Artistically inclined

The annual Conference for Young Artists is a chance for area students to learn from professional artists

Clarkfield Charter student Eli McGuffin, left, and Canby-St. Peter’s Catholic School student Cooper Pesek work with clay on pottery wheels during in presenter Jim Swartz’s session during the 25th annual Young Artists Conference recently held at Southwest Minnesota State University.


The 2018 Conference for Young Artists marked the 25th year that K-8 students had hands-on opportunities to learn about different art genres and to use their creative energies to make unique artwork to take home.

More than 1,000 were in attendance at this year’s event presented by Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, including 800 students eager to be inspired by a variety of artists. Students had the chance to select three different session, from pottery to creating puppets, loom woven bracelets and chalk pastel masterpieces to making tile art, birch tree forests, sand art and much more.

“I think the conference is the perfect opportunity for kids to be exposed to many different pursuits and opportunities to think outside of what they normally do in creating or in art in school or wherever,” keynote speaker Derek Anderson said. “It’s a chance for us to work with them very specifically on the things that we do and can hopefully inspire them to try some new things and learn some new things. Art feeds the soul.”

Anderson’s keynote presentation kickstarted the conference.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “It was such a great audience.”

Anderson is a New York Times best-selling artist behind more than 25 books for children. At the conference, he engaged with students in a session called “How to Create Characters That Come to Life,” one of 30 sessions students could pick from to attend.

“I’m teaching them that creativity is about trying different things and making mistakes and that’s OK,” Anderson said. “I’m also teaching them about giving the characters emotions and stories. That’s an important part of bringing characters to life.”

Andrea Anderson, student activities coordinator for SWWC, thought the 25th annual event went really well.

“There were some fun new classes again this year,” she said. “There were some I haven’t seen before and the kids were having a blast.”

Anderson said the conference nourishes students’ creative and artistic talents by exposing them to a variety of visual, fine and performing arts in hopes of sparking interests or opening doors to potential higher education and career opportunities.

This conference nourishes students’ creative and artistic talents by exposing them to a variety of visual, fine and performing arts in hopes to spark interests or open doors to potential higher education and career opportunities. Students are inspired by the talented and knowledgeable presenters who work with them during hands-on learning sessions.

“The part I love the most is seeing the kids’ faces when they’re working on project or when they complete a project,” Anderson said. “I love seeing how proud they are of their pieces of art. It’s always cool to see the different designs that come out because it’s their own creations.”

Half of the 33 different school districts represented at the conference included area schools, though some students traveled more than an hour to be in attendance. Along with 70 individuals or homeschoolers who signed up separately from a school district, the students from area schools included: Canby-St. Peter’s Catholic School, Canby Elementary, Clarkfield Charter, Dawson-Boyd, Hendricks Public, Ivanhoe Elementary, Lake Benton, Lake Benton Elementary, Lakeview Elementary, Lynd, Murray County Central Elementary, Milroy Public, Minneota Elementary, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Elementary, RTR Middle School, Wabasso Secondary and Yellow Medicine East-Bert Raney Elementary.

“It feels weird,” Canby St. Peter’s Catholic School fourth grader Wesley Veldheist said about the clay during a Wheel Thrown Pottery session. “It feels like wet mud. And it’s warm. I’m making a bowl.”

This year marks the first that Veldheist has attended the Young Artists Conference.

“It’s fun,” he said. “(In the first session), I made bracelets. It turned out good. I’m making another one, too.”

Clarkfield fourth-grade student Eli McGuffin said he enjoyed working with clay.

“I’ve felt clay before and I’ve made clay stuff before — it feels the same — but the other was air-dry clay, so we couldn’t have it in the air very long or it would dry out,” McGuffin said. “We had to keep it still. This one, you have to keep it moving.”

McGuffin said the biggest challenge for him was when the bowl got too tall.

“When it’s deep, you can’t get your fingers down in there,” he said.

McGuffin said the first session he attended was “Cute vs. Creepy” with presenter Cori Doerrfeld, a full-time author and illustrator.

“It went good,” McGuffin said. “I did a Pikachu then a creepy Pikachu.”

Alexandria Massman, a third grader from YME-Bert Raney Elementary, said she enjoyed the “Make your own Kaleidoscope” session with presenter Josh Thoreson, a visual artist.

“It went good,” she said. “You get a roll and (foil cover) and then you get to put stickers on it. (The tube) came like this, but I put all the stickers on it. Then I put beads inside of it. There’s a whole bunch of them in there.”

Overall, Massman said she was having a good time at the conference.

“It’s good,” Massman said.

Nine-year-old Autumn Thomas also praised the conference.

“It was pretty fun,” she said. “I love art.”

Thomas’ favorite session was “Point Me to the Drawing” with presenter Cindy Demers. In the session, students created a pointillism, which is a drawing using dots.

“I can’t flip it now because it’s glued, but it’s a piece of plastic on the stitching and you just dot it (around the outside),” Thomas said.

Heather Thomas appreciated that her daughter, Autumn, had the opportunity to explore art concepts.

“There aren’t a lot of art opportunities for homeschoolers (in the Jeffers area),” Heather Thomas said. “I’ve been trying to find a way for her to have art classes and the resources for homeschoolers for art programs is very limited.”

Thomas said she believes that art positively impacts the lives of students. She added that she misses the Prairie Winds Art Festival that Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School used to hold annually.

“I love the arts,” she said. “It’s very important.”