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North Union art to be displayed at Red Rock center

Brooke Wohlrabe Above: Artwork by North Union High School students will be on display at the Red Rock Center for the Arts in Fairmont this month. From left: J.D. Speltz, Becca Heinen, Lexi Vaske, Angely Cifuentes, Ben Steuber and Beth Steuber. Artwork shown was done by Ben Steuber.

FAIRMONT — For the month of April, more than 100 pieces of art work done by students at North Union High School will be on display at the Red Rock Center for the Arts in Fairmont. North Union’s art program is led by J.D. Speltz, who will be retiring at the end of this school year.

North Union art students have been bringing artwork to display at the Red Rock Center for a decade. Red Rock director, Sonja Fortune, has worked with Speltz for all of those years.

“J.D. will be missed for bringing the creativity out in these kids,” Fortune said.

Speltz started teaching at the school in 1979. It was the first and only position he applied to after he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in art and history education.

He taught for 14 years and retired in 1993 so that he could run his company, Speltz Studio of Wildlife in Armstrong. He did that for 18 years. Then 10 years ago, North Union’s art teacher suddenly passed away and Speltz was asked to return.

“I came back and stayed the last 10 years and now I’m retiring again,” Speltz said.

Speltz said the community has been so supportive both of him and the art program as a whole. His interest in art started when he was young and he’s enjoyed the opportunity to teach.

“I enjoy working with students, seeing their creativity and teaching techniques. That’s one of my favorite things to do as an art teacher is teach techniques,” Speltz said.

Speltz said North Union has the largest art department in northern Iowa with 111 students in high school art. He teaches eight periods a day.

Art is an elective at the school, but Speltz said they have traditionally had a strong and popular art program. He said many students will be in the program all four years.

“By the time they’re seniors in advanced art four, they’ve had four years of learning rendering skills so they’re putting out some pretty talented pieces,” Speltz said.

Each student has at least one piece on display at the Red Rock Center. Twenty pieces from the show will then go on to be be judged. Mediums seen on display include white chalk, oil painting, acrylic painting, fabric work, sculptures, pencil, charcoal, watercolor and crayon art.

“The medium I most enjoy teaching is oil painting but it’s tough to teach the masses oil painting because of the cost involved, so we usually select a few students each year that would like to learn,” Speltz said.

North Union students have work on display at several other art shows each year. Speltz said they also go to the Stinson Prairie Art Show in Algona, Iowa, conference art show at Waldorf College and have a school-driven fine arts show in Armstrong.

“Sonja has been very instrumental in getting my students fired up to do what I call competition phase art. Not just doing a show, but getting it presentable for the public. The Red Rock has always been the perfect venue for people in the area to see an art show. There’s nothing like it,” Speltz said.

Speltz said the school has already selected a new art teacher to take his place next year and said they plan to continue to come to Red Rock Center and keep up with other traditions.

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