January 9, 2008 Edition

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Barbara Manning Smith
inspired her students

By Debi Boozer Hart
WRHS Class of 1975

(Editor's note: Barbara Manning Smith taught art at Walnut Ridge High School for several years. She died in November of 2007.)

I will have to admit when I was in high school I was a little skeptical of anyone over the age of 30. That's why having a teacher inspire me was met with resistance if not a down right "not happening" experience for me.

I remember some things being easy and having to study for other things. I definitely realize I should have put out more effort, and I would have gotten more out of high school.

I do, however, seem to remember the artistic upperclassmen and how cool they were. I wondered how they ever managed to produce such amazing art. When art was finally available to me in high school, I remember being so intimidated by it. I was encouraged by the art teacher, even though I feared she might kick me out after the first week. But she didn't.

Mrs. Barbara Manning Smith was so genuine. She got it ~ and taught me that art was just like any other subject. There are those who have a natural talent and those who can learn techniques, and by exposure to more art and experience, can enjoy art. This learned appreciation for art can bring great value to their lives.

Mrs. Manning-Smith taught us to look at trees. I mean really look at trees ~ their branches, trunks, the texture of their trunk, leaves in spring, summer, fall and bare branches in the winter. I drive down the road to this day and see tree branches and wonder if I could draw them.

I remember one day expressing an interest in sculpting, and she taught me how to make a mold. I still have a sculpture of the classic "Indian with the tear running down his face because of what we are doing to the Earth" in my garden, even though my husband thinks it looks like one of my old friends.

As a class project we made a tile mosaic of a Bobcat that hung in the gym for many years. Mosaics have become popular again, and I've had great fun creating mosaic art projects for my family and friends.

Mrs. Manning-Smith had one rule that I remember: "Work Diligently." She had that posted on her board, written on a permanent sign. Working diligently was a new thought for me, but that was never a problem in her class. I would enter her room and the 50 minutes would fly by.

Mrs. Manning-Smith didn't try to be cool. She made us learn about art history when we knew that this knowledge would never be of value to us. We just wanted to paint. However, this information turned out to be helpful in fine arts visual in college, and I still feel a little smug when I recognize the style of a painting or know during what era it was painted.

I have friends and family who I know consider me artistic, and I try to tell them it's just a matter of being brave and trying to be creative. But I was also lucky; Mrs. Barbara Manning Smith inspired me a lot. Whether it is in quilting, crafting or fiber arts or looking at a sunset or baby ~ art still excites me. It makes me smile and keeps me in touch with life. Thank you, Mrs. Manning-Smith, for that.

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