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LaVonne Tisdal: A life of art

When LaVonne Tisdal signed up for art class during her sophomore year at Holland High School, she didn’t imagine it leading to her career. 

Tisdal with her art on display at the most recent Art Guild Show held at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center.

The class sounded fun and offered a way for Tisdal to connect with her family’s history of artists. No big deal. But then she put brush to paper and ignited a creative spark that lit a path through the rest of her life. 

“I can’t imagine my life without art,” Tisdal said. “Having art makes me so much more aware of textures and colors. With art, I think you’re more aware of your senses than the average person.”

Tisdal studied art education at Kentucky Wesleyan University and returned to Dubois County to teach at Southridge middle and high schools. Tisdal retired in 2009 but continues to share her passion for art through the Dubois County Art Guild and the Jasper Community Arts Commission’s visual arts committee. In all her roles, she works to help new artists unlock their creativity.

“[Art] gives you a whole new feeling. Or a new space in your life,” Tisdal said. 

Outside the classroom and her volunteer work, Tisdal is a professional painter. Using watercolor paints and pastels, she creates landscapes, florals and home portraits. 

During her teaching career, she confined most of her personal art to summers, traveling to Jerry Baum workshops in Evansville and driving around with her camera, eager to find scenes to recreate. 

Her horizons broadened in the summer of 1987. That year, Eli Lilly launched their Teacher Creativity Fellowship, a grant program that provides funding for Indiana teachers to engage in experiences that will enrich their teaching. Tisdal applied to spend the summer traveling the country to attend various art workshops. To her astonishment, she was among the 120 inaugural recipients. 

That summer, she took a pottery class at the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, a week-long floor loom workshop in New Harmony, a watercolor class in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a collage workshop in Michigan. By the end of the summer, she was brimming with ideas to enrich her classroom teaching and had a collection of her own work for visual aids. 

“I will never forget that,” she said. “It was just fabulous.”  

She won the Fellowship again in 2007 to study plein air painting. This time, she focused on her passions — watercolor and pastel — and crossed a couple stops off her bucket list: The Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles and Frank Lloyd Wright’s FallingWater.

Winning the Fellowship twice is a highlight in her career as an artist.

Outside the art classroom, Tisdal found a home in the Dubois County Art Guild. She joined in the 1990s at a time when she struggled to focus on her art. Her fellow Guild members gave her the support and push she needed. 

“You have to start making artwork so you can enter the spring art show,” she said.

Each year, the Guild fills a Jasper Community Arts Center gallery with members’ work. The show allows Guild members to showcase and sell their art. Tisdal sold three of the four pieces she entered in the 2023 show. 

“It’s always wonderful when you sell a work of art. It gives you a life and makes you want to go out and create more art.” 

The Art Guild buttressed Tisdal’s creative career outside the classroom through a community with other artists and opportunities for continued education. Once, the Guild hosted a workshop by Avon Waters, a well-known pastel and watercolor artist. Another time, the Guild hosted Jerry Baum, an Evansville-based watercolor artist. After that workshop, Tisdal and other guild members traveled to Evansville regularly to continue studying with Baum. 

The friendships and community Tisdal found in the Guild kept her making art after retiring from teaching in 2009, bolstering Tisdal’s connection to an integral part of herself. 

Now, as the Art Guild’s president, Tisdal seeks to give others the same support and community she’s found. 

“To have art in your life is like a breath of fresh air,” she said. “People just need that.”

LAVONNE

The Guild holds its meetings the first Thursday of each month at 6 p.m., after the Jasper Community Art Center’s First Thursday receptions. Many members attend those receptions together to meet the artists displayed in the Jasper Art Center galleries and to socialize. 

“It’s like people need that little outlet, being able to be around other artists and people who have that interest,” Tisdal said. 

She’s on a mission to find someone to play the art commission’s grand piano at the monthly receptions. She’s looking for anyone, but she’d especially like to allow students to practice their performing skills. 

“I don’t want that beautiful piano sitting there and no one using it,” she said. “I want that piano played.” 

Tisdal is proud of how the Art Guild has grown over the last few years and grateful for the new local art hub provided by the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center and the three galleries and many classrooms in the Jasper Community Arts wing.

“Having the right atmosphere matters,” she said. “It just motivates you. It makes you want to pick up your brush or pick up your pencil and start making art.” 

For anyone debating exploring fine arts, Tisdal’s advice is, “Go for it.” 

There are countless free classes on YouTube for any medium, Tisdal said, and many guild members have had success learning that way. Of course, she also encourages aspiring artists to check out the Dubois County Art Guild and the community it offers. 

“To have art in your life is like a breath of fresh air,” she said. “People just need that.”

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