Former PHS teacher is featured artist
by Colleen Surridge
Oct 10, 2011 | 1243 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parsons Sun

Ellen Wilkins Wolf has been selected as the solo featured artist for this year's Autumn Art Affair Oct. 18 to 29 at the Carnegie Arts Center, 117 S. 17th, in Parsons.

"I'm honored to be the solo featured artist of this season's Autumn Art Affair, especially because Parsons is my home town," Wolf said. "The historic Carnegie Library has been fully restored and proudly serves as the Carnegie Arts Center and home to the Parsons Arts and Humanities Council."

Wolf is living proof of the fallacy in the belief, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.”

Art was Wolf’s passion growing up in Parsons. After graduating from Parsons High School, she attended Pittsburg State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in art education. While passionate about art, Wolf found that teaching was her “first love.”

Fresh out of college, she went to work for the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center as an art therapist for a year, before taking a position as the art teacher at Parsons High School.

Teaching was her career, but Wolf was not about to let art play second fiddle as a mere occasional hobby.

“I was determined to be as good a teacher as I could be, and to be as good an artist as I could be,” she said.

From 1968 to 1984, Wolf taught art at PHS but continued to attend classes herself, accumulating 41 graduate hours. In 1984, she decided it was time for her to relinquish her position as a teacher for a while in order to further her own education. It was suggested to Wolf she attend Arizona State University in Phoenix to advance her art education. On her way to Phoenix she stopped off in Flagstaff and decided to stop in at Northern Arizona University to visit its art department. Before she knew it, she was offered a scholarship, and ended up returning home to pack up her son, Jason, three cats and a dog and moved to Flagstaff.

"I received my master’s in art education and master’s in studio art there and taught part-time at NAU,” she said. “Then I just feel into a job in Yuma, where they were starting a branch campus. It was an amazing experience. We literally built a university up out of the sand. It was phenomenal."

Working as an assistant professor, Wolf was expected not only to teach, but to carve out time to be creative and handle everything that came with showing her work.

“Instead of it being publish or perish like it is for other university professors, it was produce or perish,” she said.

Opportunities arose for her to exhibit in some prestigious galleries, including The Elaine Horwitch Gallery in Sedona, Ariz., Old Town Gallery in Flagstaff, Ariz., and the Edith Lambert Gallery in Sante Fe, N.M. She also was honored with a cultural exchange traveling exhibit in Mexico.

Wolf made the decision to retire from her job in Yuma several years ago and return to the flatlands of Kansas to be closer to family in Parsons. She and her significant other, Victor LaViola, a former professor of photography and a sculptor and woodworker, packed up their two studios and a lifetime of belongings and moved to Kansas City.

In the hustle and bustle of Kansas City, Wolf found new inspiration.

“I am a very physical painter. I enjoy putting paint on a surface then rubbing it down to reveal the brush strokes underneath. I really like texture — and pattern — and color — and glazing layer upon layer of transparent washes. Recently I’ve noticed the occurrence of words in my work — no doubt an influence from being surrounded by constant signage in the city,” Wolf explains in her online biography."

Whether in her construction art, apparel series or paintings, the influences of Wolf’s surroundings and environment come through.

“If you have something you want to say, it’s amazing how you can just take a walk, find something cool, take it home, get out your hammer and nails, materials and paint, and watch as it all meshes together,” she said. “If it’s true that human creativity comes from the brain’s power to integrate thoughts, feelings, information and environmental stimulation, then I’ll never be at a loss for inspiration. Above all, I hope my art is thought provoking; not outwardly confrontational, but quietly insinuating and laced with humor. Visitors to my site might find unexpected layers of meaning within many of the pieces. I hope those discoveries bring a level of enjoyment to the viewer."

The opening reception for Wolf at the Carnegie Arts Center begins at 8 p.m. Oct. 18, following the performance of the award-winning, New York comedy troupe, The Water Coolers, sponsored by the Parsons Area Concert Association.

Wolf's exhibit will be available for viewing during the following days and times: Tuesday, Oct. 18, during the artist reception beginning at 8 p.m.;

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22 and 23, 1 to 5 p.m. (artist will be present);

Monday - Friday, Oct. 24 - 28, 3 to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, Oct. 29: 1 to 5 p.m. (artist will be present).

The exhibit is available for school tours coordinated by the Parsons Arts and Humanities Council.

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