Artist, retired teacher Rusty Newton plans to open camp for young artists

Friday, January 15, 2010
Rusty Newton works on a clay sculpture of her mother in her studio. (Fred Lynch)

Rusty Newton's new adventures with her former art students and the loss of a loved one have spurred her to rethink retirement and reinvent her art career.

Newton retired in 2006 from a prestigious fine and performing arts high school in Kansas City, Mo., and came home to her family's farm in Southeast Missouri. A veteran art teacher and self-described eternal optimist, Newton said she has a vision of what she can do for arts education now that she is back home.

Newton and her husband David hope to open a camp for art students at their farm, where they have a lakeside home, a historic cabin and a three-story barn tucked away in the wooded hills of Bollinger County. Newton said she wants her farm to become a place where artists and students can come to work.

"I would love to invite students out here where they could relax and [I could] bring in some phenomenal teachers," Newton said.

Newton said she wants area high school and college students to concentrate on art, and she has had offers from professional artist friends to visit and teach. She has converted her barn into a studio where students could practice sculpting and painting. Newton said she would like to run the camp either daily or give visitors the option to stay in her cabin. She said she is also considering offering a teacher's workshop.

Rusty Newton's sculpture of a poultry chef is on display in her kitchen. (Fred Lynch)

Newton's ties to the area as a teacher go back to the late 1960s. After college, she married and had two children. She worked as an adviser for the Otahki Girl Scouts and later took a position as an art teacher at Central High School. She left her job there after six and a half years and moved to California briefly following a divorce. She returned to Cape Girardeau in 1971, remarried and later opened her own art school, Studio Art Centre. In 1986, Newton began teaching at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Kansas City when her husband's employer transferred the couple to the area.

Newton said she found a passion for working with inner-city teenagers while teaching sculpture at the Paseo Academy. She said she saw them grow from being insecure teens to students who excelled in art to the point where they were offered scholarships from Ivy League schools. Newton said her time at the school allowed her a chance to develop lasting relationships.

However, Newton said she worked long hours and eventually saw a change in her students' attitudes. They got lazy, she said.

"If I had the answer to why this happened, I never would have stopped teaching," Newton said. "I was so used to the kids who lived for the opportunity to develop their talent.

"The greatest gift I ever had in teaching was being able to see the greatness in my students that they didn't know was there, and then actually seeing that come out, and take hold, get them to their dream."

Newton receives letters and calls often from her former students. Several have taken sabbaticals in the 170-year-old restored cabin on her farm. Their visits, and the death of her brother, have inspired her to open the door to teaching again.

Newton had a close relationship with her brother, Dr. Ed Masters, who was well-known in Southeast Missouri for his practice and expertise in treating Lymes disease. When Masters died in June, Newton lost her hero.

"He was my cheerleader, my inspiration," she said. "When he died, it was a big shock to me. I had a really tough time, and still do."

Newton found solace after she went to visit her daughter in Little Rock, Ark., and started painting with her.

"We started painting Santa Clauses," Newton said. "It was incredible. I was a painting fool. I was like, this is it. I always thought I would return to sculpting. But here I was, and it filled me with such joy. I got to where I was in a much better place with my grief."

Newton said it occurred to her in the midst of her sadness over her brother's death that she couldn't really be retired. Every day she had was one he didn't, she said.

"I feel this need to do something that not only am I good at, but where I can make a difference," Newton said.

Newton plans to sell her paintings to help fund the camp.

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