Taking Care Of Business

By Theresa Johnston — August 17, 2001 2 min read

‘In a lot of ways, selling art and teaching English are the same.’

Amy Stevens

In Glen Arbor, Michigan, about five hours northwest of Detroit on the shores of Lake Michigan, winter can be a numbing experience. On average, the place gets a hundred inches of snow a year. By the time summer rolls around, though, visitors would be hard pressed to name a prettier stretch of shoreline anywhere in the lower 48. “We’re right near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore— really beautiful northwoods country,” says Amy Stevens, who teaches 9th and 10th grade English at the Interlochen Arts Academy, an independent high school that emphasizes creative writing and the visual and performing arts. When the thaw comes, folks flood in to fish, hike, and camp out, and seasonal, resort-town businesses warm up, too.

Not long after she started teaching her Interlochen students the nuances of Shakespeare and Brontë, Stevens took advantage of the area’s dual character and found a summer job managing the Glen Lake Artists Gallery, a space that stays open weekends in June and every day during July and August. Eleven rewarding summers later, the 25-year veteran teacher is still hard at it—working the cash register, balancing the books, organizing the exhibits and artists’ receptions, designing the advertising, and most important, working with a jury of other artists to choose which pieces to feature in the shop.

For someone who received her bachelor’s degree in both English and art education, the job is a perfect fit.

For someone who received her bachelor’s degree in both English and art education, the job is a perfect fit. “In a lot of ways, selling art and teaching English are the same,” Stevens explains. They require similar kinds of people skills. And in both “you’re helping people see things that they might not see themselves. For example, when you’re working with students, you might ask them to examine a novel a little more closely than they might otherwise in a casual reading. And when you have a gallery, you’re helping people see the small things” that distinguish one handcrafted work from another, she says. In many ways, Stevens is on a mission to help people enjoy art. “I think that people are really hungry for things that are touched by human hands and not just manufactured,” she says.

In addition to managing the gallery, the teacher spends many hours each summer designing and making her own jewelry—one-of-a-kind bracelets, necklaces, and earrings crafted from an assortment of semiprecious stones, glass beads, bone, wood, and sterling silver. The beadwork creations, which she makes at a studio in her house and frequently wears to school, are hot sellers in the gallery and at various other shops in the area. “Teaching involves a kind of concentration in terms of language and analysis that requires one part of my brain,” she explains. “But when I’m creating jewelry designs and actually working with the materials, that’s a whole different side of my brain. So the two kind of balance each other out and feed each other.” An added attraction: Her summer job in the gallery doesn’t start until 10 a.m. “At school, my classes start at 8 a.m., and in February, when we have three feet of snow, that can be kind of grim,” she says, laughing.