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HOMETOWN HERO: Susan Montague

by | Jul 28, 2020 | Voices of Davidson

Artwork by Susan Montague

A former Midwesterner, Susan Montague stumbled upon Davidson nearly 25 years ago and has been in love with the town ever since. 

In 1996 her husband, Rob Sommer, was offered a transfer from Chicago to Charlotte. Their kids were 2 and 5 and they came for a visit. “Charlotte was not the city it is today, and I was disappointed and did not want to leave Chicago. A month passed and I said to Rob, why don’t we find something different, maybe look at a small college town near Charlotte, I didn’t even know Davidson existed.”

“We drove to Davidson, had our first meal at The Soda Shop, met Rusty Knox, and decided this was where we would raise our kids.” While their children are now grown, the Montagues have remained and continue to immerse themselves in town life.

Tell me about your day job.

I work at Pioneer Springs Community School teaching K-5 and high school art. I have been with the school since it opened in 2012. We are a nature-based, public charter school located on HWY 115 just north of Harris Blvd.

How did you uncover this passion?

I was a professional artist for 11 years until I had my first child, and I continue to make my own art. As my children grew, I discovered I really liked teaching children, as well. I became a parent volunteer and before long people were asking me if I was a teacher. Ultimately, in 1998, I was invited to teach at a new non-profit called The Children’s Arts Project and have been teaching ever since.

What inspires you every day?

I am inspired by other artist’s work, especially children, and by a need to make sense of the world around me. I’m a very visual person and words often elude me, so I use my art to speak what I can’t say.

What are your challenges and speed bumps along the way?

Supporting oneself in art alone is a very difficult enterprise. You may have gallery shows, be included in group shows and competitions, and still not sell a piece of art. My best line of art income comes from commissions.

Teaching is another story, I don’t need to go into how underpaid teachers are and how few resources we receive.

Right now, COVID 19 is the greatest speed bump any of us has faced. I am grateful that our school has decided to teach online for, at least, the first six weeks of school. This past spring, we were thrown into a maelstrom of unknowns and I am incredibly proud of the way our teachers consistently and creatively found ways to engage our students.

My first obstacle was to learn how to make videos for my kids. I also had to create curriculum for various grades with no idea what supplies the children had at home.

Fortunately, I am used to teaching open ended, process-based art. What that means for my lessons is that I try to inspire the students by reading a book, or telling them a story, and then asking them what kind of art they imagine making. Then I give them a few suggestions, i.e. would you make a drawing to illustrate the story? Could you go outside and find natural materials to make a collage? Do you have recyclables that you could use? Maybe make up a dance, sing a song…I have them photograph or video their work and send it to me. This has been the hidden gem, because I have time to look at every piece of art and respond to them personally; something like that is very difficult it accomplish in a 45 minute class.

Secrets to staying motivated and positive?

The kids are an endless source of joy. The faces of kids sharing what they create is priceless. I miss the in-person love and hugs dearly, but staying connected online is a small price to pay for keeping everyone healthy.

Also, I am taking some online courses, staying in contact with other art teachers, learning new skills and hoping to “up my game” for this fall.

How can Davidson residents best support you?

Help spread the word about Pioneer Springs’ K-12 Nature-based school.

Like us on Facebook and offer corporate sponsorship support:

Donate art supplies, especially paint and good artist quality papers. Whatever you have, I can find a use for it!

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey is a magazine editor and lifelong writer who hit the jackpot moving to Davidson from California.

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