Springdale School of Art sits strategically in the quiet countryside near the base of Mount Harrison in Southern Idaho. Its large windows take in the natural beauties that inspire the artistic mind. Colorful paintings, intricate sculptures and artistic pottery are displayed throughout the school. An elegant ebony grand piano sits in the entrance gallery of the multi-level building.
Paintings line the hallway going to the spacious art room that’s filled with tables, easels and still life display of various sizes of glass bottles. Stepping down into the basement of the school is the clay room with potter’s wheels. Anatomy is taught here before sculpting begins. An amusing skeleton, dressed by students in red feathers, beads and a large brimmed hat hangs suspended in the corner waiting to be studied. Next to the clay room is the kiln room where five kilns are available to fire art projects. And at the west end of the school is a children’s theater with spotlights, a raised stage and audience area. The capacity to teach graphic and textile art and the ambition to incorporate culinary arts makes this one of the most well-rounded art schools in Idaho.
The merging of two great women’s lives in the wake of tragedy was the impetus for the Springdale School of Art. Little did they realize at the time the great impact for good it would have in the lives of hundreds of people, including their own.
When Claudette Bray, then 49, was diagnosed with a brain tumor she was completing her dissertation for her doctorate degree. Given little chance for survival, she and her husband, Steve Bray, owner of Mini-Cassia Equipment, began making the best of what time she might have left. The effects of brain surgery left her blind, unable to speak coherently or walk. Witty and intelligent, Claudette found herself starting over again to think clearly and learn motor skills through therapy.
June Carey, a former real estate agent, began her college education in art at the age of 65. After raising nine children, she and her husband, Kenneth, decided to pursue a life-long dream of going school. Graduating with her degree in art at Boise State University, June became well known for her paintings and sculpting in the Burley area. She would eventually be commissioned to sculpt “The Irrigator” in the Centennial Plaza on Overland Avenue in Burley when she was in her 80s. It was her dream to have an art school for children. June and Claudette lived only a few blocks from each other and were friends.
The merging of their lives came one day when Claudette met June, who was waiting for her sister in therapy. Striking up a conversation, Claudette asked in garbled speech, “When are you going to teach me how to paint, June?” June looked at Claudette, who was then blind, unable to walk and barely able to talk and remarked, “It’s been my experience that people generally won’t take the time it requires to learn how to paint.” With that, the subject was dropped.
Six months later, Claudette was in ball therapy and June came in to swim. Humoring her, Claudette asked June again when was she was going to teach her to paint. As Claudette puts it, “She blew me off.” But June called that night saying matter-of-factly, “If you want to learn to paint, be in my studio tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. and every morning after.” And she hung up. Early the next morning Steve drove Claudette to June’s house and dropped her off. Unable to see, she began her first lesson working clay with her hands. Afterwards, June drove her home. This began a lasting relationship that would give purpose and life-giving inspiration to both women. Claudette would say later that learning the arts saved her life.
Gradually, Claudette recovered her eyesight and motor skills with the help of working with the arts. It would be three years before she saw what her hands had created under the direction of June. By the time she had regained her sight she was ready to paint and Claudette set up a studio in her garage filling it with paintings. June saw a talent in her first and only student that impressed her and they talked of starting an art school.
Both women studied under Robert Moore and other professional artists and sculptors. Claudette had been an educational consultant and taught for many years in education so it came natural for her entertain the idea of an art school.
Being in the realty business for over 40 years, June called Claudette one day to say she’d found the 100-year-old Springdale school in foreclosure. Several months later, they purchased it, and with the help of family members and numerous people in the community, as well as generous financial and material donations, the art school began to take shape. Asbestos had to be removed. New lighting and electrical wiring were installed, windows replaced, floors refinished and tile put down. A surprise bonus was the cement encased coal room near the furnace which became the kiln room. It could withstand high temperatures while firing pottery. The school was refinished from top to bottom.
In addition to renovation, it was furnished with computers, tables, easels, painting supplies, clay, kilns and art supplies. Steve built a large one-step digital kiln that allows for large pieces to be fired in addition to four other kilns. The school has three potter’s wheels with one being a kick wheel allowing students to learn both the modern and ancient process of pottery.
Eventually Claudette bought June’s share of the school and Claudette took on the responsibilities of staffing and scheduling as well as continuing the improvements needed. All tuition and proceeds from the art school go into maintaining the building and purchasing supplies.
Springdale School of Art is the only private art school in Southern Idaho. First Thursday Artist’s studio tour is held each month from 4-8 p.m. where students’ art work is on display for public viewing. Scholarships are awarded for students showing promise in the arts. And it is noted that many of the art students that complete this art school go on to become artist.
Gabby Steele is a student of Claudette’s and has been attending Springdale School of Art for three years. She has worked with oil painting, both still and abstract, and just finished her first sculpture. She says, “I love the school, it’s a nice way to relax.” One thing Gabby appreciates is that lessons are tailored to the student’s strengths and they are introduced to different artist and genres of art. Her favorite is oil painting and favors Pablo Picasso’s work.
Springdale School of Art has come about with great sacrifice on the part of many people. Has the school met its purpose? It has, and will continue to do so. Hundreds of children have been exposed to classes, workshops, seminars and field trips that enlighten the mind and inspire the imagination. In retrospect of the past few years of challenges and accomplishments with Springdale School of Art, Claudette notes, “Do something of value. The only value is in doing something for someone else.”
Registration for Summer Art Camp happens EVERY MAY. Summer Art Camp takes place every June and includes drawing, painting, pottery, ceramics, and cupcake art. Register for a half day, one day or week-long classes. Students in the past have come from Idaho communities, as well as Utah and some from Eastern states. Many grandparents in the area give their grandchildren the gift of art by signing them up for summer art camp. Families are also using the school as a basis for their reunions. Scouting, church and civic groups have toured the school and learned from workshops offered. Surrounding schools have scheduled field trips to the Springdale School of Art.
One of Claudette’s favorite paintings she’s created is of two eagles struggling in mid-air. One eagle is underneath fighting to regain position. “All of us have been under a tremendous weight,” she says, “and not sure how we’ll get out.”
But, she notes, “We do.”
For more information about Springdale School of Art
490 East 200 South Burley, Idaho