Portales' Jon Birdsong has been a painter for more than 40 years and has taught art to grade school students in Amarillo, Hereford, Canyon and Austin, Texas and Portales.
Birdsong is a watercolorist who primarily paints wildlife and landscapes but also dabbles in acrylics. His focus is now the New Mexican southwest.
During his teaching career in Portales, Birdsong said he helped many of his students win state, national and international competitions. He plans to start teaching art classes to children and adults in February at his studio on South Avenue B and 14th Street in Portales.
He also plans to write and illustrate an art instruction book for beginners that teachers can use as a classroom resource.
How did you become a watercolorist? It really was a fluke that I even got into the art business. I was attending West Texas State (now West Texas A&M). I actually received a degree in social studies. I had a lot of time for electives during my senior year. I was trying to find an elective to take and somebody said "Why don't you take (professor) Caballero's class. It's an easy B." It turned out to not be an easy B. It was a serious class. I fell in love with his watercolor class. That guy was phenomenal. I owe my whole career to him.
How did you get into teaching art? I graduated from college with only three art courses. When I graduated from college this town called Hereford, Texas, was desperate for an art teacher. I was interviewing for some education jobs and I didn't like any of them. A principal called me and said he was desperate for a junior high art teacher and said, "How would you like to teach art?" I thought it would be a lot of fun. I got qualified to be an art teacher and taught in Hereford for about seven years.
How did your career as a professional artist progress? I started doing my art work professionally while teaching in Hereford and decided I was a real artist so I quit teaching. I did my art work for about seven or eight years and then taught art at an alternative high school program for about six years in Amarillo and then taught art in Canyon, Texas, for about 10 years. My wife got a job at Southern Arkansas University. I decided to quit teaching again and did my art professionally again for 10 years in Arkansas. It taught me a few things I hadn't been doing. At the time I didn't use much green in my paintings because out here everything is kind of bare and desolate. I had people look at my art work and say "Those are really nice Jon but when are you going to finish them?" I'd say "Well what are you talking about?" They would say there's no trees so I started putting more trees and vegetation in my paintings. In Arkansas we were surrounded by 100-foot pine trees.
Tell me about something special that happened to you because of your art. It happened to me early in my career. In 1975 when the cattle crisis in the U.S. came about I was teaching school in Hereford, Texas. Some of the cattle people in the area were invited to meet with President Gerald Ford. They presented one of my paintings to the president in the White House and the Oval Office. That was a real big deal, to think that one of your paintings went to the White House.
What is the most ridiculous thing you did in college to earn a grade or pass an exam? We had a psychology professor named Finley who couldn't see very well. He walked down the street with his head turned sideways. In my classroom we had stair step seats. One day he said we (the class) would have a test over chapters one, two and three. I had three buddies. I would study everything in chapter one. My buddy would study everything in chapter two and other buddy would study everything in chapter three and we would just trade tests. We ended doing real well (Iaughing).
What are your most important goals for the new year? I'd like to re-establish my art business on a full-time basis rather than a part-time basis and do a book. I also want to get back to working with kids. I love kids and Iove to work with kids.
— Compiled by CMI staff writer Benna Sayyed