Artist Cheri Isgreen in her studio. Courtesy image.
[San Juan Silver Stage |Winter 2020 | Kathryn R. Burke]
Cheri and twin, Kathe, aged 3. Courtesy image.
Some of Cheri Isgreen’s earliest memories are of making art. “I was about three years old when my twin sister, Kathe, and I discovered we could scratch images on wood. I made a self-portrait of my sister and I on the headboard of my bed.”
Those early scratches evolved into a lifetime of creative endeavor, from making art to teaching it…and beyond. Cheri is the embodiment of a creative spirit— indomitable, continually evolving—an inspiration to any and all who experience her work.
Making art in college. Courtesy image.
Cheri became an art teacher mostly by accident. The journey was a common one for the times. She grew up in the 1960s, one of seven children in rural Illinois about 60 miles north of Chicago. Back then, if a girl’s parents were even willing to pay for an education (most weren’t), she was expected to study something practical, like teaching or nursing, to tide her over until she got married and had babies. “My parents didn’t want to pay for it, so I applied at Southern Illinois University for a teacher’s scholarship. I got it, and decided I’d just be an art teacher.”
But, like most creative people, Cheri is a free spirit. “The mountains were calling,” she recalls, and she wanted to ski. So she took an educational hiatus and moved to Colorado, first to Telluride, then later worked at every nursery and flower shop in Montrose and Delta Counties. Eventually, she landed at Oak Grove School in Montrose. “I became a para-professional. I loved working with the kids and decided I wanted to continue my education.”
Teaching 1st-grade, 1980s. Courtesy image.
She earned her BA at Western State with a double major in art education and elementary education, then went on to the University of Colorado to complete her MA in Art Instruction and Curriculum with an emphasis in Art Education.
Getting degrees opened a lot of doors for her. Besides teaching art in Montrose, Colorado, for 27 years, Cheri was also a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education, (advisor to the Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C.). In that role, she worked with the Colorado Department of Education, as well as the University of Northern Colorado, helping to develop a comprehensive, statewide standards-based K-12 art education program not tied to standardized testing.
Cheri also curated an exhibition of artwork by K-12 Colorado students for the U.S. Department of Education. The exhibition, entitled “Art at the Apex,” was shown at the nation’s capital the month of May in 2010. Guest speakers included Isgreen; Colorado featured artist, 4th grader Sarena Payte; Deborah Reeve, National Art Education Executive Director; and Department of Education Senior Director, Brad Jupp. The opening was attended by Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, among others.
As an art teacher, Cheri taught all genres and media: art history, art criticism, composition, and creative expression. “The art I make now is very influenced by my teaching experiences,” she notes. “The depth and breadth from my time as an art teacher is what I take to my studio today. It’s reflective of why I create art in a variety of media.”
Horses–in Art and in Life
Equestrian art has been a common theme in Cheri’s work in every media. She also enjoys owning and riding them. That, too, started when she was very young. Cheri remembers an incident when she was about 10 years old. “My very first horse was a pony my brother (who was 6 at the time) found at yard sale. We all got together and emptied our piggy banks, coming up with $10 between us. We went to the yard sale, turned over our money, put the poney on a lead and walked it home.
“I loved horses and rode every chance I could get. While I was growing up, we kept ‘a backyard horse’ (the animals lived in our backyard, not boarded). We also had a rabbit, two cats, a white lab rat, a dog, and a garden.” That last, along with the backyard horse, played a big part in her education break when she worked in related fields, like gardening, and again today in how she manages her property and most importantly, the award-winning Lippizan she owns, rides, shows, loves, and paints.
Riding her blue-ribbon-winning Lippizan. Courtesy photo.
Painting horses took on a special meaning over time. “While teaching and doing art with my students, I always dreamed of making blue horses. When I retired (after 27 years in the classroom), I changed directions, from being an educator to being a professional artist.” Like many of her other career decisions, it was a good one. Her work is prolific, well received, and sells very well. One of her retirement goals was to master watercolor, to explore light and color. Cheri is a signature member of the Colorado Watercolor Society.
“I was very interested in understanding and portraying the anatomy of the horse in motion. With anything alive, the form changes with movement. That is why exploring the light is so interesting. If you get the light right, the shadows and the highlights will reveal the form. It won’t matter what color is used, so I am free to explore nonrepresentational color in horses and other subjects. Over time, my work has evolved to an expressive explosion of color” … like blue horses.
“Out of the Shadows,” watercolor. Uses negative space to define this colorful horse. Private collection. © Cheri Isgreen.