A natural fit: new LAC art education director embracing position

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

 

Lewistown Art Center art education director Leah Grunzke, left, hangs bats up made by her students Monday in the LAC basement. Riley Roche, right, said she enjoyed making bats and has a lot of fun participating in the after-school art program.

Photo by Charlie Denison

 

Leah Grunzke, the new art education director for the Lewistown Art Center, is excited for her new opportunity, bringing her unique gifts to the table while inspiring children to create.

“My roots are in outdoor education and my first love is creative exploration of the natural world,” said Grunzke, a Minnesota native.

A photographer and creator of gardens and houses for native bees, Grunzke has many passions. From a young age, she had an interest in science and creativity. She’s also had a passion for educating. 

“I studied horticultural science at Montana State University, and for the past dozen years I’ve been doing outdoor education with kids,” she said. “I specifically focused on Rocky Mountain plants and pollinators. I would teach kids often about backyard wildlife habitat conservation and native pollinators.”

Although classes at the LAC are not as outdoor-based, Grunzke said she feels there are still environmental and scientific elements involved in a lot of the work. Art, after all, is expansive, and can include, history, culture and many other subjects and concepts. That being the case, Grunzke said she feels her new job is a natural fit.

She also can handle the mayhem involved with children in a creative environment.

“When working with young children, you have to embrace the chaos and the fact that unexpected things are going to happen,” she said. “You’ve got to go with the flow and let the kids explore their world and discover what is interesting to them.” 

The students – pre-school through sixth grade– do a little bit of everything, Grunzke said: glass art, mosaics, jewelry, painting, drawing, photography, ceramics, art in nature, sculpture, fabric arts, theater art, plant presses and printmaking.

“We take all these amazing resources we have down here, ask ‘what would be interesting’ and ‘what do we want to learn about?’” Grunzke said. “For example, this week we worked on hanging bat sculptures. Of course, the kids want to do bat stuff because it’s Halloween, but also we’ll look at pictures of real bats, what they eat, why they fly around at night and – in doing the project – they’ll learn about motion, balance and physical space.”

The possibilities with art are immense, Grunzke said, and she’s excited for this opportunity.

“You can teach any subject through art,” she said. “You can teach history, economics, you can work on social skills and build confidence. There are so many skills involved. With fabric arts, for example, math is involved, and you can kind of sneak the ‘boring math stuff’ into the exercise.”

Most lessons, Grunzke said, are connected to seasons.

“Last week, for example, we made antlers and talked about hunting season and ruts,” she said. “The kids loved it.”

Although activities are often in place, Grunzke also stays flexible with the structure on Thursdays, often diverting if students feel a need or interest to do another project. 

“I have a high tolerance for chaos,” she said, “and, the way I see it, kids get told ‘no, don’t do that’ all day long, so if I have a chance to say, ‘go ahead, make a mess,’ I take it.” 

And, so far, so good Grunzke said, as the children have been excellent, and she’s happy to continue to work with them, take them on field trips and expand their horizons.

“The kids are hilarious and have such high, exuberant energy,” she said. “I feel really lucky to work with them, relive the sense of wonder and build this program with them. I’m really excited. I don’t think I could have found a better fit.”

And the same goes for the community, Grunzke added.

“I moved to Lewistown in April and am really enjoying it,” Grunzke said. “I feel like it’s easier to meet people in small towns and get that kind of close-knit community feeling. People have been incredibly warm, welcoming and accommodating. They’ve been really gracious with offers to help me if I need anything. I’m staying, and the Art Center has a lot to do with it. That being said, I’m also very grateful for the people here who continue to support the Art Center. The Art Center really relies on them.”

For more information, call Grunzke at (406) 493-0544 or call the Art Center at 535-8278.

“You can also just pop in,” Grunzke said.

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