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Bayou Artist | Ginny Montgomery

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Artist
Feb 29th, 2024
0 Comments
2303 Views

article by STARLA GATSON
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK

Montgomery owns Clay & Canvas Art Studio,  located at 115 Cotton Street in West Monroe, where she teaches a variety of art classes to children and adults. Though Clay & Canvas is relatively new — the studio opened its doors in May 2023 — Montgomery’s journey as an art educator began years before she was doing it on her own terms. 

If you asked college-aged Ginny Montgomery how she’d use her Studio Art degree from Louisiana State University, she’d confidently tell you she was going to move to New York City and become a famous artist.

Living and working in the Big Apple didn’t happen. “I got a dose of reality after graduating,” she admits with a laugh — but regardless, Montgomery has built a meaningful career as an artist and art educator here in North Louisiana.

Montgomery owns Clay & Canvas Art Studio, located at 115 Cotton Street in West Monroe, where she teaches a variety of art classes to children and adults. Though Clay & Canvas is relatively new — the studio opened its doors in May 2023 — Montgomery’s journey as an art educator began years before she was doing it on her own terms.

After graduating college, Montgomery headed to Houston, hoping to begin living out her professional artist dreams. She got a job painting faux finishes and murals before realizing that alone wouldn’t be able to sustain her.

“I got a job as a wholesale rep for an art gallery in New Orleans,” Montgomery remembers, “But they relocated to a warehouse in Picayune, Mississippi. I went with them, and it was awful there.”

Montgomery gave up her wholesale rep gig, and, as many others do when they’re unsure of their next steps, decided to go back to school. She made her way back to Monroe, the city she called home from seventh grade to senior year of high school, and enrolled at the University of Louisiana Monroe to pursue a Master’s degree in special education. 

When her time as a Warhawk ended, Montgomery began teaching special education classes for the city. “I taught special ed for seven years, and I felt like I was a wonderful teacher,” she says. “I learned all the different methods of teaching kids with special needs at all different levels. I really went full-force into that for years and loved it.”

But one day, she received a phone call that would make her rethink and, ultimately, reroute her career path.

“The principal from Grace Episcopal School called me one day because their art teacher was retiring,” Montgomery tells BayouLife. “[The principal] had been my mentor when I was getting my special ed degree. She knew I was an artist and called to see if I’d be interested in teaching art at Grace. And I was. I started that next school year.”

Montgomery was comfortable in the classroom; she had her years of special education teaching experience to thank for that. But still, she says she was nervous about stepping into the art instructor role at Grace. Of course, she could make art. Not only did she study it in college and do it on the side of her teaching job, but she had grown up immersed in it. Her mother and grandmother were artists, and she was one of Monroe’s talented art students during her teenage years.

However, teaching art was a different beast, she explains.

“It’s one thing to do art, to create art, but I’d never taught anybody to do any of the stuff I was doing,” she says. “I wasn’t sure how to do that. But when I toured the school and saw the space, I knew I had to do it. I couldn’t turn it down.”

Eventually, her nerves subsided, and teaching art to Grace Episcopal’s Pre-K through eighth-grade students proved to be Montgomery’s dream job.

“I had a massive art room, pottery wheels, kiln, and everything any art teacher could ever want,” she recalls.

Unfortunately, Montgomery’s time at her dream job came to an end. She left the school, and, armed with the pottery wheels and kiln she purchased from it, began teaching classes out of her carport. She taught out of her home until the opportunity to move into a space, the one Clay & Canvas currently occupies, presented itself. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Montgomery says the response to Clay & Canvas has been wonderful, adding, “On the website, everybody that’s reviewed it has given it five stars. It’s all been good.” She’s also got a collection of glowing word-of-mouth reviews to back up the online ones.

“Just an hour ago, I had my homeschoolers class,” she says, “and I heard several of them say in conversation to each other, ‘This is the best art class I’ve ever been in,’ and ‘This art class is so much fun.’”

Statements like these make the work worthwhile, Montgomery says, as she loves knowing that there are others who find art just as enjoyable and meaningful as she does.

“I know how important art was to me growing up and still is,” she explains. “It’s a release and a way to cope. So, I love it when kids are able to enjoy it.”

She goes on to explain that, in her opinion, art is just as important for students as, say, math or English, as it helps them develop more skills and traits than they might realize.

“I think [art] is really good for problem-solving,” Montgomery says. “Every time you create art, you’re challenging yourself. You’re trying to do better than you did before. You’ve got to figure out what mediums work together. It’s a learning process, problem-solving.”

Plus, she says, art is a mental escape, letting you focus on something other than the stresses of everyday life. Ultimately, creating art is good for the mind, body, and soul, according to Montgomery. That’s why, when she’s not instructing art classes, you’ll find her working on her own art practice. While some artists find joy in painting landscapes or abstract pieces, portraits and figure studies are Montgomery’s forte. She finds people and their appearances compelling, and she has since she was a child.

“I remember being super young and flipping through magazines, finding a CoverGirl or Maybelline ad or whatever, and sketching the face into my sketchbook,” she recalls. “It’s so interesting. Every single face is different, and you can find something beautiful in every single face you look at. It’s a challenge; it’s never the same thing.”

Most of the faces Montgomery paints are for commissioned pieces. However, when she’s feeling creative, she pulls out the paintbrush and makes work depicting or inspired by the faces in her life. Currently, some of her pieces are for sale at The Trove, one of Monroe’s newest shops located on Tower Drive. You’ll also find her art at the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council’s Blend 2024: Back on the Bayou event in May and the next Downtown Gallery Crawl. She also plans to participate in the Empty Bowls Northeast Louisiana event in April.

Montgomery says she’s grateful to be a part of a community that’s so supportive of art and artists. While she tells BayouLife readers to expect more and new things from her in the near future — “I would love to extend the hours and increase the classes [at Clay & Canvas],” she states before adding that she plans to offer kids art camps and weekly art classes for adults and teens at the studio this summer — she also encourages them to keep an eye on the area art community as a whole.

“I’ve made so many new friends in the last year that are fellow artists that I wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have all these cool things happening,” she says. “It’s an exciting time for all of us, and I hope the momentum [the art community] has right now keeps up.”