Toon-Hight, Shelley

Arts Integration, Visual Arts

shelley toon hightShelley Toon Hight is an arts integration specialist from Hood River, Oregon.  She is the education coordinator at Columbia Center for the Arts, a teaching artist with Columbia Gorge Arts in Education and a free-lance teacher trainer and artist who specializes in community art.  Her collaborative public works appear in schools, hospitals, public buildings and private businesses throughout the United States.

She loves working with students of all ages to explore interdisciplinary knowledge, environmental awareness and intercultural understanding while asserting that we all have something of value to express through the arts.

She has studied fine art and education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Oregon College of Art and Craft, Marylhurst University, and Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education.  She serves on the board of directors for the Hood River Cultural Trust and the Oregon Alliance for Arts Education.

ARTIST STATEMENT: Shelley Toon Hight

Creating art is a mystery to many people; they say they could ‘never do that.’ From a young age, I was identified as someone who could draw or create beauty.  I never considered myself to be anything other than an artist.  As I have grown as an individual and as an artist, through education and experience, I have come to realize that my role is not as a studio artist creating beautiful works to hang, and be sold, in a gallery.  While I have done that, it is not what drives me in my work.

My role as an artist – my intent – is to unlock the mystery of the creative process for as many people as possible by engaging them in my process.  With the help of hundreds of community members over the past nine years, I have created 26 permanent public art pieces throughout the Gorge as far east as Sherman County.  I work collaboratively, drawing people together from every walk of life, to create installations in our community – 19 schools, 2 hospitals, 2 county buildings, 1 church, and 2 restaurants.

I invite community members and other artists to participate, give them a little nudge, and watch them fly.  Children are my favorite partners; they are fearless artists.  I share the elements and principles of design and they provide the energy.  I need that energy.  I crave it; it inspires me.  I help people find their process and they are always excited to see that they can, in fact, ‘do that.’ This is my art, my finished product.

Collaborative works such as mosaics not only provide the perfect medium to engage a large number of people, but they also provide the perfect metaphor for my work.  I want the people who help create the mosaics and those who view them, to acknowledge and understand that together, we are greater than the sum of our parts and that every piece is important in creating the whole.  I want people to feel the deep satisfaction of working toward a common goal.

My creative process begins with a question about something I see.  The visual is always the through-line for me, and then I take it deeper to engage the other senses.  Living in the Columbia River Gorge, I am constantly reminded of the power and beauty of the natural world. My work is deeply influenced by nature and the preservation of it.  While I have long focused on our interdependence with each other and with the natural world, recently, I have focused on the parallels in art and science; particularly that which encompasses the unseen worlds – the tiny kingdoms that one must slow down to examine and appreciate.  Whether through a magnifying glass, a jeweler’s loupe, or a microscope, I find visual proof of the interconnectedness we share with nature and each other and then incorporate it into my work.

An important part of my artistic process is the time I spend riding my bike, hiking and skiing; when I engage the physical part of myself, my mind is freed from the daily toil and I begin to ponder, inquire and discover.  I take what I see, the questions I have, the answers I find, into the studio to work through and express the raw emotion that I feel.  At some point in the process, I begin to feel the need to share what I have discovered or what I still don’t understand.  I need input from the outside; this is why I work collaboratively.

I have been an artist long enough to know how to empty myself as an individual and let the process unfold without fear of losing my purpose.  I have discovered that working collaboratively and trusting in that collaborative process is the purpose of my work.