A Life Dedicated to Learning

By Beacon Staff

John Rawlings has not printed out his resume in nearly 20 years, but the seven-page document sitting on his desk shows a diverse career that spans five decades, includes a half-dozen schools and several awards. Now he’s hoping to add a few more projects and exhibitions to that list as he steps down as Flathead Valley Community College’s art director.

After 49 years of teaching art and more than two decades as the head of FVCC’s bustling art program, Rawlings is retiring at the end of the semester. Rawlings said he’s considered retirement for a few years, especially after some health issues arose. But even when he does clean out his office inside the Arts and Technology Building, his presence there will still be measurable. He says he will stay just as busy, and involved, after he retires.

“If I thought retirement was all about drinking beer at home it’d kill me,” he said. “Because when you run this fast, you don’t just stop.”

Rawlings, 68, has led a full life that has taken him around the globe and eventually to the Flathead Valley. Born in London shortly after World War II, his family moved to Australia when he was young. Rawlings, whose personal work has been primarily in sculpture, attributes some of his abilities to his upbringing – his father was a master builder.

He landed his first job in 1964 when he began teaching high school art in Australia and 10 years later he went to the University of Guanajuato in Mexico to earn his masters of fine arts in sculpture.

Following his graduation in 1977, Rawlings got a job at the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, S.D., where he worked for three years. In 1979, he moved to Wyoming and later Alaska, where he taught art at community colleges. Finally, in the fall of 1988, he moved to the Flathead and became a part-time instructor at FVCC, teaching painting, drawing, design and life drawing. The latter, which required nude models, brought about some scrutiny and controversy to Rawlings and the program at the time, but today it’s a class that often fills up fast.

In 1993, Rawlings became director of the art program and during his tenure it’s continued to grow. Rawlings said he would put his students against those at any four-year institution because the pupils at FVCC are better versed in the basics. He has also built up a more personal relationship with the students.

“When you ask me what my position is here or what my title is, I really don’t know,” he said. “I feel more like a dad sometimes. We’re a family here.”

A few years ago, Rawlings had an operation that severely impacted his hearing and made it harder to teach. However, Rawlings is still as busy as ever. He often puts in long days and still teaches night classes.
“I haven’t gone to work in a long, long time,” he said. “I come here every day because I like it and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

Come spring, David Regan will assume the position of art director at FVCC. He is currently the assistant professor of ceramics and received his masters of fine arts from Alfred University. Regan said taking Rawlings’ place is a big job, but his soon-to-be predecessor said the younger professor is fully capable of leading the program.

FVCC President Jane Karas praised Rawlings on the eve of his departure, saying the program he had built had become one of the best in the Northwest.

“Rawlings has been a great asset to FVCC,” she said. “Our students have been incredibly fortunate to learn from John’s vast experience as a practicing artist.”

While Rawlings will be stepping down soon, he plans on staying involved with the school and helping the art program grow, as well as spending more time in his studio working on personal projects, something he said he has neglected in recent years. He also plans on helping young students learn and grow as artists and as people. Rawlings said after nearly a half-century of teaching, that’s not something he can just give up.

“I can walk away from this program because I know it’s in good hands,” he said. “(But) I can’t live without being a teacher. It’s who I am.”

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