As soon as you walk into Minnetonka Christian Academy, you are greeted with students’ art. It is displayed from the walls and the ceiling and it washes over you.
Take a quick left and you will see a mural of a famous painting by impressionist Georges Seurat on the wall. In the art room there are displays of student work everywhere—ranging from pencil drawings to replicas of Egyptian headdresses that would do a pharaoh proud.
Art teacher Suzanne Elmer inspires this creativity at both Minnetonka Christian Academy and Maplewood Academy in Minnesota. Between the two schools, she teaches art to students ages 4-18.
“I’ve been interested in art all my life,” Elmer says. Despite a long history of artists in her family, she studied health education in college because her father insisted on a more marketable degree than art.
“In 1994, the principal at Minnetonka contacted me and said the school needed an art department,” Elmer recalls. “I said, ‘Yes!’” She loves to show students that they have some of that creativity that God has given to each of us.
“It is the most fulfilling when you see kids who think they can’t do anything with art change their mindset and discover they have talent,” she adds. “You see that transformation from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’”
Looking for beauty
Elmer also enjoys relating beauty to the Master Artist. “Sometimes I have students draw or paint something up close to see the beauty of how God created it,” she explains. “We usually don’t observe the color patterns and texture that God put there for us to enjoy. After art class, students often see God in a new way. They see Jesus in a new way.”
Sophomore Shelly Parral experienced that change firsthand. “In one class, she taught us to draw an eyeball,” Shelly said. “She taught us how God sees us and how the world perceives us. It makes you think how beautiful you are to God.”
Sophomore Olivia Sweet said, “She helped me because I want things to be perfect. She helped me to be open to whatever comes up and that it does not have to be perfect at the start.”
One common thread through Mrs. Elmer’s classes is an emphasis on God and a positive view of life. “I like art that is on the happy side,” she says, “but sometimes kids are dealing with depression and it comes out in their work, and that is okay.”
Students quickly see in Mrs. Elmer lots of reasons to be thankful and happy. “She will smile at me in the hallway and she is so friendly,” 10th-grader Shee Paw said. “Mrs. Elmer has so many ideas and so many techniques for different kinds of art.”
Art class may use traditional mediums like water colors and pastels or it may be sculpture using masking tape or mailing tape. Her most recent new tool is Sharpies.
As students do their best to improve their artistic techniques, Elmer sees her role as a simple one. “God gives creativity to everyone; sometimes we have to have it pulled out,” she says. “That is my job, pulling it out.”
—John Bedell is education superintendent for the Minnesota Conference.