Profile of an Artist
Profile of an Artist
by Timothy B. Rien
Art flourishes at Valley Montessori School in Livermore. At a time when budgetary constraints have public schools redlining the sculpture, collage and painting from their curriculum, Kate Zeleznock Malson, an artist known for the masterful telling of personal life stories in acrylic on canvas, is quietly demonstrating basic principles of shape, line and form, value, texture and color to combination classes of children—first through eighth grades—at the state-of-the-art Montessori school on the hill.
Kate’s personal story is as colorful as her paintings. A native of York, Pennsylvania, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Art in Oakland, and a Masters of Education degree from the University of Vermont in art instruction and curriculum. But this is only the patina. The depth of creativity behind her own work—which she commissions professionally five to six times a year—and the craft she so lovingly shares with the children at VMS, is the product of a genuine world view.
Her father, now an oral surgeon, had been a talented third base prospect with the St. Louis Cardinals when he joined the military. While serving in Viet Nam, and on R&R in Bangkok, Thailand, he met her mother, an airline hostess and artist. International travel became a family way of life, and young Kate was raised in a vibrant and eclectic home amid a dazzling montage of artifacts, exotic furniture and art gathered from all over the world. And unlike other neighborhood children who, at the time, might have been selling lemonade, Kate imagined herself a mahout, her head wrapped in a towel, walking among painted Indian elephants draped in jeweled and gilded nettipattam.
The spark of Kate’s enthusiasm for art came one day in second grade. It was a teacher, Mrs. Funk, who sat down to look over one of her paintings. She was a kindly, sensitive woman with gray hair piled in a bun, “what mother nature would look like,” Kate recalls.
“You have something special,” Mrs. Funk said with genuine interest. This simple, loving encouragement ignited Kate’s creative life; and it this gift of encouragement that she works every day to pass on to each of the students she mentors.
From her early years at Linden Hall, a private, all-girls Moravian school, Kate practiced the discipline of a true artist. While other students socialized, Kate would slip off in every free moment to the art studio in the campus tower to paint, sometimes in the middle of the night by a camping lantern. Along with discipline, she says, “Art is science. There are rules.”
She imparts the principles of unity, balance, proportion and movement with kindness and patience to young, expanding minds who, she knows, will one day test these rules, and define a place for themselves in a creative world. “But their foundations will be strong,” she emphasizes, “and they will have a wellspring to draw from.”
Teaching art at Valley Montessori School is not just a love, it is a calling. From her post-graduate days at the University of Vermont where her thesis work focused on the therapeutic value of art in the life of autistic children, Kate has been drawn to the Montessori philosophy of education. “It is fundamentally about encouraging the strengths that lie untapped in every young child. Full potential in science, math and the arts comes from encouraging the innate curiosity and energy of a child hungry to learn.”
And Kate is passionate about art history. “Art is history itself,” she explains. Every painting, every sculpture, every artifact of a past civilization reflects our humanity, what and how people were experiencing the world at the time. She points to her own drawings and paintings accumulated over the years, each one of which reminds her of precisely how she was feeling and what she was thinking at that moment in her life. “A written and oral history alone lacks dimension without the art that reflects and preserves these very human aspects of our being,” she says. Consequently, cutting back or eliminating school art programs impoverishes our common cultural, religious and life-style history.At Valley Montessori School, history is in the making, and it will be on display Thursday and Friday, May 5th and 6th, 9 to 5, at the campus located at 1273 North Livermore Avenue. This art festival—open to the public—will showcase the work of Kate Zeleznock Malson’s 250 students.
By Timothy B. Rien