Professor Kristin Vilbig Erickson is one teacher who is eager and ready to start the school year. Erickson stepped into the art chair position at Grayson College last year after long-time professor Steve O. Black retired.

“I am most excited to get students involved with the arts in the community through events and service activities,” Erickson said. “Art has the potential to connect us as a community and build positive relationships, and I love seeing that in action. I am very excited to start working on the puppets and other elements for the Dia de Muertos parade. It is going to be a great event!”

Erickson recognizes how her predecessor influenced the art program at the school and how she wants to continue the legacy he established.

“Steve Black has developed an amazing program here at Grayson, focusing on community involvement and student success which I plan to do my very best to continue,” Erickson explained. “We will be working to get even more art around campus and eventually around our community as well.”

Erickson, a lover of teaching, said being part of a students growth is monumental.

“I love that I get to be a part of a student’s realization of their potential, and that their potential is far beyond what they ever imagined,” she said. “Challenging students to be their best, and then watching them rise to that challenge gives me goosebumps.”

Erickson added she prefers her students call her Kristin.

“For me, art is a way to record my existence and connect me to others,” Erickson said. “Also, I get rather anxious if I’m not making something. I feel that art reminds us of our humanity; that we should strive for beauty, truth and understanding. Daily life, struggles, and routines deaden our senses. Art can be a breath of fresh air allowing us to see the world anew and appreciate how truly awesome it all is. Art also connects us to our past; helping us to better understand who we are which allows us to then actively decide where we should go.”

One of her earliest memories of liking art was when she received an art box from her parents for Christmas when she was younger.

“They filled a box with art supplies and I had free reign … it was a mess,” she said. “And I loved it! Both of my grandmothers also fostered my interest in the arts. From an early age, I remember being amazed by my grandmother’s ability to draw, and my other grandma would give me prints of fine art paintings on stationary, they were so beautiful that I never wanted to write on them.”

The study of art appreciation is important for students of other disciplines.

“I actually just had a student mention that after taking this course, they noticed the art in the halls and rooms of the hospital they were frequenting for treatment,” she said. “They found themselves gazing at the work in a different way and found a sense of calm and peace thanks to the artwork. This student felt the art was more than just a way to fill a blank space on a wall and was a part of the treatment. Art is food for the soul. Art helps us to connect with other people, across time and cultures. It can break down barriers and help us to heal.”

Many teachers talk about the value of the creative process in problem solving in any art program. The challenges of any art project help improve the thinking process in order to arrive at successful solutions.

“Artists are taught to think of multiple possibilities to solve a problem, evaluate the merits and weaknesses of each possibility before producing a final work,” Erickson said. “There is not a sense of succeed or fail, but rather, give it a shot and do it better next time. This working procedure, when applied to other areas, gives a sense of fearlessness and keeps you open to unexpected potentials.”

The shows at the 2nd Floor Gallery are very important to community involvement for the art program at Grayson College. Except for the year-end student show, the gallery exhibits the art of all interested community artists as well as art students at Grayson College.

“The gallery shows on campus are incredibly important,” Erickson said. “People who make art — regardless of background — have an opportunity to exhibit their work, to share ideas, to instigate conversations and to get feedback on their work. The community has the opportunity to see what ideas, fears and realities other people in their community are working through. They also get to see art work in person, the way the artist saw it. So much is lost when a painting is reproduced in a book.”

Erickson’s collegiate background started in the field of architecture.

“Well, I had planned to pursue a career in architecture before I discovered clay and never looked back,” she said. “I did my undergrad at the University of Dallas. Then I worked in the Design District in Dallas for a few years before going to grad school at Fontbonne University in St. Louis. I have exhibited work in shows around the country.”

Erickson has been teaching for eight years and arrived on the Grayson College campus as a ceramics teacher.

“A fellow ceramic artist mentioned that Grayson was starting a Ceramics program, which sounded like a fantastic opportunity that should not be passed up,” she said.

While Erickson said she enjoys hand building and wheel throwing, wheel throwing is stressed in the ceramics program for several reasons.

“I like teaching throwing just because it is so foreign to most people,” she said. “It is neat to see how students work through the difficulty of learning something new … often their perseverance is simply inspiring.”

One of the events the Erickson especially enjoys is the “Throwing Olympics” exercise that the Ceramics 2 class does. They have a series of challenges throwing on the wheel that are not directed at producing a finished work. It is about the experience.

“It can be pretty hilarious with challenges ranging from the ‘wonkiest’ vase, to the smallest cup, a 3 minute teapot and a bowl throwing relay,” she said.

The very popular Empty Bowls Event will return this fall semester.

“Students will participate in Empty Bowls, which will be November 15th,” Erickson said. “From making the bowls to helping at the event, the students really come together to help those in need. Empty Bowls benefits Visions of Sugar Plums, a charity that provides children on meal assistance at school, meals when school is not in session, over the holidays and weekends.”

Erickson has advice for individuals who would like to pursue a career in art.

“Do it,” she said. “Draw constantly. Make work. Ask for critiques regularly. Exhibit your work. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.”

Erickson can be contacted at Grayson College is located at 6101 Grayson Dr. in Denison.