For her 85th birthday, June’s throwing an art show

Cliff Gebhard, 72, sits in one of two barber chairs in his shop at the corner of Minnehaha Avenue and Stillwater Road. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Cliff Gebhard’s shop is full of curiosities from bric-a-brac to an ìInformationî sign, much like the man himself. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
Holly Wenzel
Review/Bulletin staff

For all the 84-plus years she can remember, June McAuliffe has been driven to reach people through art.

So, for her 85th birthday, she’ll unveil a show of her recent projects at Gallery 96, located in the Shoreview Community Center.

It made perfect sense to June; after all, she’d marked her 80th birthday with a show at Gallery 96.

That one, titled “Kick Granny Up a Notch,” took a novel approach to centuries-old handicrafts. June explains that after running her own weaving shop -- featuring three-dimensional and circular creations -- and placing textiles at the State Fair over the years, she wanted to turn her work in a new direction.

“I started with a ‘granny square’ quilt and went on to crocheting and weaving -- all those traditional skills I learned as a girl. But everything I made were from materials or colors Granny wouldn’t have thought of or had available to her.”

June got the spark for her upcoming show, “Cerebral Conundrum??” from having her hair cut and styled at the Regency Beauty Institute in Maplewood. She’d often seen the students’ “practice heads” -- mannequin-like heads that start out with long hair that gets shorn in stages as the students progress. She began to muse on how she could use the heads once they were discarded, “and then just started picking up one or two every time I visited.”

The resulting work, her son Kurt explains, asks viewers to interpret the stories or themes behind elaborately-decorated heads, through cues such as the style of headdress, the accessories, the colors and items surrounding it. “My favorite is one called ‘The Dig,’ where it’s obvious she’s a paleontologist,” he says.

George Robinson, retired Bethel University art professor, curates Gallery 96’s collection and notes June lived for years at a Presbyterian Homes facility right across the street from the community center. “She approached me five years ago about her 80th birthday show, and that one was so much fun I said ‘Let’s do it!’ when she contacted me for this one.”

Living her theme

Growing up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, June attended a one-room country school. Her favorite days were those the teacher brought in an art education magazine with miniature reproductions of masterpieces on the back page.

“She’d cut them out -- each one was a little stamp size -- and each kid would get one,” June recalls. “It was a wonderful idea to get children acquainted with art.”

Later, at high school, she says simply, “The only way I got through high school classes was the art teacher. It was a theme from the beginning.”

But what happened next to a farm girl was an expensive dilemma.

“My grandfather said, ‘I know how much you want to go to college, and I’ll fund it for one year,’” June recalls. “That one year cost $700, and so to pay it back I went into teaching. I taught in another country school very like the one I was in myself for a year, and then was engaged to marry.”

Though she taught in elementary schools for a few more years, marriage and raising children occupied her young adulthood. But June wasn’t finished pursuing her dream.

“I went back to college at 40!” she crows. With a bachelor’s degree from Mankato State, she went on to earn a master’s degree in art education from the University of Minnesota. She taught everywhere from inner-city settings to 4H clubs.

“Teaching art to students who hadn’t yet found the way they could excel -- it changed a lot of lives.”

The curriculums she developed for 4H soon garnered attention around the state and the Midwest. June was called on to train educators in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Washington D.C. and to take teams of art teachers into Native American reservations. “We’d work not with just the children but all ages -- the whole community.”

The 4H program even took June and her husband, a statewide 4H director, abroad to help establish 4H in Romania and oversee its development in Jamaica. She has presented her educational philosophy at Cornell University, has won numerous awards and been nominated for consideration in the national 4H Hall of Fame.

But her “best” experiences were working with young students with great needs, such as the emotionally disturbed boys at a residential center where she taught.

“You can’t imagine what those boys had been through,” she recalls. “But I felt the changes in those boys through art, and I proved to myself that art was a behavior modifier and an emotional outlet for these students. I’d learned that teaching elementary school. There would be a boy or girl not making it academically --- made to feel like failures sometimes even before reaching second grade.

“But now they could express themselves and be successful -- their whole personalities and self-concept changed because of the art program.”

June has been assembling this show for four years, and, working from a wheelchair with limited arm strength, she admits it’s been “draining.” But with help from Kurt and his sisters Kyleann, Karleen and Kris Stenson, who was herself an art teacher in the Shoreview district, she’s pulled the show together. Kurt notes that locals will remember the family as the Schultzes; he and his sisters grew up in Shoreview at the time his mother was married to Ed Schultz. Her husband now is Joe McAuliffe.

Looking back over the years, June says, “It’s been a wonderful life.” Her keys to art education: “Loving creating art so much your passion shows, and knowing every person has this ability in them. Sometimes, it’s been tamped down, but you can help them get it back again.”

The artist’s opening reception will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 at Gallery 96, Shoreview Community Center, 4580 Victoria St. North. Donations to the South Dakota 4-H Foundation, Minnesota 4-H Foundation, and/or Gallery 96 will be accepted. The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 27 in the Fireside Room, which is open during open community center hours.

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