That would be Margit Redlawsk, according to the Hillsborough Art Education Association.
The local teacher topped a list of 144 elementary school teachers to win the award.
“It was very satisfying and unexpected, and I am very grateful,” said Redlawsk, a teacher for 21 years who spent her first 14 at Summerfield Elementary in Riverview and now teaches at Apollo Beach Elementary.
Barbara A. Mercer, who nominated Redlawsk for the award, said it was well-deserved.
“She goes above and beyond to make sure not just the students but their families are involved in art,” said Mercer, the Apollo Beach Elementary principal. “She has family art nights at least four times a year and invites parents to come in and share the learning experience with their children.”
Whether it’s a field trip to a museum or a visit to an artist’s studio, Redlawsk makes the arts come alive for her students, Mercer said. “She wants them to have that same passion she does.”
Starting as a fine-arts student in college in Michigan, Redlawsk moved to Florida in 1986 and earned a degree in Arts Education at the University of South Florida, a combined course where students took classes geared to teaching art.
Redlawsk knew she wanted to be an artist early on.
“I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was five years old,” she said. “I had an aunt who was a commercial artist, and she was a big inspiration for me.”
Redlawsk passes along that inspiration daily to her students.
“Elementary schoolchildren are just so open,” she said. “They haven’t been told they can’t draw; they are just very creative. They have more fun in the process of creating the art instead of the final product, and that’s what art should be about. It shouldn’t be whether they think it’s good or not; it should just be about the whole creative process.”
In a world where art classes have come to be considered an extravagance in schools increasingly concentrating on math and science subjects, Redlawsk believes art has something special to offer.
“It was always considered a frill by the general public, so if something was going to be cut, it would be art. But I don’t see that happening, especially in our county, because we have some very good supervisors and we have been on the forefront of testing, which is important because it validates and shows how we are a core subject area,” she said.
Art transcends paint on paper or molding pieces of clay, Redlawsk said.
“Art is all about problem solving. How can you make it work in a new, a different, way? But it also directly relates to subjects like math because we also teach symmetry and balance, elements that go hand in hand with ideas in math.”
Art teachers also often take literature as their inspiration for their class projects.
“Especially in younger grades, we read short stories and tie our lessons to the stories,” Redlawsk said. “I also include a lot of art history, reflecting the history of the world at that time, and biographical information about different artists into my curriculum.”
Redlawsk still creates her own artwork at home — she has her own website — and had been the focus of shows at Ruskin’s SouthShore Regional Library, where she has also taught classes.
“I still do my own watercolor paintings and also paint on glass,” she said.
To view more than 90 pieces of Redlawsk’s own artwork in glass and canvas online, just search for margitfineartist. She has her own page on Etsy.com.