Lakewood Arts Co-op Member and Education Manager Sheila Bobay McFather took time to answer my questions for this in-depth Artist in the Spotlight feature.
How did you get started in creating art?
When I was four, my grandmother taught me how to draw a simple cube - two overlapping squares with four lines to connect the corners. It was fun and easy! I’ve been hooked on art ever since then. My mother supported my interest by providing art supplies and encouragement. Being raised as an only child and having to move frequently with my family during my elementary years made it easy to focus on drawing and painting. In fifth grade I won First Place for a painting my mother entered in an art exhibit at the White Sands National Monument (near Monahans, Texas). Receiving that award influenced me a lot, and as a result I worked harder, and my skills and love of art continued to grow.
I was the artist and photographer for the yearbook all through high school in Canadian, Texas. The mascot I created for the yearbook when I was a senior, Willie the Wildcat, is still thriving. Canadian celebrated his “50th Anniversary” in 2015, and, as spokesman for the schools and the community, Willie Wildcat has his own website, t-shirts, mascot at the football games, etc.
I was self-taught until I went to college at West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas, where I majored in Art Education. Coincidentally, this is also where one of my favorite artists, Georgia O’Keefe, had her first teaching assignment!
Since college, I have taught private art lessons to individuals or small groups, organized and taught classes for a K-12 summer art program at a university, served as art teacher for six years at a private residential treatment center, and taught art in public schools in Arkansas, Texas and Colorado. Several of my students have won state and national recognition in art competitions.
Since retiring from teaching in June 2015, I have volunteered to mentor disabled adults at a local senior community center, and currently volunteer once weekly to teach art to developmentally disabled young adults who attend a local day center.
As Education Manager at the Lakewood Arts Co-op Gallery, I am currently asking for other artists to volunteer to help with our community outreach programs. The latest request is for artist(s) to provide art demonstrations and/or simple art activities at a local senior care facility.
What is your favorite medium and why?
I love to work with water-based media, to include watercolor, watercolor pencils, gouache, ink and acrylic, along with the many different mediums available to use for particular artistic effects.
I find that water media is easier to set up and clean up, healthier and more environmentally friendly, easily portable for fieldwork, constantly evolving, and infinitely versatile!
I have recently learned to enjoy working with encaustics by attending a class at the Lakewood Arts Gallery, taught by Camille Scott, and glass mosaics by attending Lynnette Kupferer’s class. I have also enjoyed teaching an acrylics class at Lakewood Arts, and have an 8 week drawing class beginning September 13th.
I continue to use oils, pastels, and various drawing mediums. I use paper mache for the assembled cats I’m in the process of creating, but I haven’t yet displayed them at the gallery. I’ll try anything new.
What are your favorite subjects?
My favorite subjects are landscapes, (trees in particular), animals (cats in particular), figures, portraits and imaginary scenes. I do flowers occasionally and still lifes rarely. I find that creating a “successful” abstract is the most challenging task of all, so I continue to work on growing in this area.
"Cleo Catra" for the Cat Care Society's Tails of the Painted Cats 2014 fundraiser.
Do I have a vision for my work? For a body of work that I would like to create?
I would start with a series of either cats or trees in producing bodies of work in the future, but there are several other themes I would like to focus on, including atmospheric scenes, abstracts, imaginary scenes, specific animals, and more.
How did you find out about Lakewood Arts Council and Co-op?
When I moved from Englewood to Lakewood in 2000, I asked some of my art friends at the Art Depot in Littleton about organizations in Lakewood. I became a member of Mountainside Artists Guild, later Lakewood Arts Council, and more recently 40 West Arts. I used to be a member of Colorado Watercolor Society, but let that membership slide after going back into teaching in 1999.
What do you find most enjoyable or beneficial about being a member?
I love the camaraderie and support that the artists in this group share with each other. I am continuously inspired by the talent, quality and diversity of artwork in the LAC Co-op and surrounding art galleries.
There are many opportunities for artists to promote and exhibit their work, teach art, take art classes, or reach out to the community by volunteering to help promote the arts. The recent growth and development of this area as a new cultural and arts district is incredible.
What’s next on the horizon?
First priority now that I’m retired is to build up my personal inventory of art. As a fulltime art and special ed teacher, I seldom had an opportunity to do much serious artwork, so I am in the process of getting organized and set up at home to be more productive as an artist.
I will also be involved as a member of local art organizations, and volunteering in different capacities to help others enjoy art.
Has your work changed over the years?
I have always enjoyed the detail and draftsmanship required to create realistic art. I like precision and structure. Most of my older work reflects that.
Although I will never give up painting realistically with all my picky little details, which I find very therapeutic, I am currently in the process of trying to paint using a more spontaneous, loose and painterly approach. I would also like to do some work in which I explore using abstraction and impressionism as a form of artistic expression.
Which artists from the past or living do you admire most?
My top three favorite artists from the past are Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, and Leonardo da Vinci. I have seen exhibits of the first two artists’ work, and it is even more incredible hanging on a wall!
Artists I have learned from in the past that were especially influential are Ben Konis, Stephan Kramer, Dalhart Windberg, Danny Gamble, Al Brouilette, Emilio Caballero, Claudia Nice, and Carole Barnes, to name a few.
Describe the volunteer work you do. How can others help you with this endeavor?
I am currently the Education Manager at Lakewood Arts Council Co-op Gallery. I am also on the Kids and Family Committee at 40 West Arts. Another artist, Kristi Czajkowski, and I currently volunteer once a week to teach art classes to young adults who attend a local day center for developmentally disabled young adults, ages 21-32.
Currently, I am recruiting other artists to volunteer to help us out at this day center, and/or volunteer for a new opportunity that has just opened up at a local care center in Lakewood. I can say from personal experience that volunteering and helping others enjoy art is a very rewarding experience. I encourage other artists to give back by volunteering any amount of time you can spare to help with our community outreach programs.
Anyone who is able to volunteer some time to help with outreach art programs, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call or text me at 303-462-3738, or call Lakewood Arts at 303-980-0625 and leave your information so that I can call you back. Your generosity will be most appreciated by so many!