High school art class motivated Heisey

Finding a skill, craft or even interest to pursue can be a difficult task, and the discovery often comes at unique times.  For Andrew Heisey, chairperson for the fine arts department and assistant professor of art at Waynesburg University, it came in a 10th grade art class.

“I was not an artist as a kid – I was not one of those students who was always sketching and drawing,” said Heisey. “It just wasn’t me – I didn’t grow up in that setting.”

Heisey, a central Pennsylvania native, wasn’t introduced or forced into art. In fact, it didn’t play a large role in his childhood.

“I grew up in a conservative Christian family,” said Heisey.  “I worked on a farm, we had a produce farm and so everything we did had to be functional. You did things because you had to make a living. We never went to art museums. If we went anywhere, it was camping or to the beach. I had never been [fully] immersed into art, it just wasn’t something that we did.”

As a sophomore in high school, Heisey took an art class because of his interest in building and constructing.

“[Growing up] in my family we had many builders who worked in construction,” said Heisey.  “Many of the men in my family liked to build things. My grandfather, who has been an example to me, in his retirement was a toy builder. He made wooden toys. I have a wooden boat he made at home. I never saw myself as an artist, I liked art class, but I only took it because I liked to make things.”

It was in that class that Heisey would find his calling. He hadn’t found his skill or interest, but he was always told that God had a plan for him.

“It wasn’t until a tenth-grade class in high school [where] we did a lot of mediums, it was a 3-D art class, so we did some clay, but it was one week that I was on the pottery wheel for the [entire] week,” said Heisey. “I made a couple little pots and the one was this little tiny ceramic pot. I was sitting there and thought ‘I made that.’ It wasn’t anything special, but I was just impressed that it was something I made. It changed my life.”

Heisey remembered what others had told him about “God’s plan” and thought that plan could center around art.

“I wasn’t good academically, I wasn’t good at sports and really didn’t understand them, there were no gifts that I had, but that little pot changed everything,” Heisey said. “Suddenly I thought maybe I can do this.”

With a newly discovered talent, Heisey went through high school taking more art classes and after previously ruling it out, decided that he would give college a shot.

“When it was time to go to college I wasn’t going to go,” Heisey said. “I was going to follow the family business and do some kind of construction, but I applied to one school and got in by the skin of my teeth. My grades were not great, but I got into one school for art.”

Heisey moved through college, determined to gain a strong art education through improving his work ethic.

“I began studying art,” said Heisey. “I started taking courses; drawing, painting, sculpture and I was doing well because I worked harder than I ever did. Then, February of my senior year I got hired at a Christian school nearby to teach art. So sometimes things happen that you just wouldn’t expect. It was one of those things that had me go out on a limb and do what my dream was [to study art] and I did that with this job.”

The job that Heisey received out of college would be the only one that separated him from finding Waynesburg University. After spending 15 years as a middle and high school art teacher and contributing to the arts program at Messiah College as an adjunct professor, he began to search for another position. Heisey sifted through many schools, but Waynesburg stood out to him.

“I was thrilled when I started looking for university jobs [and found] Waynesburg, because I had applied to many different schools, but Waynesburg was the only one that had a Christian foundation and I was thrilled,” said Heisey.

Six years later, Heisey found himself as the chair of the Fine Arts Department.

“Just this year, they asked me to be chair of the whole department, but I have been running the art program and gallery for the last six years, while I’ve been here,” said Heisey.

Heisey lives in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children, ages 16 and 12. Currently, he is working with other staff members at Waynesburg to develop an art academy for local community members.

“A big project I am working on now is the Fine Arts Academy,” said Heisey. “It is an opportunity for the arts here at Waynesburg to influence the Greene County community.  We have a great program here, a great university and all along, my goal has been to bridge the gap between the community and the university, so we are offering art, music and theatre classes to middle and high school [students] as well as adults.”

Heisey wanted to create the program to give Greene County a financially efficient way to be introduced to the arts.

“Greene County is the fifth poorest county in Pennsylvania, and therefore there isn’t a lot of opportunity for them to study the arts,” said Heisey. “We want to make some [opportunities] available for them.  Once we have that established we are hoping to get grant funding to create scholarships, so that students that can’t afford to buy lessons, there is a way we can subsidize that. Art changed my life in such a significant way, there are other people whose lives can be changed by art.”

Heisey continues to create new pieces of art on his own and through his classes at Waynesburg.  However, his interest in the arts is still given to that little pot and God, who had a plan for him all along.

“The artwork I have been making forever has been something that isn’t completely worthless, nothing is worthless,” said Heisey. “I do a lot of sculptures with things that are broken and the purpose for that is because it’ll be better when it’s put back together than what it was before it was broken. For me, as that high school student that didn’t know what they were going to do, I was this broken vessel that had no purpose. But, God took all of the parts of who I was and made something out of it.”