Colby art instructor's background helps her relate to students


COLBY -- Teaching art is more than just a job for Rebel Jay. It's a passion.

Jay, who has worked at Colby Community College for five years, enjoys helping students get in touch with their creative sides.

"You can show so much emotion and so many different feelings and ideas in art," Jay said. "I encourage experimentation of materials. I like them to exaggerate the possibilities."

Her interest in art was ignited in high school when her brother offered her a challenge.

"He said he could draw better than I could," Jay said. "I said, 'No you can't.' "

The siblings, who lived in Glen Elder, then signed up for an arts and crafts class through their 4-H club. Jay's work earned more accolades in the county fair, and she became hooked on creative expression.

She took more art classes in high school and wanted to study art when she enrolled at Cloud County Community College.

"My great-grandma, who was a home economist, said 'Oh, Rebel, you don't want to be a teacher, and you definitely don't want to teach art,' " Jay said. " 'You'll never have any money.' "

Heeding her grandmother's advice, Jay began college as an accounting major. That quickly changed when she realized she "didn't want to sit at a desk."

She eventually transferred to Fort Hays State University, graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in art education.

She draws on her own experience to help students find the career path that's right for them.

"Is it an area they want to go into, or are they just doing it to make money?" she said. "Are you going to be satisfied with your life?"

This semester, Jay is teaching more than 120 students. Many of them are traditional college students, but others are community members looking to acquire a new hobby or grow their art skills.

When her fine arts experience class made its annual field trip last year, more than half of the students were community members age 50 or older, she said.

"We have a nice mix of people who have no experience with it, and then people who come in with experience," Jay said. "And then people who are looking at it from a hobby point of view and they want something to do in their spare time."

Outside the classroom, Jay also is looking to expand her own portfolio as an artist. She experiments with several mediums and is beginning to sell prints of a southwestern style oil painting she recently completed.

"Whatever I paint or sculpt, it has to have emotion tied to it or I won't finish," she said.

Another recent painting depicts three birds on an antique windmill. To make it a true Kansas scene, she had a friend shoot out the top right corner with a .22 rifle.

She also keeps busy with arts advocacy work in the community. Jay launched the first art walk in downtown Colby three years ago, and it has continued to grow every year. The next event will be in April.

The event is an opportunity for area artists to showcase work and a way to highlight local culture.

"The reason why I do it is because there are a lot of (artists) here in town who ... will do their stuff, and they will hide it in their house," Jay said. "It's nice to have a place to show it."