Grandville — Peggy Slattery is living proof that a person’s career does not always fully define who they are as a person.
By day she’s a biology and chemistry teacher at Grandville High School. By night and on weekends, and, really, all the time, she’s an artist, a person who literally dreams in colors and shapes and the flowy way that light bounces off water.
Prior to now, she hasn’t been quite ready to share that artistic side with the world. But this year, feeling finally like her painting technique was “where it needed to be,” she said, she entered ArtPrize. Her work caught the eye of event coordinators at the Amway Grand Plaza. And now her piece, “An Iris Collection of 5,” is not only featured prominently in the coveted downtown venue, it’s a 2D finalist for the art competition’s second- or third-place monetary prize, as determined by public vote.
‘It’s an amazing thing to have something that is so separate and so different (from teaching), but is just for me.’— Artist and Teacher Peggy Slattery
“I love it and it feeds me,” said Slattery of painting. “Whereas at school, you are giving away your energy and your emotion and all of those things, painting feels like it fills me back up. It is a whole different side of my brain, and that part of my brain feels so happy. If I come home exhausted, if I start to paint that goes away, and I just love it.
“When I am done teaching, I fully intend to do this as a career for as long as I physically possibly can.”
Oil paint is Slattery’s medium of choice, and she enjoys alternating between realistic and more abstract subject matters. She began taking classes from White Cloud-area artist Robert VanderZee two years ago. There among his off-grid 20 acres of flower beds and gardens, the two discuss color, movement, texture and light as they work on technique.
Being a teacher, she said, has informed the way she approaches her painting classes: “You understand that any criticism isn’t personal — it’s for your growth. I want to be really good, and I know that he knows better than I do.”
The lessons with VanderZee begin at 9 a.m. and are supposed to end at 3 p.m., “but we often lose track of time and I’m out there quite a bit later,” Slattery said. “They’re big, full days. It’s an amazing thing to have something that is so separate and so different (from teaching), but is just for me.”
Aligning Talents & Interests
Slattery’s ArtPrize entry consists of five close-up impressionist oil paintings on canvas of irises, each a different color and variety. While the casual observer might infer that her background as a biology teacher informed her choice of subject matter, she said there’s not much correlation.
“It probably does help that I understand the structure of (the flower) and how they’re put together, but I’m not sure that really plays into why I paint them,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve always just loved beautiful flowers. You can be a little more flowy, explore the light, move things around and have a lot more license to be creative (when painting them).”
But she said her artistic side does help inform how she approaches students and how she guides instruction in her science classroom. Creativity is something that she’s always tried to foster in students, but her experience as an art student, and the way it has inspired her in new ways, has brought the issue to the forefront.
“I know there are the kids who aren’t interested in science, but they’re interested in the arts, and I see a lot of value in that and encourage them to pursue it,” she said. “And the ones that really do like science but are also talented in some other area, I encourage them to pursue both. There’s so many careers out there that we don’t even know about, and you never know what could become a job one day.
“I just tell (students) to walk forward with what you’re really good at and what you’re interested in, and they’ll align at some point. I really do believe that, and I really do encourage it, probably more than I would have if I didn’t have an interest in such different things.”
Slattery said the Grandville community has supported her ArtPrize venture from the very beginning, for which she’s grateful. Fellow chemistry and biology teacher Brian Stark, who has his own woodworking studio, built the canvases on which her five irises appear. She’s also enjoyed running into many current and former students and colleagues as she sits by her work in the Amway Grand most evenings and weekends.
“The entire experience has been fantastic,” she said, noting that she’s already brainstorming what to paint for next year’s ArtPrize. “It’s fun when people I know are just walking by and they didn’t know that I did (painting) — to be able to share this side of me is amazing.”
Round 2 of public voting for ArtPrize entries ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 28; winners will be announced on Sept. 29.