Art teacher’s influence spreads beyond her garage doors
June 26, 2013
By Neil Pierson
Betsy Matias’ art studio looks like a typical space for creative instruction. The walls are covered in paintings and drawings, aprons and brushes are packed into a corner, and several stools lay upside-down on a large table.
But Matias doesn’t teach art in a normal studio. She teaches in the garage of her Sammamish home, and over the past 18 months, her business has skyrocketed from 10 part-time students to a five-days-a-week gig during the school year.
Her studio, Henry and Mei – a name created through the combination of her son’s and daughter’s middle names – hosts children of all ages. It’s quiet now, as Matias is taking a break to coincide with summer vacation in the schools, but she expects it to be bustling again come September when she resumes a series of six-week classes.
Matias has a bachelor’s degree in art from Long Beach State University in California, but said she didn’t put it to use for many years. She taught elementary school students in California, Oregon and Texas, then became a substitute teacher when her family moved to Washington.
For several more years, while she was a stay-at-home mom, her only contact with the art world was some occasional volunteer opportunities in area schools.
But when a child in her neighborhood began inquiring about drawing lessons, she chose to help. One student quickly grew to 10, and art lessons moved from the inside of her home to the garage.
The lessons have also expanded to multiple mediums of painting, sculpturing and silk screening.
“They just keep coming,” Mathias said of her steady enrollment. “I’ve had students come from Bellevue and Carnation and Fall City, and it’s really just word of mouth.”
Charlie Gall, 9, began taking weekly classes with Matias last fall and continued attending throughout the school year. His interest in art has increased quite a bit over that time, said his mom, Julie Gall.
“According to Charlie, Betsy is a great teacher because she makes art fun by offering interesting projects and by having music playing in the background while students work,” Julie Gall said.
Mathias’ studio has unlocked other instructional opportunities. She has partnered with the Sammamish Arts Commission on a couple workshops for special-needs students. She does painting-themed birthday parties. And she’s been contracting with local schools.
“They’ve been bringing me in as kind of a visiting artist to the classroom,” Matias said, “and I’ve been doing some specialized lessons that complement their curriculum, whether it be science or literature.”
Matias has also worked with adults in business settings, using art as a means of team building. She said she’d like to expand on that, perhaps working with a technology company and “get them to use their right brain a little bit more than their left brain.”
She believes that children are typically less afraid to be creative than adults. For Mathias, art isn’t a subject with concrete answers, and while mistakes can be made in something like math, artists create their own sense of right and wrong.
“With adults, they think they can’t do something creative,” she said. “But then when I lead them step by step, they’re amazed at what they can do. … Whereas kids, they come in like ninjas – they’re just so excited and they’re completely uninhibited for the most part.”
Henry and Mei celebrated its 18-month anniversary on June 8 with an art show at the Sammamish library. Matias said the event went well, with many visitors stopping by to view more than 80 pieces. She plans to do another student-oriented show in the future.
Over the summer, Matias will be leading a few art camps, and she’s accepting registration forms for art classes in the fall. More information is available online at www.henryandmei.com.
Matias likes to keep parents informed about the lessons, sending out weekly emails recapping what’s been taught. She noted art instruction is shrinking in many schools, which leaves private instructors like her as the most viable option.
“Research is starting to show that kids are … being taught a lot of great skills, but when they get out into the world, maybe the art piece having been left behind, they’re missing that piece of being innovative,” she said.
“I really try to stress that whatever they create is valuable and beautiful, and just to be innovative and come up with their own ideas. … I think they really grow in their confidence, and they know they can create something out of ink and paper.”
For the Gall family, having their children be well rounded is important. Julie Gall said they’ve encouraged Charlie – a sports enthusiast – to try music and language lessons.
“Charlie tried the piano and it didn’t stick, so he decided art lessons with Betsy might be fun,” she said. “And he loves it. We are taking the summer off, but will continue with weekly classes next school year.”