Wheaton native looks at politics through art

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Dr. Rebecca Decocq Burrell is a Wheaton High School graduate, and in 2009, was featured as one of the 369 artists who were selected to paint ornaments representing their districts, which were hung on the large Fraser fir in the Blue Room of the White House. Burrell attributes her successes to the rich education she says she received in a one-room school house five miles southeast of Wheaton. Contributed photo

Creative Educator: Different perspectives create America

With Christmas almost here and a new year approaching, artist and creative educator Rebecca Decocq Burrell, Ed.D., is inviting Barry Countians to embrace the unity of diversity, offering a unique perspective that puts a whole new star atop the tree.

The retired art teacher and Wheaton High School graduate is encouraging students to not only think outside the box, but to "design the box out of which they think."

On the cusp of a new year and in a time of transition, Burrell said that type of thinking is especially needed right now, as the country is a work in progress, and its citizens are the creative force.

"The political climate at the moment is a work in progress," Burrell said. "It's kind of like a mural, it goes on, so it's almost like we're designing the box as we go along. There is going to be a creative articulation that will impact the lives of the new first family and our citizens in general. This is the big canvas, the big community piece where we can come together, with our paints, our cooperation and creativity in considering new visions, and add to or adjust as needed for the greater good. We are a nation putting forth our best composition for the world to see."

In 2009, while representing the 7th Congressional District under Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt as an art consultant for schools, Burrell was featured in the Cassville Democrat for painting one of 369 ornaments that were hung on a large Fraser fir tree in the Blue Room of the White House, at the request of then First Lady Laura Bush.

Her ornament featured a snow-covered barn scene painted from memory of her childhood Barry County farm, where her sister, Wanna Jean Decocq, still resides, along with a blue bird and flowering dogwood.

During that time, she recalls that the nation, like now, was also in a time of transition.

"It was interesting to be in Washington at the time, and to think of that transitional time between administrations," Burrell said. "Obama was president-elect and the Bushes were leaving. Those were the scenes that came to me, that were so dear to us, and represented the beauty of the rural areas and farming communities. I felt an allegiance to my Barry County roots and the richness of growing up on a farm with my parents and the good folk there to articulate a rare opportunity and represent not only the 7th Congressional District, but Barry County and the surrounding areas."

Burrell, who attended a one-room schoolhouse five miles southeast of Wheaton, developed a taste for the arts at a young age and said she was inspired from learning in a small school environment.

"I did my first drawings at age 4, and drew on the back of anything I could find that was blank," she said. "People underestimate the beauty of the rural schools, and the rich, multi-dimensional education and learning environment. I took spelling with seventh and eighth-graders.

"We had a Mr. Simians for one year. We had no text book -- we dealt with ideas. That was ahead of its time. It was him who told me one afternoon, 'You will do well in college.' It was that kind of encouragement that gave me a vision early on."

Burrell now shares that same richness, vision and her unique perspectives with graduate students as an adjunct teacher at Drury University and in community seminars and projects through her business and studio, Creativity Unlimited. She has a Bachelor's and Master's degree from Missouri State University in art and business, a Master's in secondary administration and a doctorate in educational leadership with studies in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard.

She has also provided her services to the oncology program through CoxHealth, creating angels for patients.

Before 2017 arrives, and Christmas trees are taken down, Burrell would like to add one more ornament and star of insight to Barry County trees and the homes they decorate to create a special brand of Christmas unity.

"We're going be in the studio together for four years, and if we come together in unity and we're willing to mix colors and ideas and emphasize the beauty of those colors, and honor the composition and one that reflects the greater good of all of our citizens of the USA, then we're articulating for the world community," Burrell said. "We're in an era now where we've had a lot of thinking outside the box and policy makers, including our President-elect Donald Trump. It's a new time for a new first family. It's about design synectics, bringing together the seemingly unrelated in a new configuration.

"After an election, isn't that what the policy makers are about [doing]? It's the art of national community. Our President-elect wrote the Art of the Deal. We think of all the pros and cons of unity or lack thereof in ideas, but to have the freedom for all colors and backgrounds to come together to express and give form to this work in progress -- that's the USA. We are articulating the unity of diversity. And we all have a brushstroke in this, a brush with unity, a brush with creativity. So, if we don't like what has been painted, isn't that a constitutional democracy process? We're all here together and all making our mark on this larger composition. It's not just a painting, it's a collage."

Burrell compared the globe-shaped ornament she painted for the White House to the collective views and backgrounds that make up America.

"It's as if we are painting in the round and our work is being displayed in each different view such as in all of our congressional districts," Burrell said. "They all came from the different perspectives they represented. So when you think of all those views, that is America."

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