From Student to Teacher

Junior high school is a time for self-discovery for any teenager, and if that teen is lucky, they will find a mentor of some sort to help them with that process because it is often a difficult path to travel.  For Theresa Heinz of Cuba, NY, junior high school was a period where one dynamic art teacher noticed her aptitude for the arts and encouraged her to explore those talents.  That coaxing eventually led to Theresa to get her B.F.A. from Alfred University, where upon graduating she began working as a K-6th grade art teacher at Allegany Elementary School.  Seven years later, while working as an Adjunct Art Teacher for St. Bonaventure University, she completed her M.S. in Art Education from Alfred University. 

Today Theresa has come full-circle, so to speak, molding young minds at Allegany-Limestone High School.  She also just completed a one-woman show in Geneva, NY titled, “Within These Windows,” which was motivated by her career in public school teaching.  For the piece, Theresa used a collection of words and images to demonstrate the victimization of children as a result of bullying, neglect and abuse.  This powerful piece was created as a means of opening eyes and minds with the end goal of reminding people just how delicate and vulnerable children are. 

Theresa is just one of many artists that will be featured at the 2016 Art In the Park event, to be held Sunday, July 24 at War Vets Park in Olean, NY. 



DASH: Could you start off by describing how you got into art in the first place?  Have you been interested in art since your childhood or did it become a later-in-life pursuit?

THERESA: I have always felt the urge to create, being heavily influenced and encouraged by a dynamic Junior High art teacher. This inevitably led to my career decision to become an art teacher. I taught high school art in the Olean City School district for 18 years, and currently in the Allegany-Limestone High School.

DASH: Where did you grow up?  Would you say that it had a major impact on how you look at art?

THERESA: Originally I began with landscape painting.  Having grown up in Cuba, NY, I have always been influenced by the local topography.  All seasons appeal to me, and I find that having four distinct seasons addresses my impatient spirit.  In other words, things are always changing in our environment, and that is exciting to me.  There’s always something new to paint as the seasons change. I am completely shocked that in the last several years I find myself being drawn to figurative elements, both in a landscape or architectural setting, or just an intimate group of people.  I never thought I was much good at figure drawing, and certainly not portraiture, but recently those two elements have figured heavily in the images I am driven to create. That is part of the allure of creating to me, being continually surprised by the “nudge” to investigate some aspect that you might not have considered earlier in your work.

DASH: What/who are your artistic inspirations?  Who influenced you to start painting? 

THERESA: A major impact on my work, as mentioned previously, was my art teacher in junior high, and more specifically, Chet Swier, a very talented watercolor artist/teacher from Cuba , NY.  I find that teaching blesses me with the opportunity to not only cultivate creativity in young people, but also to encourage hope and resourcefulness in students whose home life is often lacking the structure of stable parenting.

DASH: Do you have a website that people can find your work online?  How can people best find your work?

THERESA: I do not have a website, but my Instagram account is: vizulart25, where I post all my work.

DASH: What's your favorite piece that you've done?  And why is it your favorite?

THERESA: It's difficult to select a "favorite " piece. I very much enjoy a painting called "Rose Fete" which portrays 3 women engaged in conversation over glasses of wine. I was attempting to capture the essence of the moment, and create drama through the use of chiaroscuro.

DASH: How would you describe your painting style?

THERESA: My work encompasses 2 genres, landscapes, often including figurative elements, and collages that express the very turbulent experiences of adolescents I have worked with in my teaching career.

DASH: Are you currently working on anything new that you want people to be aware of? 

THERESA: I have had several one-woman shows in the Geneva, NY area and my most recent show (May 2016) "Within These Windows" was a collection of my collage work.  In terms of new work, the expansion of my collage pieces will come as a surprise to many who are accustomed to my previous work. I am also working on a smaller scale in both genres of many 3"x5" pieces. This new, very diminutive scale engages the viewer in a more intimate way, a goal I have always strived to achieve.

DASH: You’ve taught at both St. Bonaventure and JCC and are now at Allegany-Limestone.  What do you find most fulfilling about instructing?

THERESA: I find helping students discover their “visual voice” is the most fulfilling aspect of teaching, regardless of the particular level (highschool - college).  When I can help students unlock what it is they want to say visually, I feel most accomplished.  Also, encouraging students to approach the assignments I give them in a more creative, expansive way is a delightful challenge that teaching provides.  Helping students understand that visual art is another form of communication is an exciting, satisfying aspect of teaching for me.

DASH: Do you have any other hobbies that occupy your time?  Do they offer any sort of added inspiration to your artwork?

THERESA: When not painting, I thoroughly enjoy being in the kitchen or garden.  I also read, both non-fiction (particularly art history), and fiction. 

DASH: What do you enjoy the most about the process of creating art?

THERESA: Creating is a journey.  I start with a small spark of an idea.  As I begin to record that idea, things become more exciting, finding relationships and paths to completion.  As I created work for my latest show of collages, “Within These Windows,” I continually felt the pieces knew what they were to become before I even started, as if I was merely the “vehicle” through which their expression took form.  That sounds a little crazy, but that body of work is very emotional, and came from my many years of interacting with adolescents and their experiences, some very negative. My collage work involves drawing, painting, found objects, words and imagery. I am intrigued by translucency, layering media, transparent color palettes and working on colored grounds.  It is my hope that the viewer will be drawn into the work both figuratively and literally by virtue of the scale and content of images and words. Painting and creating collages is as much a part of what I need to do as breathing.  My spirit is bereft when I am not able to create on a regular, nearly daily basis.

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