By David Knopf, News Editor
On Wednesday, Richmond art teacher Bea Hendrix introduced a ceramics project to a group of Dear Elementary kindergarteners. It may be 15 or 20 years before she’ll find out if one of the 5- and 6-year-olds was inspired the way former students Megan Crook and Ashley Harrison were.
Crook, now 27, is Hendrix’s daughter. In addition to being an artist who works with acrylics and ink and running a business to sell her work (www.bellotinto.com), she’s employed by a non-profit organization that helps museums, galleries and libraries with their art programs.
“I’ve never seen a teacher enjoy working with kids as much as she does,” Crook says of her mother.
Hendrix’s supportiveness and enthusiasm rubbed off on Crook and her childhood friend, Ashley Harrison. The pair met playing softball in second grade and have been friends ever since. Harrison, 26, is studying to become a veterinary technician, but still finds time to pursue arts and crafts projects, including her own Web business, Spirit of the Earth Designs. Her Southwestern-themed jewelry and eye-catching hand-stamped greeting cards are sold at www.etsy.com, a sales platform that specializes in original work.
Last Saturday, Crook and Harrison were vendors at Welcome Home, a fall festival in Hardin. They were there with Hendrix, their friend, mentor and fellow artist.
At the moment, Hendrix is focused on ceramics and making scented soaps. The soap comes in many varieties, including “Ranger” – a scent marketed to men. Her soap was displayed alongside Harrison’s necklaces and bracelets, some of which were draped on ceramic pieces that were also Hendrix’s work.
Crook’s paintings – scaled down from the larger acrylics she shows Online – were displayed at the next table.
“I think she influenced both of us in the arts and crafts,” said Harrison, who graduated from Richmond High School in 2003, a year after Crook. “If I hadn’t met her I’d never have learned about scrapbooking and I wouldn’t be doing any of this.”
Harrison said the materials and stamping techniques she uses to make her greeting cards are based on things she learned in a scrapbooking class she attended with Hendrix.
Crook, married and living in the Waldo section of Kansas City, said her love of art started at home. Both her mother, the teacher, and her father Kevin, a former carpenter with his own creative streak, were inspirations.
“She really supported us in our art education, working through our creativity and learning technical skills at the same time. She and my dad were both big inspirations.”
After graduating from the University of Central Missouri with a double major in marketing and art, she served an internship at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and then went to work for her first art-based non-profit organization. It wasn’t until 2009 that she launched Bello Tinto – Spanish for beautiful ink – and began to create and market her own work.
“I actually got a request from a family member to do some paintings for Christmas presents,” said Crook, whose husband, Cory, is from Hardin and is the son of former Richmond High School English teacher Jan Crook.
From there, she started branching off into working with ink, which dries faster than acrylic paint and and can be produced on a smaller scale that’s appropriate for festivals like Hardin’s.
“They were received well,” Crook said, “so I started doing some of those.”
Harrison, the daughter of Donald and Tammy Harrison, graduated from Park University and is now wrapping up a vet tech’s degree at Brown-Mackie College in Lenexa. She describes herself as a “starving artist” who sells her jewelry and cards to help finance her education.
It was Hendrix who showed her and Crook how to make jewelry, and how to fashion it with a Southwestern flair that Harrison liked.
“I started with wanting to make stuff for me,” she said. “I have three sisters, and they’d say, ‘Can you make me one?’ and I’d say yeah. Before I knew it I had 50 of them.”
It was Crook, the artist with a marketing flair, who told her about selling her jewelry at www.etsy.com. She did, and a part-time business was born.
Harrison said her real purpose in creating things, however, is enjoyment and self-expression. The selling part is something she does for a little extra money and to cut into a mounting inventory.
Her real love is animals. She recently finished an internship at the Omaha Zoo, where she helped draw blood, vaccinate and nurse animals as exotic as lions and elk. She’s headed for a second internship, this one in a free-ranging wildlife park in the state of Washington that rehabilitates wildlife native to the area.
Harrison said she spent so much time at her friend Megan’s house when she was young that Hendrix called her “my other daughter.”
On Wednesday, Hendrix was working with a room of starry-eyed Dear kindergarteners. As her exotic “art bird” watched, perched on top of its cage, the teacher showed the youngsters how to shape a ball of clay, then use their thumbs to create a depression that would turn it into a bowl.
Many listened closely and virtually all enjoyed rolling the clay in their hands, just as Megan and Ashley had probably done when they were Richmond students.
“They’re both really good girls,” Bea Hendrix said during a brief break in her classroom. “I had them both in art and what’s nice is they’re both still involved.”