Allison and Jonathan Syltie not only have art in their hearts, first meeting in a college art class, but have jobs where they work on expanding and informing that love for art to others in the Waco community.
She is the director of Baylor University’s Martin Museum of Art and seeks to expand a community of art viewers and appreciators through the platform of a museum.
He is the art instructor at Vanguard College Preparatory School and busy at expanding a community of art makers through the platform of a studio — five of them, in fact, at Vanguard.
“I’m introducing them to the processes,” said Jonathan Syltie, a working artist as well as instructor.
“And I’m introducing them to voyeurism, basically,” Allison Syltie quipped.
Their career choices reflect their different personalities — she’s more of an introvert, he’s more outgoing — but overlap in what art can do for a person and in how a trained eye deepens one’s appreciation. Their 2-year-old daughter, Nora, already shares from both parents in her art choices, Allison observes.
“She likes to color but doesn’t like to color alone,” she said.
The Sylties met 10 years ago in a drawing class at the University of Texas at Tyler, and their college years proved pivotal for both of them. Allison, 33, grew up in Mildred and had planned on earning a business management degree.
But her first UT Tyler art class triggered an interest that would eventually lead to a bachelor’s, then a master’s of fine arts degree, which she completed in 2010. Her graduate experience convinced her that she didn’t want to teach art, but an internship at Navarro College’s Pearce Collections led her to museum studies, which she loved. She ended up as a part-time, then full-time curator for the Pearce Collections.
Jonathan, 37, grew up on a farm outside of Fredericksburg, but art played a bigger part in his childhood. Jonathan and his sisters entered art competitions at the annual Gillespie County Fair to earn money from prizes. Jonathan even won a national Boy Scouts of America contest that put his art on a fundraising popcorn tin.
His experience in a high school art class, however, poured cold water temporarily on that artistic interest.
“I was a higher-level person in a lower-level class,” he said.
By 2005, he was at Kilgore College, transferring to UT Tyler, where he met Allison in art class.
“It was a case of social butterfly vs. true introvert,” she said.
The social butterfly slowly prevailed and the two became friends, chatting on a daily basis. She liked photography and mixed- media artwork and kept better notes. He preferred painting and woodworking and wrote better test essays. Both confess competitive streaks.
Jonathan eventually broke off the relationship, pursuing construction work after earning his bachelor of fine art degree, then spent a stint in store management and even a short time in New York as a model. Art, however, pulled him back to Texas in 2009. He returned to UT- Tyler for graduate work, reconnected with Allison and, after the two married in 2011, completed his master of fine art degree the next year.
Jonathan was teaching high school art in Corsicana when Baylor tapped Allison two years ago to become the new director of the Martin. His Waco job opportunity came last year when retiring Vanguard art instructor John Perdichi picked him as his replacement.
For Jonathan, it meant shifting from a classload of 200 students a day to some 60 students and use of Vanguard’s extensive arts facility, which includes a main arts studio, a woodworking shop, ceramics room, welding space and a photography darkroom.
Advised that one of his challenges would be students trying to catch up with other class assignments while in art, Jonathan tried to meet that challenge with his own: adapting the college curriculum he once taught for students ready for that level and pushing everyone to create art, regardless of ability level and reluctance to fail.
The Vanguard teacher also urged his students to enter their work in every contest they could. The results were remarkable: first-place finishes in local, regional and state art contests in both private and public school competitions, with six medalists and a prestigious Gold Seal winner in the Texas Art Education Association’s Visual Arts Scholastic Event.
Bill Borg, Vanguard’s Head of School, finds Jonathan a valuable addition and worthy successor to Perdichi’s legacy.
“Jonathan is in that same ilk,” Borg said. “He’s pleasant and enjoyable to be around and extremely well-liked by the students.”
Better yet, he is accomplished at getting his students to work hard and tackle projects outside their comfort zones while striving for quality, he said.
The Sylties find their job worlds overlap when they return to their Riesel home and debrief each other on their days. She finds ways to tap the interest of students and what teachers need, both of which come in handy for school field trips to the Martin, trips open to more than art classes and students.
For the museum’s “Multiplicity” exhibit last year, a show that dealt in numbers and dimensions, eighth-grade students and their math and science teachers were invited. A high school journalism class benefited from the Martin Museum’s recent show of books of art.
Jonathan also contributes on the physical side of museum shows, pitching in to build shipping boxes and helping to hang art work on walls.
He learns from her side of the art world, in how Baylor art faculty view art and its creation and where it fits in the community. That goes into what he teaches students thinking about art as a field of study or even a career.
There is enough swapping of ideas and thoughts from their career sides that the Sylties pause when asked to separate individual contributions.
“What we do is art, every single day,” Allison said.