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YARMOUTH — Students in Holly Houston’s five art classes at Yarmouth High School have had a special visitor in their classroom since last week: Yarmouth Education Foundation-sponsored artist Tim Christensen.
The students have been working on projects that bring animals to life through art.
“We are working on some exciting projects documenting the natural world and the systems in which various creatures exist, building bridges between verbal and scientific language and documentation, and visual language and documentation,” Christensen said.
The students’ projects will be on display at Yarmouth Public Library next spring.
Thanks to a $1,300 grant from the Yarmouth Education Foundation and a $1,300 grant from the Maine Arts Commission, Christensen was able to establish a 10-day residency.
“It’s great to have the funding and we are very thankful to have the Yarmouth Education Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission supporting us,” Houston said.
Each one of Houston’s classes is working on something different but the theme is the same: animal species in Maine.
“When we started this project, I asked my students to pick one animal that they would be sad to see on the endangered list,” Houston said.
“Some of our work combines poetry and art, creating dry point etchings, and other work is on durable porcelain using the sgraffito method,” Christensen said.
The sgraffito method is a decorating pottery technique that is produced by applying layers of color or colors to pottery, then scratching off parts of the layer(s) to create contrasting images, textures, and patterns to reveal the clay color underneath.
Christensen has been using porcelain since he decided to become an artist, which wasn’t that long ago, as he became a full-time artist since 1999.
Twenty years ago while sitting in a tent on a beach off the Florida keys, Christensen pondered his life. He was 30 years old and reeling from being laid off at Little, Brown, and Co., where he sold books.
On that beach, Christensen decided on a whim that he wanted to take up pottery.
“When I was in Florida, I made a list of all the things I wanted in my new life,” he said.
“And the only thing I could come up with that would meet all the criteria on that list was to be a potter.”
Christensen didn’t have any formal training. In fact, he hadn’t even touched clay before, so he needed some help making his dream a reality.
Yet, he didn’t know that dream would come to fruition so quickly.
“The day I decided I wanted to be a potter, I paddled my canoe back to the campground where I was staying,” he said.
“I had new neighbors and I went over to say hi to them.”
He told them he was a man of leisure for two months and told them the story of how he wanted to venture into the art world to be a potter.
His new neighbors said that Christensen could help them with a problem they had.
The “problem” was that his new neighbors had 500 pounds of clay they were looking to throw out.
“This happened six hours after I decided I wanted to be a potter,” he said.
The next day Christensen called up his parents, who had just moved from Maine to Ohio.
Call it happenstance or fate, but something else fell right into Christensen’s lap.
“In the basement of the house my parents just bought was a kick wheel and a kiln that they weren’t using.”
“Within 24 hours I literally had everything I needed to be a potter,” Christensen said.
Fast-forward 20 years later, and he now travels the world doing his work.
He’s taken two international trips via a container ship, where he was the sole passenger with a small crew.
In 2017, his trip lasted 30 days and he ended up in the Sydney, Australia. On that trip, the ship traveled through the Southern Pacific Gyre.
Christensen said the only thing he could see while being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was the sea and the sky.
“Out there I could actually see the earth, I could see the sky and it came right down to the sea,” Christensen said.
On the second trip, he left from South Carolina and traveled through the Atlantic Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Straights of Yemen, the Indian Ocean all the way to Malaysia.
Through these projects and his residency at the high school, Christensen hopes the students express themselves just like he has been able to do.
“I actually really like helping students to learn that they can use art to say things,” Christensen said.
“They learn how to use art to communicate more quickly and effectively than any other way and I really like thinking about art as a language.”
Students in Houston’s class picked Christensen’s brain while they finished up their projects on Monday.
“We are very privileged as students to be able to have an artist like Tim coming in and helping us,” junior Teddy Norton said. “Relating art to anything that is not just art by itself is very important and Tim and Mrs. Houston have taught me that.”
Freshman Addison Hounchell works with artist Tim Christensen on her project for Holly Houston’s Art Fundamentals class on Dec. 3 at Yarmouth High School.