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Art teacher has left her mark on school

Melrose art teacher Barbara Dettler-Petermeier recently had a nice compliment from one of her students when he asked her how long she had been drawing.  She told him that drawing and drawing professionally were two different things, but professionally she had done it for at least 30 years. “Thirty years?” was his astonished reply.  “I thought you were only 30 years old!” She jokes about giving the lad an “A” on the spot, but actually, Barbara (who is a bit over 30) does have a youthful appearance.  It is probably the result of her constant enthusiasm for her students and the art that consumes her life and makes the Melrose Public Schools’ halls and classrooms living, changing works of art. Drawings, ceramics, murals, signs and collages are everywhere.  Pencil drawings in the cafeteria depict people breaking through a surface, done by ninth through 12th graders.  Other drawings carry out a theme, such as images of Mexico or pencils transformed into other objects, with a spider web background.   A huge mural in the main hallway celebrates life in Germany, from Neuschwanstein Castle and an enormous nutcracker doll to German chocolate cake and the sign over Auschwitz prison camp.  Some German exchange students helped with its creation. Tweetie Bird, Bugs Bunny and the Fairly Odd Parents, among others, look down from the ceiling of the elementary library, carved in Styrofoam and embellished with found objects that form whiskers and buttons. Another ceiling depicts Donkey Kong, Batman, Buzz Light Year and Mickey Mouse, and brightens up a windowless social studies room. Some Minnesota icons, such as Paul Bunyan, may join them this year. A huge spatter  painting made a mess in the parking lot but gave its creators a lot of fun. Signs over doors and hallways are made of graffiti art, which involves painting in layers on Masonite. Barbara explains, “Students learn to develop lettering in different styles to get depth, and then add some variety using different shapes and layers of paint.” Probably the most spectacular is a huge mural, some 30 feet long, in the Middle School hallway.  Encrusted with found objects such as buttons, tokens, pens, rulers, Christmas beads, clay tiles, and several five-gallon pails full of broken jewelry, and enhanced with brilliant acrylic paint, it shimmers with light. Clay footprints which students took from anyone passing in the hallway run along the middle. The bottom depicts a dragon and statements from the seventh and eighth grade creators, such as ,”I am a thinker.”  “We have great ideas,” “My goal is to live well,” “We learned that working together is better,” and “Are we done yet?”  Along with brightening a hallway, it gives their teacher a chance to demonstrate her passion for recycling. “People throw stuff away, but I’d appreciate it if they’d put it in a bag and send it to the school,” she says. Other donated materials stacked high in her art room are yarn, Styrofoam, Masonite boards, chains, watches, and more jewelry.  She uses greeting and Christmas cards to teach the theory of drawing from smaller objects to large as well as advertising concepts, while the leftovers go to the library to make bookmarks.  Fabrics with interesting textures, such as lace and crocheted shawls, can be impressed into clay.  Cigar boxes hold supplies, round drawer handles adorn clay box lids, cardboard tubes make totem poles, broken bits of colored glass form mosaics. In her mixed media jewelry unit, students create necklaces and bracelets using found objects. A row of masks hangs in a window. “Students had to take three elements of an African mask from different areas of Africa and incorporate them into materials of today,” she explains.  Barbara was born in Sauk Centre to Ervin and the late Rosemary Dettler.  They moved from Belgrade to Melrose when she was in fifth grade. She brings an impressive resume to her teaching career, including graduating Magna Cum Laude from St. Cloud State University, where she helped organize and became Exhibit Coordinator for the Women’s Caucus for Art. In 1998 she earned her Master of Art Education from St. Mary’s University, Minneapolis. Her art works have been exhibited in many Midwest venues. From 1993 to 1995 she was an Art Specialist at Grey Eagle Elementary.  She transferred to Melrose Area Schools in 1995, where she created the elementary art program. As one of three Melrose art instructors, she teaches classes in Meire Grove and Freeport, and has received Golden Apple Achiever and Teacher of Excellence Awards. She was a member of the Melrose Ambulance Corps and the National Guard. As a community artist, she has created murals and logos for area businesses and the community garden. Her sweatshirt designs, including Grandma’s Gardens and Grandpa’s Little Monsters, have been sold as far away as Japan. She contributed to a community group mural for Anna Marie’s House, the battered women’s shelter in St. Cloud. Many of her murals can be seen at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Melrose.  They include a big Noah’s Ark, and a sweet little angel with a flock of sheep, for which she used daughter Michelle as a model.  A mural commemorating 100 years of the church youth group had input from the kids themselves.  The most impressive of these paintings covers the whole back wall of the fellowship hall and incorporates flowers, children, angels, scenes from Melrose, and the Garden of Eden complete with—look closely—a tiny snake.  As work progressed, members of St. Paul’s Ladies Aid stopped by regularly to help fill in background colors. For a long time Barbara created collage pins from discarded jewelry, selling them at area craft shows and through Ms Dee’s, in Minnetonka.  Today she only pursues this craft if people bring her their own pieces that they want incorporated into a pin. Barbara is married to Tim Petermeier.  They live in the former St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, now creatively redesigned into a home, where the old choir loft is her studio. They raised children Travis and Michelle and dote on five grandchildren.

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