Completing his student teaching this December at Terry Sanford High School, retired military artist Rick Kenner is imparting what he learned as a college art student to his students in the public school classroom. Working alongside his cooperating teacher, full time art teacher Kellie Perkins, Kenner is learning how to impart his knowledge of the arts and pedagogy to his students.
Knowing Kenner was going to open with an exhibit of his work at Gallery 208, located in the offi ces of Up & Coming Weekly on Dec. 3, I hoped his students from Terry Sanford High School might be interested in seeing what their teacherin- training does as an artist, and be able to ask him questions about his work.
I wondered if they had seen his series of paintings and how he integrates X-rays of his spinal cord into his paintings; or how his work can be totally non-objective in style, but always refl ective in content.
Kenner is the fi rst to admit his affection for the nonrepresentational.
“Abstraction offers me a vehicle to convey emotion through color and shape without getting lost in the narrative that is often associated with realism. I use color with varied opacity and geometric shapes to form compositions; an attempt to evoke an emotional response from the viewer,” he said.
As a teacher, he must focus on bringing the student to their own work. Do they know his personal philosophy as an artist?
“My current work is an exploration of the presence of technology in our lives. It is a personal attempt to fi nd balance and meld the ideas of mind, body, and spirit with the ever-increasing assault of technological advancement,” noted Kenner.
Since Kenner is a quiet and reserved fellow, I knew he would not have touted his achievements in academe, his many exhibitions in the community, selling his paintings, and also winning the 2008 Lois Ferrari Memorial Art Scholarship at the Cape Fear Studios in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
A prestigious award, Kenner won the Lois Ferrari Memorial Art Scholarship by competing against regional art students majoring in the fi ne arts at Fayetteville State University, Methodist University, Fayetteville Technical Community College, the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and Meredith College.
It has been my experience that after asking him a question, you will usually get a one word answer like “Yes” or “No.” So, I was curious as to how he was working out in the public school classroom; I called Perkins, his mentor, at Terry Sanford to get the scoop.
Perkins was very patient and took time out of her busy schedule to talk about the arts in the classroom and the attributes of a good teacher. To his advantage, Kenner has made the grade with Perkins — she is the only high school art teacher in Cumberland County that is nationally certifi ed (a diffi cult and rigorous accomplishment).
I first asked Perkins about her experiences with other art teachers and what she felt were the skills that someone needed to have to be a successful art teacher. Perkins didn’t skip a beat, she stated without pause, “Someone who prefers one-on-one with students, is competent in art and education pedagogy, encourages and relates to students, and someone who gets along with their colleagues.”
She commented that Kenner had these skills, but that he also has other special attributes. “He can fi x anything and he knows a lot about technology, he’s organized, plans in advance, very thorough in what he wants the students to learn in content and very neat,” she said. “He can be very innovative and wants to help the students build a strong foundation in art.”
That is the Rick Kenner I know. When I asked him how he enjoyed teaching, he didn’t hesitate either. In as few words as possible, he told me he liked it and the students. I reflected on how fortunate Kenner was to have a veteran art teacher to model after; Ms. Perkins has taught for more than 20 years and has kept her enthusiasm for teaching in the classroom. She is presently pursuing a master’s degree in Art Education at UNC-Pembroke.
I feel as if Ms. Perkins is modest, too, after she said, “A classroom teacher is a role model for a student teacher, but at a certain point I turn my classes over to him, and then I am more like a coach, it’s a journey for any student teacher to discover the classroom and what works during their experience as a student teacher.”
My last question was in reference to the importance of an art high school teacher that was also a practicing artist. Her answer fi t Kenner.
“Remaining an artist is very important to being a teacher that is knowledgable about 21st century styles and the infl uences of technology,” she said. “Students need to know the about the latest styles and new techniques artists are using.”
Before the art students at Terry Sanford High School say farewell to their latest student art teacher, they have a chance to see Kenner’s work at his opening reception, Thursday, Dec. 3, between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Up & Coming Weekly, 208 Rowan St. The reception is free to the public and the artist is asked to do a brief presentation to the people attending the opening around 6 p.m.
Kenner leaves Terry Sanford High School in December; he will also have earned his B.A. in Visual Art and a B.S. in Art Education at Fayetteville State University. Future plans for Kenner and his wife, Anita, include relocating to Texas to be closer to their daughter and grandchild. While in Texas, Kenner has plans to continue to create art, seek employment as an art educator (preferably at the high school level), and work towards completing an MFA and possibly a PhD in Art Education.