Northfield High School Visual Arts Teacher Katherine Norrie welcomed her students back to class Monday after the five-day Thanksgiving break.
Chipper, enthusiastic and passionate, Norrie soon leads the class in their art assignments for the day, standing nearby in case anyone has questions.
She hopes the art classes she teaches not only helps her students with art projects but allows them to establish a quality foundation for a successful, confident life.
Norrie is one of three visual arts teachers at the high school. Chris Holmquist, a potter by trade who is considered an expert in the field, teaches ceramics clay classes, and Karna Houck leads foundational classes, including a mix of upper-level painting courses and computer-based classes like filmmaking and graphic design. Norrie teaches drawing and painting, watercolor classes, printmaking and art honors class. The trio are all St. Olaf graduates who studied studio art in college.
For Norrie, art is something she practices outside classroom walls. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, drawing, jewelry-making and silversmithing.
“I get to work with students, but I also get to be an artist,” she said. “I get to work alongside my students.”
She sometimes draws inspiration for classroom lessons outside of school hours. On Sunday, she successfully field-tested a fish drawing to use for one of her classes. Her ability to work on art at home also touches on an important lesson she wants her students to learn.
“I don’t necessarily expect every one of my students to become an art teacher or an artist, but to be able to have skills, to be creative for the rest of their lives, to be problem-solvers,” Norrie said. “I think that is all of our hope.”
Norrie’s journey began in Hector, a small town 85 miles west of the Twin Cities.
“It was a really small town with a small school with limited funding, which maybe as a young person I didn’t really completely understand, but now as an adult, I can see, that was probably what was going on,” she said.
She took the only art course at the school and enjoyed it, but didn’t develop a deeper understanding of her love for it until she attended St. Olaf College.
“It just kind of worked out that way, and I feel like I am where I should be,” Norrie said. “I feel passionate about what I do, all of the time.”
Northfield High School Senior McKenzi Fox was working on art during a quiet point Monday afternoon in Norrie’s classroom. To her, Norrie’s class is part of a solid arts curriculum at the high school.
“The art classes that they have at this high school, it really pushes your limits … you actually have to plan and you have to, even if it’s not your style, you still have to explore, and it opens your mind to so many different techniques,” she said.
Norrie’s goal as an art teacher in her 20th year at the school spans far beyond her students growing as artists.
“I hope they felt safe,” she said. “I hope they felt supported. I hope they felt like it was a soft place to land at the high school, so when the whole rest of the day feels chaotic, that they can come into my classroom and they can feel like there is a place where they can grow, not in just always learning things, but to grow as a person, because feeling safe and growing relationships is the way that I teach.”
To Fox, Norrie is a success in meeting that goal. Fox said Norrie’s classes have helped her become more creative and practice more out-of-the-box thinking. She has applied to St. Cloud State University and wants to work in the medical field.
“You can tell from a mile away,” Fox said of the caring approach Norrie takes as teacher. “She can be a lot sometimes, but it’s a good a lot ... You can always come to the teacher, even when you are having problems outside of school. She’s a lot as in she’s very passionate about being an art teacher and being a teacher, and she cares a lot about her students, and it really shows. I think everyone knows that.”