing project for anyone.
“It’s a very hard assignment for them,” LaPier said during a brief moment between working with students.
In the printmaking class, Dragonfly’s lesson had students carving images of animals to be printed multiple times on paper. Professionally, his printmaking work focuses on linocuts and collographs.
Dragonfly is also the acting curator at the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, and said he does his printmaking on the side after completing his duties at the museum. He works in a shop at his home in Browning.
He began printmaking during his studies in Santa Fe, N.M., where he attended the Institute of American Indian Arts and learned about jewelry and stone carving. Dragonfly’s prints are hand pulled, one by one, so each one has a different texture and color scheme.
The prints reflect Dragonfly’s Blackfeet and Assiniboine heritage. He also makes traditional hand drums and war clubs carved from local pipestone.
Dragonfly said he did not have a lot of experience teaching art, outside of his job at the museum.
“This is a lot different than working at the museum,” he said with a laugh. “It’s more hands-on.”
The artists’ week at the school was rounded out with a reception at the school’s art gallery on Feb. 9.
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