By GAIL PARSONS
A visit to Barry West’s home in Abilene is like a visit to a fine art gallery.
Pottery, neatly arranged on the tables; beautiful stained glass shimmering in the windows and finely detailed paintings gracing the wall space account for several decades of independent work and demonstrations to children in the classroom.
West retired after teaching art for 22 years in Solomon, but in that time he introduced a world that would open doors and opportunities to hundreds of children in Dickinson County.
Though pottery is his strong suit, his students were given the opportunity to try their hand at several mediums to include jewelry, painting, sculpture and stained glass. Just being able to try and to work with the arts is something he believes is vital for the children and bothersome when schools start eliminating it.
“Kids need a chance to express themselves, to do drawing, or painting, or pottery and be able to express without fear,” he said. “If they do away with the arts, what are (the children) going to use to express themselves?”
Fortunately, West didn’t have that problem in Solomon, when he was asked to start teaching art at the elementary level.
“I fought tooth and nail. I was an old dog and didn’t want to learn new tricks,” he said. It didn’t take long for him to change his tune. “I loved them, but I had to get used to kids hugging around my knees,”
He also realized it wasn’t just him teaching the children. He ended up learning right alongside of them. As a teacher, he guided them and demonstrated procedures and techniques, but he did so more as a stimulus rather than instruction. He said he allowed the children the flexibility to express their own creativity.
At the same time, he had to ensure he was meeting the state education guidelines. But rather than fitting the art projects into a set of guidelines, he worked the guidelines into the art projects. In this way the children could learn the elements of design, and the principals of color theory and not have to sit through boring lectures, something he said he hated doing anyway.
“I did lesson plans, although it took a while for me to understand that it really was good to plan,” he said.
West’s art wasn’t confined to the classroom. With a strong artistic spirit, he was frequently creating and trying new things.
“Inspiration just bubbles up in my brain,” he said. “I’ve always been an expressive person.”
His expression is evident as soon as one approaches his house. The yard has become a showcase gallery of his welded art. Several sculptures, some representational like the flowers or the person on a bike and others non-representational, are found throughout the yard and around his studio that takes up half of the garage.
When he thinks back to the many students he has had over the years, he speaks with pride about them and the things they are doing today. One is the curator at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., another is the chairman of the art department at Washburn University and another has found his art niche in the world of tattoo art.