Although I was born in Sheridan, art classes were the only positive aspect of my transfer from the small elementary school in Wyola, Montana, to Tongue River High School.
Not only was the academic load at TRHS a shock to my brain – the Wyola school was quite lax in the 80s – but changing classes, opening lockers, dressing for the gym and the completely different social culture made you want to return to the reserve this first year. Imagine if I transferred to a big school. Art class was the only place where I felt I could accomplish what was expected in this new environment.
Homesick – despite only 20 miles from my last school – I had an art lesson with new student Koichi Yamamoto, a spirited young man over 5,000 miles from his home in Japan. While I was terrified and shy, Koichi was fearless and enthusiastic. He approached each day as something to explore, experience and enjoy; I doubt he knows my name, but I admired his wit.
After making linoleum block prints, I remember the art teacher, Mr. Eyre, dragging the dusty screen printing supplies, and how excited Koichi was, leaning down to pull the squeegee across the taut silk screens in anticipation of using it.
I remember his excitement because even though I didn’t understand, I could see that Koichi had done it – engraving was clearly his thing. While the rest of us drew tedious spoons in glass cups using 2B pencils, Koichi brought together shapes, lines, values, textures and colors in imaginative patterns, etchings and paintings that were intriguing, different and really spoke to who he was and how he saw the world.
I lost track of Koichi after graduating. It was decades later, on Facebook, that I saw that he is now an internationally renowned artist and university professor, teaching and exhibiting his large, engaging print works, and making and flying his printed paper kites all over the world.
He is still an adventurer, still fearless and innovative. I contacted Koichi and asked him if he was considering having a show at Sheridan. He said he would. I’ve introduced him to a few people over the years, and when I spoke to SAGE CEO Jill Benson about him last year, his enthusiasm reminded me of Koichi with the equipment of screen printing. A print artist herself, Jill “gets it” and immediately set to work bringing Koichi back to Sheridan for an exhibit at SAGE Community Arts.
“Homecoming – 30 Years of Printmaking Works” opens March 15. On March 18, Koichi will give a presentation at the WYO Theater from 5:30-6:30 p.m. before his opening reception – through Brundage – at SAGE Community Arts from 6:30-7:30 p.m.; these events are open to the public, refreshments provided.
I urge everyone to attend, listen to his talk and see his work. Whether you’re an art lover, artist, teacher, or a shy, homesick student looking for inspiration, come see Mr. Yamamoto’s place on the Sheridan County timeline as home to a wide range fine artists.
Sonja Caywood is a local artist in Dayton.