Kimberly Fong with Barbara Livesey, designer.

The Creative Mentoring Program

by Bill Weaver
photos by Cindy Steele

“This is about the kids and the arts,” Beth Mathers says of her Creative Mentoring Program, which for the last eight years has teamed Brown County students with Brown County artists.

Coming from a background in education and publishing Mathers, an energetic and idealistic woman, wanted to contribute to the community she’d grown to love.

“I observed how many wonderful artists and crafts people we have in this county. The program was in my mind but it was my friend Sallyann Murphey who gave me a little push. She asked me to talk to Rotary about it and that meant I had to put it on paper. At the Rotary meeting everyone was very encouraging.”

She tried the concept out with her first student, Eric Eagleman, and an artist friend. “Eric had a passion and a drive,” she remembers enthusiastically. “This young man wanted to be an automobile designer. He went to the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. I personally wrote a reference letter. I told them that if you do not accept Eric you will miss out. He proved me right. Before he even graduated he did an internship with Rubbermaid Corporation and had patents in place when he left, products ready to go off the line that he had created. It was very exciting.”

With the encouragement of Brown County educators Patty Bartels, Matthew Stark, Deborah Strother and Lance Miller she talk to students in the school’s art department. “I explained to them that life is like an empty canvas and we are the creators of what we do with that life,” she remembers. “That painting is of our own making and our own doing. There are opportunities for them, even if they do it for one year. This is their chance to learn more about what they might be interested in.

“My dream was ultimately to have every student in the school system connected to an artist,” she laughs. “I’m an idealist.”

Starting with around a dozen students Beth matched each of them with an artist for one to two hours a week. “I have potters and photographers, weavers, artists, a fashion designer who taught at Pratt and worked at the Metropolitan in New York, a blacksmith, Rob Taylor who has the hologram shop in town, Fred Sisson from Nikon. He’s gone four days during the week but he takes time to mentor when he’s here. Steve Miller, the architect, he had a student the year they were redoing the Methodist Church. This student got to see it happen from the drawings to the finishing of the building.

“We have so many amazing people here in Brown County that are so highly gifted and talented and out of the grace and kindness of their hearts are willing to donate their time to the students. What the mentors tell me at the end of the year is that they gain more than they think their students did.”

Blacksmith Jerry Baughman and Eric Long

Blacksmith Jerry Baughman and Eric Long.

While it’s been mostly junior high students who have participated in the program, recently Mathers has been able to work with the high school. “The hardest thing with the kids in the high school is that they’re all so busy. They’re playing sports, they’re working to earn a car. The interest might be there but not the opportunity. I tell the kids that if they follow through with this they can stay until they graduate. They have the opportunity to have four to six different people writing letters for them to go onto college, which will get them scholarship money.”

Mathers also works with home-school and handicapped children.” I have a student, Nicholas Curtin, who’s now at Rochester Institute of Technology School for the Deaf. He was in the program for four years working with Lillian Dunnigan and Harlan Scheffler. After 9-1-1 he did a piece of art of the Twin Towers hugging each other and crying that literally went around the world. And it came from this county.”

Woodcrafter Paul Henderson with Seth Lindley

Woodcrafter Paul Henderson with Seth Lindley.

Beth and her husband, David, first fell in love with Brown County while he was working on his MBA in nearby Bloomington. They lived for a time, “in a little A-frame across from Ski World,” before finding a home in the hills above Nashville. “It took me a couple of years to decide what was going to happen with me. What I could do to contribute to this wonderful place that’s very special to me.

“It’s a place that’s a healing, comforting, caring place. I’m overwhelmed by the people of Brown County, the kindness and concern and care that they have for the children, which is my main focus. I have been very lucky and very privileged to do the things that I have been doing.

“We’re very blessed that’s for sure. One of the first things that I tell the students is that they all have more than one gift and to find one that brings joy and pleasure is very very exciting. It’s important to our souls and spirits to be involved in art in some fashion. Whether we’re observing it and appreciating it, or creating it ourselves, it’s so important to our being. We all learn from each other. It’s the giving and sharing of ourselves that makes life so special.”

Mathers has between 15 and 20 students a year. “That’s a long way from the five hundred or thousand that I dreamt of,” she laughs. “I’m always looking for new students and more artists.” If you are interested in participating in the Creative Mentoring Program you can write Beth Mathers at P.O. Box 505, Nashville, Indiana 47448 or call 812-988-9655.

“I don’t know what the future will bring,” Beth says with enthusiasm. “It’ll be interesting to see what it might be.”