“I couldn’t help but create art.”

Art educator Chauncy B. Williams recalls his grandmother's prophecy about his future and his beginnings as an East Texas artist. Chauncy's story was originally aired as part of Out of the Loop, season 5.

My life as an artist began before I ever picked up a brush or mixed paint colors. That would come much later. My grandmother made a point of saying, “This baby has unusually large hands; I wonder what he will do with them.” My grandmother’s words have become a prophecy I am living out.

Coming from a big family, it was understood by my siblings and me that our parents valued education and expected us to pursue college. I watched my older siblings graduate high school and get right to work on their college degrees. My story didn’t happen that way.

On my graduation night in 2006 at Martin Stadium in Carthage, I can recall the bleachers being packed with parents holding red, black and white balloons and celebrating. Even though I walked across the stage like everyone else, my heart was heavy.

📷 all photos by Chris French for The Tyler Loop

You see, I learned a month earlier that I hadn’t passed my science exit- level TAKS test. I was allowed to walk the stage in my my cap and gown, but my parents and I knew the truth. 

I had watched my mother cry, pleading with school administrators to find another way for me to pass, or at least another attempt before graduation. There was nothing to be done but to retake the TAKS test in the summer of the same year.

After that rough transition out of high school, I didn’t exactly consider myself a shining star. Honestly, I began to struggle with the mentality of defeat. Thankfully, I did pass the test and receive my diploma.  After I overcame that challenge, I took wisdom from my parents to start close to home at Panola College in Carthage, Texas.

Little did I know, one trip to Dallas would change my perspective of everything. I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. This was not only my first trip to an art museum, but it was also my first trip to Dallas. It was a picture-perfect day.

For three hours, I imagined what I would see and how I would feel. As we approached the park of the museum, I can recall that feeling of excitement.

As we walked into the gallery, those butterflies began to leave and the reality was beginning to settle. The smell of the gallery was equivalent to the art section at Hobby Lobby. It was definitely the smell of creativity. The excitement was like waking up on Christmas Day to gifts in my parents’ living room.

One exhibit in particular that I recall was the King Tut display. I literally stood in awe viewing this exhibit. All of the gold that survived hundreds of years literally made my jaw drop with amazement.  I left that day with so much inspiration. After that experience, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be an artist.

Back at Panola with a new fire in me, I began creating nonstop. I would go to class all morning and then work on an assembly line, packaging cups and plates at a factory called Genpak, from 3 p.m. to 11:30 pm. During my work shift, my mind would drift to my art.

I can recall getting scratch paper from my operator and writing ideas with a drive to create. I would end my shift and dive into creating art until the early morning hours, getting just a few hours of sleep before my college classes began. I would have new ideas and projects in process that I would have on the floor and the desk of my apartment.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I created art in my courses; then continued the process with work from my apartment when I returned from work. It was like a burst of creation that I had to release before I could rest. And then the cycle would start all over again.

Through the fatigue, I was energized and inspired. Something that awoke in me at the museum visit to Dallas was blossoming and coming to life. I couldn’t help but create art.

I began to create so much work that my art professor pitched the idea of having a solo art show. On April 2, 2008, the idea became a reality. I became the first-student to produce a solo exhibition of personal work. This, along with teachers like Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Karen O’Neal, and Mrs. Ann Boland who showed me respect and care, were opening my eyes to new possibilities.

In 2010, I married the love of my life, Ms. Desiree Harris. And two years later, I graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler. We had our first child with another on the way. Life was happening, and I had to take care of myself and my family.

For 10 years, I worked in the environmental services field at what was then East Texas Medical Center. After three short months on the job, I was offered the role to become a supervisor. Even though I wasn’t actively using art in my job, I was applying the respect and care my Panola College teachers showed me as I managed employees. Under Mr. Troy Horton’s mentorship, I became well-rounded with people and different personalities.

This skill turned out to be just what I needed as I launched my career as an art teacher in the Winona School District. 

Two things from my past have come together: My art and my leadership management skills. There is a third element that binds these two together: My love for people. 

As I minister to my students, I remember that my path was cloudy for a season. I remember that the timing of a museum visit or the kindness of a teacher could be just the thing to ignite a fire in them.

To God be the glory for the things that he has done in my life. My name is Chauncy B. Williams, and this is my story.

Chauncy B. Williams Sr. is an art educator in Winona School District. He is living the prophecy of his late grandmother, Ruthie Lee Johnson. His determination to envision how far his art could evolve took him from Carthage High School to Panola College to receiving a Bachelors in Fine Art in 2012 from the University of Texas in Tyler. In 2009, Williams married Desiree Williams. They have two children.

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