Holly Briggs: Knoxville's Artistic Educator

Holly Briggs started taking an art class when she was 11. It was a continuing education oil-painting class at a Memphis community college that Briggs' mother suggested she take.

"The youngest person other than me in the class was 50. I felt really big and important carrying my easel and all my paints into class and then sitting in the classroom, listening to Enya, [and] painting flowers," she says.

Briggs, 31, is now an art teacher herself at Mooreland Heights Elementary. [You may have seen the work of some of her students in last week's Halloween issue of Metro Pulse.] But it wasn't until 11th grade that Briggs took an art class at school. She got lucky and had a great teacher, who, she says, "Super-defined me as an artist, and he was very influential in my decision to go on to college and to even go into printmaking."

That's how Briggs ended up in Knoxville—she got her BFA in printmaking from the University of Tennessee. But teaching wasn't exactly her original goal when she began her studies.

"Honestly, I think I just wanted to learn as much as I could about art, and then to really make things, explore it, learn about the history of it, the production of it. And then after I got out of school, it was sort of like blinking in the sunlight. What do I do now? I wanted to continue in the arts and continue to learn and grow," she says. That, and the fact that "it's a difficult road to be a professional artist. I thought it would behoove me to use my skill set in a more practical way."

But Briggs still considers herself an artist, even if it's not a full-time gig. "I feel that it's very important for my students to know that I do value art as much as I say that I do, and that I am a practicing artist, too." For the past several years, Briggs has also organized and directed the annual Knox County Art Teachers art exhibit, which was part of last year's Dogwood Arts Festival in May.

At Mooreland Heights, Briggs teaches art to kindergarteners, all the way up to fifth-graders in an arts-integrated setting—art, music, and drama are incorporated into what the kids learn in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

"The kids like to joke around [saying] ‘Oh my gosh we're learning about the Civil War in class! It's so weird!' And I'm like ‘I know, it's almost like somebody planned it that way!'" she says.

When she's not teaching, Briggs pursues other creative outlets (she says she loves cooking, especially ethnic foods) and outdoor adventures—usually with her dog Cricket.

"I love all places old or isolated," she says. "I love abandoned buildings, I like poking around in old farmhouses. I like exploring all things old and forgotten."

And Knoxville has certainly become home to Briggs after spending the last 12 years here.

"It's the city I've spent my adult life in. It feels like a really large community. The whole city has a feeling of home and comfort. Even though it's very familiar, it's always surprising," she says.