Ashton Saunders grew up in Gallipolis, and graduated from Gallia Academy High School in 2008. In 2013, she completed a BS in Art Education and a BFA in Visual Arts from Rio.
What made you choose Rio? I liked the close-knit community of Rio. In our Art department, we were a family. Some of my best friendships were formed through that department. You don’t get that just anywhere! I truly felt as though my professors cared and looked out for me.
What was your best professional experience at Rio (exhibition, recital, performance, presentation, project, etc.)? My BFA senior exhibition with Kia (Wright) Weber was a great experience at Rio because it was the culmination of everything I had worked for during my time in college. It really showcased who I am as an artist and brought everything full circle. I was also nominated for the AICUO (Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio) Excellence in Visual Art Award alongside Kia, and we got to attend a reception for it, and speak on a panel. It made it even more awesome that I got to experience all of that with my best friend!
What was your favorite course at Rio…and why? Oh gosh, it’s hard to narrow down to one! I loved all of my studio art courses. Printmaking, sculpture, and darkroom photography were three I enjoyed most. In all three I learned new processes in art that have come to be some of my favorites. Printmaking is something I knew very little about coming into college, but turned out to be something I love and incorporate into my own art classes today. My students love printmaking!
What do you miss most about Rio? I miss the community in the art department the most. You could show up at noon to the Art Annex for “lunch bunch” and have a mini-potluck everyday. That’s just the kind of department it is.
What advice would you give current students at Rio? Don’t be afraid to try something new! You never know what might spark a lifelong passion for you. I don’t think I would have found a career I felt this passionate about if it wasn’t for my experience at Rio. Also, keep portfolios and documentation of everything you do. In Ceramics I, Kevin told us to keep all of our notes to show what we had done in class, because you never know what employers might be looking for. Guess what? He was right! I walked into my interview for my current job (as an art teacher) with a stack of beat up notebooks from my studio classes, portfolios, and a binder with documentation of exhibitions I had participated in. It showed that I had experience, which helped me get my job. Lastly, just enjoy the experience! I got a lot of opportunities to travel, attend conferences, and participate in things I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Where do you work now? What’s your job title? I work as an elementary art teacher for the Gallipolis City School District
What was your first “big break”? In college, I worked a lot with a mentor, Lolita Casto-Mullen, a local art teacher. I always made sure to be professional and show my love of teaching art. That work paid off, because it lead to being contacted by the school district to interview for the job I have now.
What are some of your greatest or most recent professional achievements? The fact that I’m able to instill a love of art in my students everyday is honestly the biggest achievement for me. Seeing their faces light up when they come to art shows and show their parents what they’ve created is priceless.
What kinds of art, music, writing, research or academic work are you doing now? Currently, I’m working on writing a curriculum for adaptive art (specialized art for students with exceptional needs and abilities) in my school district. I’m also working with our music teacher to create an Appalachian Festival in our schools that highlights the art, music, literature, and culture of Appalachia. In my own artwork, I’m working on some small printmaking and ceramic projects.
What’s next in your career? I’d love to be certified in art therapy, so that I can better reach my students. I’d also like to work to get the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) movement established in our schools.
If you couldn’t have your current career, what would you do for a living? I would probably be doing work in art therapy – anything where I can use art to reach out to people.
Do you have a website? I don’t have a website, but I do have an Instagram page (miss_saunders_art) where I showcase my students’ work and parents (and anyone else) can see what we are working on in art class.
If you could spend the day with any fine artist, living or dead, who would it be? Kiki Smith
What is your favorite book: Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Favorite artist: Kiki Smith and Lousie Bourgeois
Favorite musician: Stevie Nicks, Iron and Wine, Lori McKenna, Carole King, James Taylor, …I have so many!
Favorite movie: Garden State or Away We Go
Favorite food: Indian
Favorite quote: “I’ll be back in five minutes.” —Jim Allen
If you could move anywhere, where would you go? Somewhere closer to the coast, preferably where it’s warm!
Do you live with a spouse, children, roommates or pets? I’m a cat lady – I have four!
What’s the one thing that most people don’t know about you? I name most of my houseplants.