Human experience fuels her artwork

One of Amie Bantz’s earliest memories of creating art actually landed her in hot water with her teacher.

What she was doing seemed innocent enough, especially to a 4-year-old girl in Kindergarten, as she answered the questions on a math test in a most ingenious way.

 Amie Bantz with her finished mural at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, which celebrates her hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)
Amie Bantz with her finished mural at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, which celebrates her hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)

“My mother always loves to tell the story of how when I was in Kindergarten and had a very rudimentary math test, and instead of answering all the math questions, I had drawn out, very meticulously, the bears from the math equation,” Bantz said. “The question was, ‘What are two bears plus two bears?’ Instead of answering four, I had drawn out these bears.”

What could have been perceived as creative responses from a first-year student answering the questions to a test was anything but.

“I got called into the office and my mom as well and they showed her this test,” said Bantz, who also replaced other numerical answers with drawings of ice cream cones and watermelons. “I think they thought something was wrong with me. In retrospect, I had more of an interest in drawing than I did in math.”

Some 20 years later, the 25-year-old Bantz has turned that “interest” into her passion, her hobby and, get this, her career as a high school art teacher in the Carlisle Area School District. She said she uses that early life experience to guide her teaching by encouraging her students to explore their creativity.

“I don’t think it is fair to label someone as a troublemaker or whatever because they are not doing what I expect them to do and then just move on,” Bantz said. “I got to a solution on my own and isn’t that what I am trying to teach them? I’m teaching them how to be self-sustaining human beings, and they need to understand that there can be 100 ways to get to a solution.”

Born in Baltimore, but also having lived in Minnesota, Chicago, and New Hampshire during her youth, Bantz’s family was constantly on the move, thanks to her father’s career as a biomedical engineer.

“I think being the new kid so much and traveling so much that I came to rely on art as my best friend, in a sense,” Bantz said. “Whether I was bored or even if I wasn’t bored, say I was excited, I always made time for art because I love to draw.”

Seeing art as a companion and a friend just made common sense to Bantz.

 Ammie Bantz created this mural on an electrical box located at the corners of Market and Second streets in Harrisburg. Bantz believes art contributes to the “human experience”, and that street art provides a window into an artist’ s life. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)
Ammie Bantz created this mural on an electrical box located at the corners of Market and Second streets in Harrisburg. Bantz believes art contributes to the “human experience”, and that street art provides a window into an artist’ s life. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)

“I was constantly making up characters and writing stories,” Bantz said, about her childhood. “I loved to write. I loved to read. I loved to construct these environments that were from my imagination.”

The child-like ideas in her art that captured and dominated her imagination as a child eventually gave way to thoughts of boys, shopping and what she wanted to do with the rest of her life after high school.

Her decision to change her major from nursing just two weeks from entering college – much like that rudimentary quiz in Kindergarten – got her into hot water again, especially with her parents who had different aspirations for their daughter.

“I was on this track throughout high school for medicine and then I decided to change my major to art,” Bantz said. “I still don’t quite know what was going on in my brain when that happened, I didn’t have a portfolio, I had only taken, I think, two art classes in high school, and I really just switched majors on a whim.”

Her decision, she said, left a lot of doubt in her family.

“That was a lot of doubt with a lot of people – especially coming from the Korean culture,” Bantz said. “You just don’t accept art, let alone art education.  If I had a nickel for every time someone said, ‘aren’t you worried about the job market and teaching?’ No one believed that I would get an art teaching job.”

Upon entering Messiah College as an art education major, Bantz was immediately immersed in a crash course in all things art.

“I entered this journey to be totally formally trained,” said Bantz. “There was a lot of realism, a lot of still lifes. I would say that a year or two ago if you asked me what my passion was, I would have said oil painting, and creating these really rich oil paintings. Whereas now, I would say I am leaning more towards an illustrative path, that is more fun, more simple, and more like what I was drawing when I was a kid.”

Upon graduation, Bantz worked several part-time jobs, including at the Yellow Bird Café in Harrisburg, as a self-employed graphic arts designer and at Dickinson College’s art museum in Carlisle as associate curator of education. Interaction with the school district through the art museum gradually led to a part-time job then full-time employment at the high school in 2017.

“It was a new realm for me,” Bantz said. “Museum education wasn’t something that I really plan, I guess, to embark on. But I did work there part-time before Carlisle got wind of my educational experience. Working several part-time jobs that year really didn’t leave much time for sleep.”

Despite working several jobs initially out of college, Bantz never lost her love for creating art, and not just art on canvas. She is also a book illustrator, graphic designer, painter and, of course now, a passionate art teacher.

How exactly does a teacher reach students who have such a diverse interest in art?

“That is the magic question,” Bantz says. “In one class I will have someone who wants to go to art school, is actively making their portfolio and then I have someone who struggles to draw a stick figure. My goal is that they’ll gain confidence in themselves, that they won’t look at the world or their art as right or wrong and that they have fun with it.”

  Bibimbap  is Amie Bantz’s favorite painting. As part of her series exploring her bi-racial background, this painting merges Korean and American cultures via two distinctly different dishes. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)
Bibimbap is Amie Bantz’s favorite painting. As part of her series exploring her bi-racial background, this painting merges Korean and American cultures via two distinctly different dishes. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)

Bantz also strives to instill in her students the role art plays in their lives and in that particular moment in the history of the world.

“The one thing I want them to take away, and this may sound rather philosophical, but just the reminder that they are human,” Bantz said, after pausing to give some thought to her answer. “I really push for the concept that they fully understand that they are capable of making something with their hands and with their bodies.

“I think there is something really beautiful to the fact that art is something that humans have been doing since the dawn of time. It is something we create and leave behind for other people to experience a window into an artist’s life,” added Bantz.

Bantz consistently emphasizes this concept with her students.

“This is what I tell my students all of the time,” Bantz adds. “What you are creating right now in high school, you might think that it is silly, you might not even take it seriously, but you are recording your life in a visible and tangible way. You are recording your human existence. That is what I want them to understand.”

She not only teaches them that philosophy but embraces it herself.

“It wouldn’t be fair to teach my students to do this or do that and I am not proactively doing those same things myself,” Bantz said. “I firmly believe as an art teacher that I need to be a practicing artist as well. I think it fits my mantra as I shift into community arts and create murals as part of the lasting impression you leave with people… I always want to reinforce the human relationship to art.”

The human experience is certainly evident in Bantz’s art.

Being the first bi-racial member of her family, she created a whole series of paintings dealing with those experiences. In fact, her favorite painting, titled “Bibimbap” connects that traditional Korean dish with a bowl of Fruit Loops cereal.

“I still dabble in the series about being bi-racial,” Bantz said. “I think of those paintings as meditating on a certain concept, someone struggling with something, and I hone in on that in the paintings.”

Her art is a form of self-discovery as she strives to understand her heritage.

“I spend hours and hours in the trenches thinking about this stuff, and thinking about it in a tangible way, thinking about the form and as I am painting the form of a Fruit Loop I remember when I had a sleepover and a little girl looked at my mom eating Bibimbap and thinking, ’what  the hell is that? Why is she eating that?’ while we were eating Fruit Loops cereal,” Bantz said. “So that was a formative moment when I realized, ‘Oh, I’m different, this isn’t a normal thing.’ So, yeah, it definitely translates into my art.”

As the next artist streetwear collab for Murage apparel, Bantz’s creation will touch on a subject that everyone can relate to in their own way: an abstract drawing of a city skyline.

“I really like the idea of someone looking at something and being able to make a connection and recognizing something from it and having it be familiar,” Bantz said. “I want people who look at it to realize that it is the city of Harrisburg, but still be ambiguous enough to leave room for people to put their own background and interpretation into it.”

In the short time that Bantz has been alive during the vast history of the human experience, it’s safe to say that she is leaving her mark, indelible marks, via the students she teaches and in the art she creates for others to enjoy.

Her contributions to the human experience are pretty amazing considering the many uncertainties she’s encountered in her lifetime on the pathway to discovering, and being, true to herself.

“When I was working a part-time job that first year and then when I was working two part-time jobs that second year, the doubt just continued to set in,” Bantz said, “but you just stay faithful to what you love and I think if you work hard, that you will get through it in the end.”

Editor’s Note: Amie has many interests beyond art, and we discuss a few of her favorite things as part of our Artist Snapshot series. To check out Amie’s awesome artistic creations, head on over to her website.

 This drawing highlights Amie Bantz’s talent for illustration and book design. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)
This drawing highlights Amie Bantz’s talent for illustration and book design. (Photo courtesy of Amie Bantz)