On Friday, May 29, Utah lost a champion in visual arts education for the young. Stephanie Burn, originator of the Visual Art Institute, passed away from cancer, and while her voice is silenced her approach to teaching art remains.
Born Aug. 5, 1925, in Tofield, Alberta, Canada, Burn was the seventh child in a household of 13.As a young woman she married Arthur Currie and moved to England.Currie later died of a kidney disease, the same disease that would claim their 4-year-old daughter in 1950.
In 1958 she married John Burn. After their divorce in 1964, she completed a bachelor of arts degree and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Washington.
Later, while teaching art in several community colleges, Burn noticed many of her students were experiencing problems in their work. She discovered that when they were young, well-meaning but uninformed parents and teachers had thwarted their creative abilities. Eventually, Burn decided to work with young children before their creativity could be "schooled out of them."
Burn believed that the "intuitive-creative student thinks in pictures more than words; drawing to make sense out of the world and identifying with picture-making as `me.' " She held that children should be "treated as creative colleagues housed in small bodies."
Hearing that Utah had an abundance of children, Burn moved here and opened the Visual Art Institute, a non-profit organization, in the old Garfield School in 1980. Many of her students have gone on to study art at such prestigious schools as the Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles and the Chicago Art Institute.
"When the kids in a class are focused on their art you can hear a pin drop. For them, art is not just creative play or expression; it's a need, like oxygen."
A memorial service for Burn will be held Sunday, June 14, at the Garfield School Auditorium, 1838 S. 1500 East at 4 p.m. Student work will be on display in the adjacent hall gallery. Parents who wish to learn more about the VAI, its philosophy and programs, should call 487-7855.