A! Magazine for the Arts

Steven Cregger with his colorful masks (photo by David Grace)

Steven Cregger with his colorful masks (photo by David Grace)

Steven Cregger’s art is on display at school

August 29, 2018

Steve Cregger was a doodler when he was a child. His parents used it to keep him quiet during church.

“I always had a pad and pencil, and I’d draw caricatures in church. My favorites were the choir members. I’d draw little sketches. If they were nice, I’d give them to them. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t,” he says.

While he describes himself as a painter, he didn’t pick up a paintbrush until high school. “Marie-Claire Bullins at Chilhowie High School was my number one supporter and critic. She was a wonderful lady, when she was asleep. We went round and round. If she liked you, she was hard on you. My senior year, I was working on a big painting that would be put up in the cafeteria. I went around and took pictures of nine or 10 friends, put them in a collage and was starting to work on it. I was mixing peach, white and brown tints to get flesh tones. She told me to use color. She said ‘Don’t you see blue, green, purple in your skin?’ I said ‘no’ and kept going. She told me again I needed to use color. I knew better. I came in the next day, and all the faces were blue, green, yellow, every color. I said ‘What did you do.’ She said ‘Go fix it.’ That was the best thing she ever did for me. I teach now because of the teachers who molded me,” he says.

After he graduated from Chilhowie High School, he went to Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.

“I had a great experience at VI. I loved Sam Morrow, and I’ll never forget Marvin Tadlock. Just hanging out with him was one of our favorite things to do. VI was great. It shaped me into more of an artist with a point of view than I was. VI shaped me as an artist, and my first three years of teaching shaped me as a teacher, because nothing prepares you for 20 kindergartners,” he says.

Cregger says that most of his art is associated with school projects or inspired by his students. For example when his students created dream catchers, he created his own more elaborate versions on wood.

“I’ve always been colorful. I love color and a good outline. Sam Morrow used to eat me alive, because I put a good outline on everything.”

“I love the kids’ laughter. I love to hear them laugh. Laughter, color, music and the rare downtimes that I have inspire me. In the classroom, it’s a new group every 40 minutes, seven classes a day. I go from school to band rehearsals. When I get home, I sit on the porch for a little while. That time is important and inspiring. I love those quiet moments when I can reflect on what I’ve done that week,” he says.

His conversations with students also lead to artwork. In one conversation the students insisted that art had to be pretty. So Cregger created a family of ugly people. When he showed them to the students, they said they were art, but then admitted that they were ugly, which led to further discussion about whether art has to be “pretty.”

Cregger’s creativity doesn’t just come out in paintings. He’s also a musician.

He was in band in high school and loved it. He played trombone, baritone horn and tuba. When he went to VI, he joined the choir and was in the college’s musicals.

“When I started teaching, I needed that music. Mark Collins, the band director at John S. Battle, e-mailed me and asked if I would help with some props. They were doing an African show and the color guard needed African masks. So I made the masks and that started a friendship with Collins. Since them, I’ve been with them on the road, at all their games, rehearsals and band camps.

He plays baritone in State Line Wind Symphony. “It’s my favorite. It’s not a forefront instrument. It’s a harmony or back-up instrument and, surprisingly, I’m okay with that.

“This is who I am. You are defined by what you do. I love kids, and I love to make stuff. I like to sing, and I love good bluegrass music. I like to make stuff and I like my mama’s cooking.”

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