Arlington Art Teacher Has Picture-Perfect Talent (Fort Worth Star-Telegram feature)
I am reproducing this article coming forth Wednesday in the Arlington Citizen Journal section of the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper. The journalist, Robert Cadwallader, spent hours interviewing me patiently, and the newspaper sent a photographer for the photo shoot (complete with one of my dogs and cat!). I am extremely proud to be published as a local artist, and grateful for the advertising this provides for my One-Man Show running during the next month, as well as the local art festivals where I’ll be participating. Thank you for reading.
“Arlington Art Teacher Has Picture-Perfect Talent”
As an art teacher and artist, David Tripp has bristled at old sayings about teachers teaching because they can’t do.
But Saturday night, the Martin High School teacher made a very public case for his dual abilities at a reception kicking off his art exhibit at the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery in Fort Worth. Among the many attendees were some of his current Martin High School students, and several others he hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years.
“This is my first one-man show,” said Tripp, 57. “I am very, very proud for them to know that their art teacher is an artist.”
The Weiler House is showing about 40 of his watercolors, which depict what he sees as a fading midcentury rural America. His canvases are filled with crumbling convenience stores, quaint Victorian homes and dreamily colorful streetscapes he has encountered on sojourns in the Midwest and Southwest, including the infamous and now mostly bypassed Route 66 highway.
Some of his paintings had local influences, including the old Poly Theatre in Fort Worth.
“The genre I paint is ‘dying America,’” said Tripp, whose art will be featured through Oct. 8. “When I see these shuttered buildings, it fills me with a sense of loss — and presence. I love to paint the little stores that were replaced by 7-Eleven and Walmart.”
His work caught the eye and heartstrings of Bill Ryan, the owner and director of the eclectic gallery, over a year ago. He’s already sold a number of Tripp’s paintings.
“People really relate to his work,” Ryan said. “I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, but it’s about how we share in a common past.”
The early memories that shaped Tripp’s artistic interest are rooted in rural, impoverished southeast Missouri, where he was born to tenant farmers after the Korean War.
When he was 2, his family moved to St. Louis in search of a better life, and his dad, a Korean War veteran, got a job as a mechanic. But Tripp returned frequently to visit his grandparents near his birthplace.
“My grandparents were still tenant farmers, so I was still surrounded by that kind of rural poverty in southeast Missouri,” he said. “From the time I was a child, I really loved the things I saw on their farm — the old tractors that were rusted out, and the barns that had lost all their paint.”
From the age of 2, he recalls having a gift for drawing and sketching. In school, his abilities to re-create his observations on paper developed, but it distracted from academics.
“I spent a lot of time drawing in the margins of my notebooks,” he recalled. “I was being praised from the time I was really young that I was a good artist, but no one said I was a bright student.”
But when he reached eighth grade — the first grade that offered art courses — he excelled, being named the best art student at the annual awards assembly. He duplicated the feat in high school and earned a scholarship that set him on a path to appreciate learning.
He earned a Bachelor of Science in education at Northeast Missouri State University — now named Truman State University — then detoured to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, where he earned a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. in New Testament while also preaching in churches.
Learning to teach
Tripp, who also is a guitar player and an avid fly fisherman, got his first teaching job at Lamar High School in 1988.
He wasn’t very good at watercolors at the time, despite his love for the medium. That was a problem, because he had to teach it. But he managed to push watercolor study to the spring semester and dedicated the Christmas break to learning it.
The trick, he learned, is letting the watercolors dry several times during the painting process.
“I was messing with them too much while they were wet,” he said. “Now I will sometimes have six watercolors going on simultaneously, so I don’t overwork them.”
Tripp later moved to Martin High to develop an art history class. It was there he met his wife, Sandy, who now teaches English across the hall from him.
Tripp started his nostalgic watercolor project more than 20 years ago. He drives around snapping photos of interesting subjects and then goes home to paint them. Over the years, he has had many opportunities to show his work as part of a group of artists or as a vendor at festivals.
He’ll be doing that at Grapefest in Grapevine this weekend and at the Fort Worth Music Festival Sept. 30 through Oct. 1.
But the Weiler House is the first to feature him solo — a status that is exciting not only to Tripp but also to his boss.
“To see his work in this gallery,” said Linh Nguyen, the school district’s visual arts coordinator, “that lets me know that he’s not only teaching his kids but nurturing his own creativity as an artist himself. That tells students there are opportunities out there for kids to find a career as an artist.”