AU grad Jennifer Winkler creates unique school art program in Smithville
“Thank you for allowing me to come into your awesome classroom. You should be so proud of the teacher you have become, evolving to meet the interests/needs of your students. I was so inspired.”
This is one of several notes hanging on the bulletin board in the classroom of the high school and middle school art teacher at Green Local Schools, Jennifer Winkler, a 2012 Ashland University graduate.
Surrounding the bulletin board of notes, photos and drawings are a variety of paintings, many by students, as well student-made jewelry and even a big stained-glass window created by students.
Among the art supplies you see in most art classrooms – paint brushes, clay and raised tables – are materials you rarely see in them – multiple potter’s wheels, a ceramic 3D printer and a plumber’s torch for glassblowing and glass-fusing.
Come January, Winkler said she will add something only a few schools in the country have – a mobile furnace for glass projects.
Most of it has been funded by student fundraisers or grants.
“I loved subbing for your class. I love your classroom and I’m beyond jealous that there are six wheels in here! I love that your kids get to have this experience!”
As this bulletin-board note from a substitute teacher shows, people are noticing Winkler and her art program beyond Green Local Schools in Smithville, Ohio.
“We’re kind of becoming known for having this unique, self-sufficient art program,” Winkler said.
Much of what Winkler has done in Smithville, she modeled after her experiences in AU’s art program. She double-degreed in fine art and art education.
“As a student, Jennifer was driven in her creative process which I still see today in her own studio practices as well as in her investment into teaching,” said Cynthia Petry, professional art instructor at AU. “Jennifer has the ability to bring the best out of her students by introducing them to new art media and technology.”
Winkler said she’s still friends with Petry and others in AU’s department of art and design, including associate professors Dan McDonald and Wendy Schaller.
“Just to have that experience and have that connection to professors that they are almost like family is a unique experience that I don’t think you get at a lot of colleges,” Winkler said.
McDonald said Winkler was so dedicated as an AU art student that “she would not hesitate to sleep down in the sculpture studio.”
“She had a cot she would bring in and she just worked constantly,” he said.
He has noticed that same dedication in her teaching, particularly in the art equipment she has been able to obtain at a school the size of Green Local Schools that AU doesn’t even have, such as a laser cutter and the materials needed for glass blowing.
Since starting at Green Local Schools in 2014, Winkler said she has tried to expose her students to as much art media as she can and hopes to connect with them like she did with several of her AU professors.
“I’m excited to see where this year takes us! Thanks for all you do! I’m excited for glass blowing and whatever else your brain cooks up!”
“I saw these wacky eyeball beads and they immediately made me think of you for some reason. I made them into a funky bracelet. Thanks for being such a fun, cool and chill art teacher.”
Junior Vea Baney and seniors Kayla Bumgardner and Maddie Brillhart echoed these couple of student notes on Winkler’s bulletin board during a recent art class.
“She really makes you want to come back to her classes,” Baney said.
“She’s very hands-on, which I like a lot,” Bumgardner said.
“She helps you become a better artist, but also lets you have your own ideas,” Brillhart said.
As much as she can, Winkler said she wants her students to take ownership of the art room, deciding what to make and sell at the school’s annual holiday and choosing what to buy for the room from that fundraiser.
Last year, the students decided they wanted to buy a ceramic 3D printer that prints stoneware clay to become one of only a few schools in Ohio to have one, Winkler said.
“The last day of the holiday shop, they were screaming and throwing their Santa hats in the air that they made their goal. It was a big day,” Winkler said with a big smile.
In January 2021, Winkler’s students began work on the big stained-glass window in the room. Then they teamed up with construction tech students to install the window. The project took a little more than a year to complete.
A number of students even spend time outside of school hours in the art club that Winkler advises.
“I want them to go to other kids and tell them our art program is insane – nobody is doing what we are doing,” Winkler said. “We are doing college-level or professional-level stuff as high schoolers.”
In addition to working at Coburn Gallery during her time at Ashland University, Winkler did some artwork for a local water park factory, helped at AU’s summer art camp and Art Saturdays for area youth and took over leadership of the university’s art club with another student as a sophomore. She said her instructors encouraged her to do all those things, which helped build her confidence and experience.
Like she has with her AU professors, Winkler still has contact with a number of her former students, several who are studying art in college.
You can see the special connections she makes with many students in their bulletin-board notes like this one from a Smithville High School graduate:
“You are one of the best teachers I EVER had. I am really going to miss you even though I will probably see you around.”