New Ipswich art department builds upon foundation 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 is starting afresh with three new teachers who are prepared to make a lasting impact on their students.

The middle school side

In the middle school, Brianna Farina-Stewart takes up the role that long-time art teacher Virginia Eaton left when she retired. Eaton taught not only art but creativity, thought processes, and a love for learning throughout her 24 years at IMS.

When she attended Ipswich High School as a designated “art kid,” Stewart remembers running into Eaton in the art room frequently.

Stewart later headed to MassArt to major in painting for three years. She then transferred to a small private art college in Portland, Oregon, known as PNCA, where she met her husband (they now have two kids). She graduated just over ten years ago.

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In the years since, she pursued mural work as an independent artist and headed back to school to get her master’s degree.

At the beginning of last year, Stewart returned to the school that sparked her initial love for art.

She took on a temporary position in the high school at the beginning of last year and eventually moved to the middle school, where she student-taught with Eaton to eventually take on her role.

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

It reads: “Every day, bring to class respect, responsibility, and a curious mind.”

The high school side

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

Morris received an undergraduate degree from Montserrat College of Art with a concentration on painting and drawing. After graduating, she explored the world of art.

But for Morris, teaching runs in her blood. As a third-generation teacher and second-generation art teacher, she went on to receive a master’s degree in art education and a graduate degree at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Now, only in her third year of teaching visual art at IHS, Morris’s classes are overflowing with student interest.

The other asset of the art department at IHS, digital media teacher Alice Rouse, is only 2.5 weeks into her first position as an art teacher — ever.

Working as a freelance photographer and graphic designer for the past ten years, Rouse ran her own portrait company, creating 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 teaching styles

Working as a unit to overcome any possible challenges thrown their way, the new art department has plans to ensure flexibility and adaptability.

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

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

“I am just so excited to be alongside these two other women,” Rouse said. “We are all at a similar point in our lives, and I think we have the potential to work really well together and build something long-lasting.”

Rouse hopes that someday the art program at the high school will be just as well-known as the music department. “What does this look like in 10 years? 20 years?”

Visions and plans galore

In the meantime, all three teachers have distinct visions and lofty plans for the short term — all including community involvement.

Stewart looks to embrace artistic behavior rather than artistic skill. Here, the middle-school art room is “accessible” and “empowering” for all students, especially those who can be academically challenged. She has plans to turn the art room into a safe space for mistakes to be made and risks to be taken.

After years spent facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Rouse has big hopes. She looks towards eventual interdisciplinary work with the music department and gradually bringing more students back into the bustling art wing.

She believes that projecting digital work outside the class — thus, “bringing it to life” — will help clue students into the wonder that happens inside the walls of digital-media classes.

Rouse plans for her photography students to be sent out into Ipswich to find landscapes, while her design students will be searching for local, real-world clients.

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

Through the help of 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 set of goals. She hopes that everyone has a chance to explore 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 involves displaying Ipswich student’s art— individually selected from kindergarten to 12th grade—at local businesses across Ipswich.

The year ahead

As students and teachers alike begin to settle back into the swing of the school year, the three art teachers anticipate great things to come.

“I am super-excited for the direction the art department is headed, with the new faces and fresh ideas,” said Stewart.

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