by Zachariah Zendejas
When you think of Reedley, you may only think of a small agricultural community that lacks the culture of the big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, especially those who have lived in the town for most of their lives or have just found themselves placed here. Not many see what seems very obvious to some, that there are “creators of culture”, so to speak, right here in this valley, specifically Reedley.
One such “creator of culture” is local artist and Reedley College teacher Garrett Masterson. Born in Kansas and then moving to eastern Idaho at a young age, Masterson received his undergraduate in art at Boise State, after which he received his M.F.A. in ceramics at Portland University.
At a young age Masterson began working with clay, finding a “low fire” brick clay on a trip with his family along an embankment in a reservoir in eastern Idaho. His first dabble in sculpting, which did not resume until his undergraduate years, lead to his prolific career in ceramics/sculpting. His young life consisted of art and music, but when it came to choosing a focus for his teaching career, he landed on art because music seemed too “mechanical”, according to Masterson.
When it came to his type of art, he liked pottery but stated that he “wanted to say more with the artwork than just make a beautiful utilitarian object.” So in his undergraduate years, Masterson made his transition from pottery to ceramics/sculpture. This led to his first series of abstract sculptural forms on which he painted Native American images.
His artwork is influenced by Japanese art in ceramics, along with mythology from every culture. “My work has broken elements, has parts that are opened up so you can see the interior space,” said Masterson. “The surfaces are rough and stone-like, and they usually have some kind of a content that references mythology. For example, the idea in mythology that you take part human, part bird, a winged figure which we know in Christian iconography would be an angel. In the Greeks it would be a god that was able to fly, and in Native American cultures- every culture has married those sort of combinations of attributes from a bird, or attributes from a fish, or a snake combined with human attributes to make a ‘more than human’ kind of being.”
Masterson, who has been teaching for 34 years, began teaching shortly after his graduation from Boise State in 1977. From City Recreation to junior high, then high school, and finally Portland State. After Masterson had been teaching for 20 years, he was ready for a change. So, after some deliberation, Masterson began a teaching program at Corcoran State Prison, which he said was frightening to say the least, and brought together different artists such as writers, musicians and painters.
Masterson used this time to do his “large-scale community projects in art” and was contracted by the mayor to create a mural at the Corcoran Train Depot that was being built. Over three years Masterson, along with the help of the inmates, created a 21 foot wide and 11 foot high mural. To him, his time teaching at both the Corcoran State Prison and the women’s prison in Chowchilla were spiritually rewarding.
After nine years of teaching in Corrections, Masterson was ready to move on to another job, and applied to Fresno City College. However, another teacher at Reedley College took the job at Fresno City so Masterson’s application was transferred over to Reedley. Masterson said that even though he drove up and down the 99 for years seeing the Reedley College turn-off, he never drove in here, but was glad he finally did. “I like the community and the good camaraderie among the staff at Reedley College.”
His art is featured every 18 months at Fig Tree Gallery in Fresno on Van Ness, along with Clay Mix, a gallery in Fresno as well, and in the Kellogg Gallery in Pomona, California.
When asked about his favorite thing about teaching, he replied, “Seeing a student get it. You know, that ‘ah-ha’ moment… that’s a very exciting moment for them and as a teacher I get to share in that moment.” Masterson teaches the student how to see things differently, how the artist sees things around him or her. This coincides with his definition of art. “To call it art, it has to do more than have a high, technical level of craftsmanship. Art, like a good book, needs to take time to read it completely. It has to be something that you continually look at, and every time you look at it, it gives you something else.”
Masterson believes that society needs art, that without its existence it would be dull. Cities need to build inward, strengthen the core of their city because the best cities, like Los Angeles or San Francisco, have a dull perimeter, but a lively core. “People have to fight for the arts in this area because economically, it doesn’t make any sense to someone who’s just got a business mind… I think that we need to fight for good arts, arts education in the schools, because school can’t only be about math and science… the first thing cut in the schools is the art programs… I don’t understand that, because art enriches everything about what we do.
“It makes us the culture that we want to have remembered, not a culture that’s easily forgotten. Every culture that’s come and gone, we remember for their artwork… We need to fight for that in this culture, in this valley.”
Those who want to learn more about Garrett Masterson and his art, go to his website.