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Spotlight Iowa City: Visiting professor mixes play and education

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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In the basement of North Hall among wet paintbrushes and pastel paints, Clara Baldus sits on a yoga ball in her office.

The visiting assistant professor at the University of Iowa, who is organizing the art-education program in the College of Education, said she hasn't used a chair for her desk since 2004.

"Part of the reason is I don't feel like chairs allow you to have balance; it's too much support," said Baldus with a smile. "I've only fallen off my ball once."

She has an extensive background in art education, and she has taught students ages kindergarten through graduate school for around 35 years.

When a position opened in the art education program, Baldus jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Not only is she coordinating the program, she also teaches two courses for UI students.

"As far as this department goes, it's still growing, still developing," Baldus said. "I see this program as very much thriving, and I think we provide a great education for students."

Peter Hlebowitsh, the department head of the Teaching and Learning Department in the education school, said Baldus has been an asset to the program since she began in the fall.

"Entering into a program area eviscerated by faculty losses, Professor Baldus has ably kept the program area in art education operational," he said. "She has helped me to rethink its design as it aims to grow into the future."

Aside from teaching, Baldus also creates her own two-dimensional work using mixed media.

She always carries a sketchbook around with her because she said for her it's a form of communication.

"I look for inspiration in the things that are positive, and I think too often we tend to dwell on the less pleasing aspects of life," Baldus said. "I try to switch my perspective, and art helps me do that."

She said whenever she gets the chance, she tries to draw with children because she is fascinated at their process of creating art.

When she gives advice to her students who want to go into the field of art education, she said it's important for them to have a passion in what they do.

"Teachers who are passionate about the content area are the ones who are going to make a difference in their students' lives," she said. "[The students] sitting in front of me is the greatest potential I'll ever know, and the cool thing is you never know where those students are going to end up."

The Iowa native has students who became Emmy Award-winning animators, ceramicists in Chicago, doctors, and even art professors at Big Ten universities.

"After 35 years of teaching, I think there are a couple kids I've made a difference for and teachers hope for that," Baldus said. "My hope is I can have a positive impact on people who want to go in the teaching profession, and as one of my professors used to say, 'I hope to not misguide them too much.' "

She has also headed the Belin-Blank Center's arts program for 12 years.

Colleague Nick Colangelo said in the program, she helps to identify exceptional students both in art and creative writing.

"She is artistic herself and has an easy affinity for students and adults who are artists — it is her world," Colangelo said. "I have learned a lot about art and artistic people from her. Most art-types are not competent administrators, but she is."


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