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Meet Deby Childress

by Erika Thuesen

Before Deby Childress earned a BA and MA in Fine Arts from UT, complemented by a Teaching Certification, she worked in a DNA lab.  She’d seen a friend building a lucrative scientific career and briefly thought to follow that path to success.  “I could tell right away that was not for me,” laughs Deby. “So I went straight back to the art department.”

She’d grown up with a mom who kept ongoing craft projects on the table, and always wanted to do art, but doubted she could earn a living at it.  Yet she started making wages as an artist before she even graduated college, and has kept it up for over 20 years.  While still attending UT, Deby taught afterschool art classes for Austin ISD, and after graduation, was on the payroll with the Laguna Gloria Art Museum as head of the Children’s Program during the 1980’s.  “It was the funnest job I’ve ever had,” Deby recalls. “I loved working where artists were in and out the door every day.”

After Deby had two children of her own in as many years, she realized she couldn’t afford double daycare expenses and also keep her modestly paying dream job.  So, she regretfully left Laguna Gloria for the greener pastures of public education.  “People say teachers don’t make enough money, but it was twice what I was making before,” Deby observes wryly.  Deby enjoyed a decade of working with kids of all ages, frequently listed by her students as offering their favorite class.  “Other teachers would ask me how I did it.  I pointed out that in art class, the kids can talk and have fun,” says Deby. “There’s no one right answer to learn or memorize and mark down on a test.  What the educational system overlooks when they cut down on art classes is that doing art fosters a different set of problem solving skills.  Kids have to tease out for themselves what is right in their work, rather than being guided to the one correct line of reasoning that so many subjects demand.  It is truly thinking outside of the box, and that is something that the corporate world is coming to value.  Art class is not just mixing colors and painting still lifes.  Skill in art is a result of interest in art; we develop skills in things that we enjoy.  Society at large doesn’t foster art as self expression, or art appreciation, and yet consider how boring life would be without working artists: clothing, architecture, auto design, everything around us is informed by artistic sensibility.”

After her full time gig with Lake Travis shrank to part time, Deby partnered up with Kathy Kentala of the Bee Cave Riding Center to open the Bee Cave Art School at the same location.  “She and I teach in the same way,” says Deby. “We offer praise for what the student is doing, then offer advice on how they could do it even better.”

The permanent art school employs nine artisan- instructors teaching classes for homeschoolers, after-schoolers, and adults in an array of media including clay (the proprietress’s favorite), painting, and mosaic creation.  Deby appreciates the ability to arrange her schedule around her children’s activities.  “While they’re in my home, my kids are my art,” Deby explains. “It takes a lot of time to make art in the traditional sense, and I will do that again once they’re on their own.  For now, I relish the close relationship our family has.”  Deby admits to setting Thursday nights aside to watch The OC with daughter Annarose.  “I don’t really care for TV, preferring instead a good mystery novel,” says Deby. “But if this is her show, then I’ll sit there and watch it with her.”  While both kids are busy with athletics, and Annarose lives to ride horses, Deby’s ninth grade son Cody echoes more of his mother’s creative bent, and helps to teach ceramics classes during summer sessions at the BCAS.

Deby recently dished with AustinMama in her workshop, surrounded by students’ work.  

Who inspired you when you were growing up, and why? 

My parents always supported me, let me make my own decisions, and were there for me to fall back on when needed.

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self.  You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say? 

Do what you love, the rest will follow.

What is the biggest challenge you see mothers faced with today? 

It is hard to juggle work, home and a family. Of course family comes first for me and that is a full time job, so you have to work longer and harder to accomplish what you need to at your job.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be? 

There are not enough hours in the day. There is so much I want to do, so you have to figure out what your priorities are.

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

I am happy when watching a child I teach and they “get it.” The excitement in their voice and you can see the “light bulb” come on in their eyes.

What makes you most happy about the way you parent?  

My husband and I support each other and really love our kids.  We have a great relationship with our two teens. We talk and laugh, go out for a “special” time together, have meals together, and they still come to us for those questions in life that they do not yet know or understand.

How do you balance motherhood and art?  

My kids always come first. Many jobs do not understand this, so working for yourself makes it easier. I can schedule my classes around baseball and volleyball games. I may not make it to all of their games but I make most of them.  I have set hours for my job and I try to leave the job at work. I consider my children my artwork, when people ask to see my work. After my kids are grown and out on their own I will have plenty of time to create artwork again.

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?  

A very trust worthy babysitter on call so that the mother can have a break for even a few minutes (it makes a difference).

Thanks, Deby!  

Bee Cave Art School
15740 Hamilton Pool Road
Austin, TX 78738 (512)263-0138 


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