The Fine Art of Teaching
Bara Arens caps her opus on Oak Island
Artist and illustrator Bara Arens understands that teaching is a two-way street. Bara taught visual merchandising and applied visual arts at DCTC for 33 years. Her memories from that time center on her students. She taught them the art of art and they in turn helped shape her own artistic vision.
After retiring in 2004, Bara set about rekindling her own creative career. Inspired by her heritage—her grandmother was Lakota—and the mystical integrity of the Native American people, she recently completed the first edition of a children’s book series called Crossing Crow Creek.
In the early 1970s, Bara redirected her creative gift to teach art and design at the collegiate level. She started her career at DCTC before the college had a main building. In fact, she was the 13th person hired by the college and taught her first classes in a vacant U.S. Army barracks.
“I toured the main building during construction riding on a bulldozer and wearing a hardhat,” said Bara, who found her way as an instructor by blending her natural love for teaching with a huge store of industry experience. “The first years were very intense,” she added. “We developed our programs from zero.”
Bara recalled that her classrooms were filled with students from various places who brought distinct often contrasting artistic backgrounds. “They all had such different talents and skills,” she said. “That diversity gave everyone a chance to share knowledge and experiences. They learned from me. I learned from them. And they all learned from each other.”
One of the pivotal rewards of enrolling in the Applied Visual Arts program at DCTC is the chance to build relationships with fellow artists. Competition and camaraderie are integral to any shared creative setting. New students—whether homeschooled, high-schooled, college-educated or already working professionally—discover they are suddenly in the company of exceptional artists with abilities that challenge their perceptions of art, including their own artwork.
“The advantage is that individual artists band together to push the limits of the creative mind,” Bara said. “In my classroom, we weren’t just thinking outside the box. We were thinking out into the universe.”
Once retirement entered the picture, Crossing Crow Creek emerged as Bara’s tour de force, the work of art she had been safeguarding in her dreams for more than three decades. Written and illustrated by Bara, the children’s book series tells the stories of American Indian and American pioneer children playing and learning together in the Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods. The series began when Bara discovered six Native American child figurines that inspired her to explore her deep connection to an indigenous community Canadians call First Nation.
“The children’s books show my vision of a past that brings pioneers and Native Americans together in a spirit of sharing and understanding,” Bara said.
Crossing Crow Creek *
- Book 1 Drum Keeper
- Book 2 Doll Maker
- Book 3 Music Maker
- Book 4 Brave Hunter
- Book 5 Animal Whisperer
- Book 6 Wild Flower
* 2nd Edition in the works; all proceeds directed to the Bara Arens Endowment
Bara is more than familiar with the Northwest Angle. During the summer months, she and her husband David, a commercial fishing guide, reside on Oak Island in Lake of the Woods. The couple built a home on the island, which also hosts Bara’s workshop and gallery, Paw Path Studio. They divide their time between Oak Island, a home on Orchard Lake in Lakeville, Minn., and a residence shared with Bara’s daughter near Dallas, Texas.
In the preface to her six-book series, Bara writes: “The stories emphasize the spiritual lessons that the children came to learn by interacting with each other. It was a happy time for them, when the pleasures of life went hand in hand with the hard chores of survival.”
In certain ways, that interaction symbolizes Bara’s teaching legacy at DCTC. Lessons were shared—and it was a happy time. “I’ve learned everything I know from my students,” Bara said. “And through my children’s books, I’ve found a way to continue teaching.”
“The advantage is that individual artists band together to push the limits of the creative mind. In my classroom, we weren’t just thinking outside the box. We were thinking out into the universe.”
“The children’s books show my vision of a past that brings pioneers and Native Americans together in a spirit of sharing and understanding.”