Editor’s Note: Nancy Olson, who taught English at Brattleboro Union High School for over three decades, was a colleague of Gary Blomgren’s.
BRATTLEBORO—This time of year, many high school seniors are not only thinking about college, but also about how to pay for it. As a result, they often seek information about scholarships.
For Brattleboro Union High School students, the Blomgren Scholarship, established in memory of Gary Blomgren, former BUHS art department head, is one such opportunity. The award is meant to support a student’s dream of being an artist.
The Blomgren family wanted the scholarship to reflect “Gary’s qualities: his artistic vision, his work with the community, and his kindness,” said his widow, Patty Blomgren, in a recent interview.
Learning how Blomgren lived his values might inspire future scholarship applicants.
His artistic vision
Blomgren’s artistic vision emerged at an early age; he “always wanted to be an artist,” Patty said.
“He found art in every aspect of life,” she continued. “He taught people to see the world, actually see it, rather than mindlessly walking through it.”
She told of one time at a school budget discussion, there was talk of cutting some of the arts funding. Blomgren stood up to speak.
“He said, ‘Look around you: the architecture of the building we’re in, the clothes you’re wearing, the way your hair is styled, the color of the walls, your cars. Art is in everything we do. It’s one of the most important aspects of our lives, and we take it for granted.’”
She paused for a moment, then added, “The funding wasn’t cut.”
When the Blomgrens first moved to the area from Illinois, Patty said, it was fall and the maple trees were at their peak color. Dazzled, Blomgren asked his students one morning if they had noticed the leaves.
“‘It happens every year,’ they told him, so that day he took them outside and gave them a lesson in how to see more deeply,” Patty Blomgren said.
The natural world was not his only inspiration.
“I loved going to museums with him,” she said. “No matter how many times he had looked at a painting, he was so in awe. He especially liked the Renaissance masters.”
His community outreach
Using every avenue he could imagine, Blomgren connected art and the community. Always an advocate for students’ creativity, he looked for ways to bring students’ work to a larger audience, Patty Blomgren said.
For example, he helped to establish the local Student Arts Month (March), which is presented annually under the aegis of the Arts Council of Windham County; he developed a program in which his students painted murals for the community; and he helped bring the Governor’s Institutes to the southeastern part of the state.
Under his leadership, the art department increased opportunities for student artists to be recognized within the school and beyond.
Blomgren’s efforts to deepen everyone’s cultural and artistic awareness extended world-wide. He co-led numerous student trips to Italy and to China. About 10 years ago, at the request of the BUHS administration, Blomgren built the school’s television broadcasting studio, co-designed the curriculum for the television course, and co-taught the course, starting in 2007.
The daily BUHS broadcasts, also available on the Internet, gave the families of BUHS exchange students the opportunity to see and hear their children read the daily announcements.
Neal Noble, BUHS ’86, said that Blomgren was both an educator and a friend who had a visual excitement about the world that he shared with students, artist-to-artist.
Liz deNiord, who joined the BUHS art department in 1996 and currently serves as its department head, remembered how Blomgren gave of himself to everyone.
“He treated his department like family,” deNiord said. “He was individual in his care-giving. Every person felt that. Everybody thought he was their friend. He was always doing for others. We shared a classroom once. He kept a supply of granola bars for hungry students. He could make you laugh when you didn’t want to.”
Blomgren extended the same generous acceptance to every person.
“He could find something good in everyone,” Patty Blomgren said. “His room at BUHS was always open. It was a safe place. He could find some common ground even with difficult students. How many did he help to graduate who might not have otherwise?”