East Marshall teacher is a life-long artist

Believes in the merit of art therapy

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Andrea Woehlk of Garwin has worked as a special education instructor at East Marshall High School in Le Grand for over 15 years. Her love affair with art began as a student at Miller Middle School. Here she poses with a drawing of herself she did in college entitled “Pickled Self-portrait.”

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series profiling artists in Marshalltown and the surrounding area, discovering what inspires and propels their creativity.

GARWIN — “I think people are born to be compelled to create, whether that’s in writing, painting, sculpture or photography.”

These are the words of Andrea Woehlk of Garwin, who has been a painter and drawer since her preteen years, and has worked as a special education instructor at East Marshall High School in Le Grand for over 15 years.

Her love affair with art began as a student at Miller Middle School in Marshalltown, under the tutelage of art instructor Gary Stattler.

“He gave me that spark,” Woehlk said. “He taught my first real art classes.”

Woehlk either keeps her artwork or gives the pieces away; she doesn’t sell them, nor does she accept commissions. She does, however, teach beginner art classes at the Central Iowa Art Association (CIAA) in Marshalltown, sharing her passion with budding artists.

After graduating from Marshalltown High School, she decided to pursue her interest in design. Ultimately, she ended up earning a BA degree in art education.

“I never intended to be an art teacher. UNI didn’t have a design program at the time, only art education, so that’s what I did, and I don’t regret that decision,” Woehlk said.

In college, she created one of her favorite drawings, whereby she had to sketch an image based on pictures of herself taken in a photo booth.

“I was sitting in the art studio in college and saw a mason jar on a shelf, and I thought I’d pickle my head,” Woehlk said. “It’s called ‘Pickled Self-portrait,’ and it hung in my mother’s therapist office. I know it always got weird looks. I have it in my home now.”

She taught art education for six years before being laid off. That turn of events made Woehlk go back to school to earn an MS degree in school counseling, with an endorsement in special education.

“I went into school counseling, not because I didn’t like art education, but I felt a passion to be a resource to those kids who were more disadvantaged,” she said.

While working as a school counselor in Belle Plaine, she used her expertise and training in art to help students deal with their fears and anxieties.

“At that time, there was an arsonist targeting homes in the area and it was a big concern. I know students wondered who would be next,” Woehlk said. “I had them do drawings as therapy. It was a good outlet for them to express their feelings, and there were lots of pictures with fires.”

As the years went by, the artist became a mother to four children, now grown. One of her daughters works in fashion design, while the other is a graphic artist who designs cell phone games. Her two sons are farmers.

“With a family and working a full-time job, I really only had time to do art projects in the summer and on Christmas vacation,” she said.

Her favorite subject matters are portraits (particularly babies and family members), and rural scenes. She mainly draws with pencils and colored pencils, working from home, and relaxing in her recliner or on the couch.

“I’m a planner, so first I find an idea [to draw, paint or use watercolors to depict], mull the idea over for a while, then do one or two starts before I really get the feel of the project,” she said.

As she approaches retirement in late May, the artist hopes to have more time for her art projects, including dabbling in photography.

“I’ll go for a while without doing artwork, and I feel an increasing need to do something,” the artist said. “When you work in the field of counseling or special education, doing art is something completely different I can do … It’s a nice de-stresser and is relaxing. You tend to focus just on the creative process and forget everything else. It’s a nice escape.”