Brilliant, creative

Bronx arts teacher uses fellowship for inspirational courses and is "surrounded by brilliant and creative people."

Linda SternTelevision and textiles may seem far apart on the artistic spectrum, but New York City artist and educator Linda Stern has had a successful career that spans both disciplines.

A 2010 recipient of a Surdna Arts Teachers Fellowship, Stern chose to study at the Split Rock Arts Program, taking Digital Designs for Printed Textiles with Michael James, as well as Digital Nature Photography with Craig Blacklock.

Stern, one of only 15 teachers nationwide selected to receive the fellowship, began her career doing on-air graphics for television, including ABC Sports. Seven years ago, she transitioned to teaching art full-time, while pursuing her own visual arts projects in her home studio. Currently, she teaches drawing and painting, graphic design, and digital photography at the Bronx High School for Visual Arts (BHSVA).

It was a co-worker at BHSVA who first told Stern about the Surdna Fellowship, and encouraged her. "My co-worker, who is also an artist, used her fellowship to study Chinese gardens, and then was able to apply that to both her art and her teaching. She's been very supportive of me and encouraging me to create my own body of work independent of school, and suggested I look into applying," says Stern.

The Surdna Fellowship awards up to $5,000 to selected arts teachers, so they may have the opportunity to immerse themselves in their own creative work, interact with other professional artists, and stay current with new practices.

"I knew I wanted to put myself into an artists' community, immerse myself in the experience and focus on just my art. Outside of my teaching, I am a mom with two teenagers, and when I am working on my art, I am in my studio at home...I wanted to get away and have that intense experience you get surrounded by other artists."

Stern was searching for surface design courses, and immediately found James's Split Rock course. "Michael is a leader in the field, and when I saw he was teaching the workshop, it was perfect. I couldn't believe it--it's very hard to find a class taught by him, as he doesn't teach all that often. It really was kind of a coup."

Wanting to make her trip to Minnesota a true retreat-style experience, Stern asked the Split Rock program staff to recommend a second course to round out her two-week stay. "I wanted to do something different--but something that would still be relevant to my work. They suggested I try the nature photography retreat up at Cloquet. I am so glad they did--it was an amazing experience. At first, I felt a bit out of my comfort zone, but I learned so much. I incorporate digital images into my textile work...and it was great to have a chance to build a library of images that I took myself."

Stern is not the only one to benefit from the fellowship and her subsequent studies at Split Rock. In addition to the award given to the teacher, the Foundation also awards a grant to each fellow's school in support of his or her post-fellowship activities with students. So Stern will have the resources to share some of the techniques and practices she learned in Minnesota with her students in the Bronx.

"I came back to start this school year fully refreshed and recharged. I've already started sharing some of it with my classes, and have plans to continue on throughout the year. I learned more than just technique--I picked up so many more aspects, how I plan out lessons, how I approach teaching some of the material. I gained new methods and techniques for my own work, as well as the classroom."

While the two courses Stern took were quite different, both in locale (James's course was on campus; Blacklock's at the Forestry Center in Cloquet) and in subject matter, the quality of both, she says, was quite similar. "The instructors were outstanding, and the small class sizes made for a very intimate experience. Not only that, though, I learned a tremendous amount from my peers. I was surrounded by brilliant and creative people in both courses. There are many different experience levels and backgrounds, so there is a lot of sharing and bonding and exchanging of ideas. It's a great way to discover new methods in your work and to be inspired."