Hunt is on for former student artists
Brian Smith used water colors to paint an iris. Kendra Abawi used Q-tips in her still-life of pussy willows. A student named Kinny, last name unknown, used chalk to sketch a Mardi Gras clown. Kinny also marked the year of origin: 1998.
“These brought so many smiles to so many faces,” said former Gardnerville Elementary School teacher Ken Dressler. “Hopefully, students will smile when they see their artwork again.”
Dressler, 61, has found himself enthralled in a small-town art mystery. On Oct. 31, he walked the halls of the Heritage Building at Gardnerville Elementary School, which his uncle, Herb Dressler, built in 1928.
“I did most of my teaching in this wonderful old building,” he said. “My uncle was still living across the street during many of the years I was here. That was pretty special for me. He loved calling me, jokingly telling me to stop by after school and pick up all the loose paper that had blown to his house – supposedly from our school.”
Now, years later, the classrooms are empty. The walls bare. Students have been moved into a new building funded by 2008’s continuation bond.
With a gleam of nostalgia in his eyes, Dressler sorted through 39 wood-framed pieces of student artwork, stacked on a narrow table after being removed from the walls. There were floras done in oil and watercolor. Collages of construction paper and sponge impressions. Some pieces, he pointed out, bore full names and their year of inception. Others were nameless, timeless.
“They are too special to just sit in a box in storage,” Dressler said. “It’s now my hope that students will see this article and wish to have their masterpiece back as a wonderful memory of their years at GES and in Mr. D’s class.”
Dressler is urging anyone with information on students’ whereabouts, or anyone with interest in displaying the collection, to contact the front office of GES at 782-5117. A teacher on-site is keeping the work safe until a new home is found.
“I look forward to hearing from students, or friends and family members who might be able to get the pieces to them,” he said. “Any unclaimed pieces hopefully will be displayed somewhere in our Valley.”
Dressler graduated from Douglas County High School in 1969. In 1973, the same year he graduated from UNR, he went to work at the elementary school his uncle had built decades before. He taught third-, fourth- and fifth-grade. Besides a one-year stint in Spain teaching students at a U.S. Air Force base, he spent his entire 30-year career at GES, retiring in 2003.
“I found out earlier in my career that kids love art,” he said. “So I tried to always weave it into the curriculum. One of my colleagues, Mr. Zabelsky, who is still teaching, used to kid me by saying, ‘A day without art is like a day without sunshine.'”
In the early 1990s, Dressler began selecting four art projects a year to display in the Heritage Building. The community pitched in, too. The GES parent-teacher organization donated money for matting and framing, and Barry Jobe of Lone Tree Gallery in Minden discounted his services for the ongoing project.
“We had nothing on the walls and at the same time this wonderful talent,” Dressler said. “It was a nice opportunity to brighten the space.”
Year after year, the walls brightened. The collection grew as students themselves grew, graduated and left town.
“So many people have been able to enjoy this spectacular show,” Dressler said. “Now, it’s time to move on.”