OUR TIME WITH ANNIE
Annie Nelson was a St. Paul native who exhibited a passionate love for drawing and painting at an early age. Her parents, Diane and Wally, enrolled Annie in our Fundamentals Program when she was a young girl.
Annie’s first picture at our school was of an owl sitting in a tree. When we saw Annie complete her pen and ink with such patience and skill we knew that she had ability and assurance to excel in art. Over the next few years Annie created one little masterpiece after another and we asked her to join our teaching staff.
Through commitment and hard work Annie blossomed into a wonderful instructor. Soon there was ease and comfort in her interactions with parents and children. With her growing confidence and experience Annie took on more responsibility. Her dependability was flawless. By the time Annie was 18 she could step in as senior instructor in a room of 20 to 25 children, fulfilling that role perfectly while we talked to a parent or helped a student with a specific painting problem.
Annie was particularly wonderful in our 5 to 8 year old classes. She loved helping children compose pictures and choose pleasing color schemes for their original paintings. Annie loved animals and shared that enthusiasm with her students. During her free time, Annie assembled a special book of handpicked pictures to inspire our youngest painters entitled Annie’s Animals. We still use her collection today.
Annie’s warmth touched my family personally when she taught my son Zack how to color. That seems like a simple thing, but for me it was a major development in Zack’s life. When Zack began classes he was a fidgety 5-year-old. Finding the calm in him was difficult. One day he was too wild to participate with the other students, so I asked Annie to sit with him in the hall and work with him privately. I can’t describe how happy they both were when I’d go out to check on them. Finally, my son was connecting with someone. He was slowing down, doing the work, and feeling the rewards that true effort brings. Annie sat with him that day for an hour and a half. Zack, in the little artist’s bio to the book he was working on with her, wrote that one of his favorite things in life was to “spend time with my new best friend Annie”.
As Annie’s commitment to art grew, she decided to spend her last two years of high school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Now, her life was art from morning to night, spending her days at Perpich and her evenings and weekends at The Art Academy.
When Annie graduated from the Perpich Center for Arts Education on June 6th, 2003, she had reached a level of maturity as a student and teacher that went well beyond her years. As a student, Annie was tackling major creative challenges. Her senior project at Perpich was to write and illustrate her first children’s book, Cows Come Home, that is full of the playfulness, kindness and simplicity found in such children’s classics as Good Night, Moon. At The Art Academy Annie was busy working to complete several oil paintings before going off to college. In addition, her teaching schedule grew.
In April 2003 Annie was accepted to Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts on a talent award scholarship. That spring, Annie and her family started to prepare for her to go off to school by late summer.
Then on June 28th, less than two months before Annie was to begin college, she and a friend decided to have a summer adventure. They put together a makeshift raft to do an impromptu Huck Finn trip down the Mississippi River. Where they put their raft into the river the current did not seem strong, but the river narrowed downstream and became dangerous. Their raft got caught in a parked barge, spilling the girls into the water, and the current pulled Annie under the barge where she drowned.
We at The Art Academy, along with Annie’s family, relatives and friends, will forever feel heartbroken by Annie’s death. We are committed to help keep the memory of her love and talent alive. Annie came to us as a young girl wanting to learn to draw, and she left as a young woman capable of advanced creative thought. Through hard work she developed the skills to express her feelings in a highly personal manner. Along the way, Annie touched many young lives. We can’t think of a more fitting way to be honored by a student and fellow teacher, and through scholarships and charitable contributions we try to honor Annie in return.
Each term we celebrate Annie’s life by awarding a scholarship to three current students who demonstrate great character but lack the financial ability to continue taking classes. In addition, we contribute to Heifer International in Annie’s name.
Heifer International is a charitable organization dedicated to changing the world by helping needy families become self-sufficient through gifts of animals. First, families are taught how to care for an animal. Then, after proper facilities are prepared, they receive their new family addition. Throughout the year, this animal helps provide for the needs of the family: Llamas supply warm wool, goats and cows produce nourishing milk, chickens lay protein-rich eggs, bees make honey, beeswax and pollen.
When an animal has offspring, the family gives one or more of the offspring to another needy family in the community, making that family self-sufficient, too. The second family agrees to pass on a baby animal when it has one; the next family does the same. Soon, a whole community is transformed and begins to find its way out of poverty.
Heifer International is the perfect charity to contribute to support Annie’s love of people and animals. Through our scholarships and contributions a bit of Annie’s positive energy can go out into the world and make it a better place.
We hope you sense the sum total of little things that made Annie stand out from the crowd. Her kindness, creativity and gentle humor were easy to appreciate. We love Annie and continue to feel her rich presence at our school.