HALSTEAD — Like many of her friends, Beth Vannatta had no intention of living and working in a small town.
"When I was growing up, I could not wait to get away from Kansas. We were all going to move away," Vannatta said.
Born in 1938, she attended a country school until her family moved closer to Halstead. After she graduated from Halstead High School, she moved around the state, taking art classes at colleges in Dodge City, Wichita and Hays.
"They didn't have art classes when I went to school," Vannatta said.
She soon realized she needed to make a living with her passion for art.
"I decided to become a teacher, something I had not wanted to do because I and my classmates were holy terrors," Vannatta said with a laugh. "We made teachers miserable up until Mrs. Robbins came. She made us miserable."
She graduated from Fort Hays State University with a degree in art education and went on to teach art at Hutchinson High School for 27 years. She also taught part-time at Hutchinson Community College for 12 years.
After her retirement, she continued to take college classes to learn techniques for shaping metal, such as steam casting. Being in a class with younger adults gave her a chance to share the expertise and wisdom she has gained from her decades of living and creating art.
"I'm a teacher. I love kids and I love teaching. It's just automatic for me to encourage them and to be helpful with information," Vannatta said. "You retire, but you never stop being a teacher."
Vannatta's home is filled with art — drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculptures and woodcarvings that are either her own creations or that evoke a memory of another artist.
The figure of a jackrabbit and springerle rolling pin are examples of the woodcarving her father made that now reside in her kitchen.
"My dad was artistic," Vannatta said. "...He was original. He could draw anything. I got it from him."
It is three-dimensional art that most often emerges from her studio.
"I work in stone, in wood, ceramics, in cast bronze, in forged copper, brass and steel," Vannatta said. "I do have a variety of mediums, but I really am a sculptor."
Many of her pieces address political and social issues such as war, poverty and prejudice.
"The beginning of life, the end of life and the suffering in life — a lot of my pieces are about that," Vannatta said.
It is her concern for humanity that drives her to keep working to create pieces of art.
"People — that's my subject matter," Vannatta said. "I love people. I'm very humanitarian. People are what I think of. I suppose if my art has a purpose, it's to entertain people and encourage and inspire them to be better brothers and sisters."
A collection of walking sticks, canes and staffs made by Vannatta is now on display in the exhibit "In Retrospect" at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery.
"They are so fun to make," Vannatta said. "I make creatures — things — that live on top of them. I design it down so they work together as a piece."
Not only does she make each walking stick unique, she creates its own stand as well.
"Once you've made the walking stick, you can't show it by itself, because it can't stand up," Vannatta said. "So then you have to make the holder for the walking stick. Each time I make a project I'm actually making two projects."
Spending her life in Kansas does not bother Vannatta anymore — she lives in what was originally constructed in the 1930s as a two-room vacation cabin near Halstead.
"I love it now," Vannatta said. "This little town, it's full of every kind of people, some of them just as weird as can be — and some of them would tell you I'm as weird as could be. They're just so interesting; it's fun."
An opening reception for "In Retrospect" will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at Carriage Factory Art Gallery, 128 E. Sixth St., Newton. Artist talks by James Caldwell, Gene Marsh and Vannatta will be given and live music will be provided by Ian Gingrich-Gaylord on piano. The reception is free and open to all ages.