I heard of Marlene through Arden and her mom. They spoke very highly of Marlene and I was hoping she would want to participate in this project. It turns out that she did and Marlene invited me to her studio. I went over during Arden's class and observed for about an hour. It was such a privilege to be there! Marlene has a very calming presence and I can imagine her influence stays with her students for their entire lives. In addition to teaching these children, she founded the arts program at St. Charles Hospital here in Bend, manages the Arts in Care Gallery, and gives talks for the National Association for Arts in Health. If you'd like to see some of her work you should make your way to the Oxford Hotel during the month of June.
Who are you?
Hi there. I am Marlene Alexander. I am a children's art teacher, painter, musician, and anything else I want to be.
Where do you come from? What brought you here?
I'm from Missouruh (Missouri) and my husband was actually born in Astoria, Oregon, but came back to Missouruh. His father was on a Navy ship in Astoria and then they came back to Missouruh where I met him in high school, actually. Then he ran track for the University of Missouruh and then joined the Navy after that and became a pilot. And he was a Navy pilot in Vietnam. I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design. Then I became a stewardess for United Airlines. And he was on R&R in Hong Kong and called and said, "Hey, can we get together?" I hadn't seen him for a year. And we got together. And six months later, we were engaged. And he decided he wanted to come back to Oregon, where he was born, and I'd flown in and out of Portland quite a bit, and he wanted to go back and get his Master's in Journalism at the University of Oregon. We landed in Bend in 1970/71 for a job at the Bulletin. Because Bob Chandler found him at the U of O in the journalism school and liked him and here we are, still in Bend.
How do you contribute to the community?
My huge passion is my children's art school, which I call Creative Arts. I started the school in 1976. I had been a member of the Art in Public Places, so while we were meeting (this is the group that does the sculptures in the roundabouts) several of them said, "Why don't you start those classes you want to start?" And I said, "I think I will." And I did, right here in this room. I just, as an artist with a love for young people and wanting to make strong creative citizens for the future, thought, I'm going to start my classes. And it's just been great. I haven't advertised. Most of the kids stay with me until they're too old to come back. And here I am, still doing it. And I love every minute of it. I get a card every year when I start in the fall from my husband that says, "You've never lost your passion yet for those children." And I haven't. One of the beautiful things is that usually I have every year one or two of my former students that come back to be my assistants. They know how I think, how I feel, and they just pitch right in because they've been here as a student. I not only have my students directly here in class, but I stay in touch with them and they stay in touch with me. And we've just clicked forever, most all of them. And I hear from most all of them all the time.
So the kids come back and they help me and I hear from 'em. And I hear from their parents. I do art history with the students as well and so many of them travel with their parents and the parents always tell me that they'll know a Gauguin, they'll know a Van Gogh, they'll know the title of it, and the parents will say, "Tell me! Teach me!"
I've never ever, that I can remember, been too tired to come into my studio and work with the kids. They just lift me up immediately. If I was tired, I'm not tired when the kids get here. It just goes away. I feel real fortunate. I feel blessed to love what I do.
The closeness of this is really rare and every one has thanked me for this creative background. It doesn't matter what field they go into. Several of them are doctors now. A couple of them are lawyers. Some of them are artists. It doesn't matter to me what field they're going to go into because what I work on are developing early on their senses and their creativity and their out-of-the-box self, sometimes to move forward with some creative thoughts. No matter what the field is, you still need some creativity. I think I've given it to most of 'em and they all appreciate it and know it. It warms my heart to know that I've made a difference. Making a difference with the kids that are your future. It's sad that I won't probably be around to see every single one of them, what they do. That's hard to think about sometimes, but I know they'll do well.
What do you wish for the future?
I don't have any desire to retire from teaching. I love it. I used to teach watercolor at the college for the community ed. I've given a lot of talks up there. I'm just not interested in retiring. I'm interested in staying creative. I want to keep painting forever and keep showing my artwork. And stay active. Stay active with my family, with my grandkids, and the other kids that I know. I just have no desire to stop everything. It just means so much to me to do this.
Another passion is my arts in healing, which is to me, all the same. Everything I have passion for and am compassionate for are all the arts, which are all, to me, the healing arts. Whether it's good or bad, the art touches somebody. That's important to me. My paintings, I hope, touch somebody. Whether it's negative or positive, they've talked about 'em or they've looked at 'em. I like that. I like being productive with the arts. And sharing it, I guess.
I don't see anything changing much in my future. I still like to cross country ski and bike and I shoot competitive pool. I play music, you know, I play my bass. I've just got a lot of activities. I feel fortunate to have them all. I can't imagine not having those.
I know what works with these kids. And I know how important it is to me and to them to get to know each one individually. I don't look at it as just a class. I really know each one in here. And that's important because I can tell when one's having a hard day or one's really happy and I get really sensitive to that.