Editor’s Note: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Kern Sol News is highlighting notable woman leaders in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
Marisela Oropeza grew up in a single-parent migrant household and the constant change helped her develop her creative nature.
She was born in Hammond, Indiana and it was difficult for her to get good grades in school due to the constant migration from place to place. She attended seven different elementary schools as a child.
Since she was always on the move, she was always inventing and creating new things to play with and would rely on her creativity to keep her busy.
“I knew that I wanted to follow an art career when my high school teacher, Mr. Mike O’mera introduced me to oil paints and canvases as he gifted these to me and asked me to use them for one of my art projects,” said Oropeza. “This gift was an eye-opener for me since I had never worked with oil paints before and I absolutely loved the way they blended and the prolonged drying process. Ever since then, I have worked primarily in oils.”
She has a major in art, but she mostly relied on her intuition and insights to guide her through the creative process. In her classes, she mostly learned the history, theories, concepts, ideas, terminology, and other relevant aspects of art.
“In practice, I painted anything and everything I wanted and I often found myself immersed in inspiration because of it. This is how I developed my own style; one that is elongated, broken, abstract and that revolves around musicians. If I wouldn’t have been an artist, I think I would have been a musician instead,” said Oropeza.
While growing up, she used to pretend that she was a teacher and used her school supplies to make paper dolls and shoeboxes became her student’s desks. She used cardboard, newspaper, and anything that she could find around the house to create a classroom setting. She would play for hours and her imagination would take her to all the places that she wanted to be.
Soon after high school, her father became very ill and she moved to Michoacan, Mexico for a few years to help care for him. While living in Mexico — with the help of her uncle Pepe who works as an architect there — she set up a studio and began teaching art and English to Spanish-speaking students.
“I relied on my previous experiences of working at the Delano Adult school and working summer jobs with Mrs. Garcia, who was a bilingual teacher there at the time. I knew that I had encountered a new passion; besides producing art, now, I also wanted to teach it,” said Oropeza.
She began teaching in 2006 when she was hired as a consultant to teach art under contract. She was an instructional aide at the time and the principal saw her involvement in the arts with the community and asked if she could teach art to the students in the school.
“Two years into teaching art, I kept receiving requests from other principals to bring my art program into their classrooms as well. This is when my journey in teaching began in the K-8 classrooms,” said Oropeza. “In some schools, I have my own classroom, and in others, I go into teacher’s classrooms and provide fun, educational and engaging art lessons that I’ve developed and created over the years; these lessons centered around the California Arts Standards and grade-level curriculum.”
Last year, Oropeza was contacted by eight different schools to provide art services, but her contracts were not approved due to COVID regulations. She ended up enrolling back in school to complete her credentials and master’s.
During the pandemic, going from teaching in the classroom to teaching online through Zoom was a life-changer, not only for the teachers but for the students as well.
Art requires a broad range of mediums to explore, especially when working with small children, and this was merely impossible considering that many students did not have access to these supplies.
“I had to alter and modify my art lessons in various ways so that students would still be able to successfully complete their art projects; I found very creative ways to do so,” said Oropeza.
Being back in the classroom and teaching art with a broad array of mediums has brought back the spice in her teaching.
“I am able to integrate art supplies that vary widely and my students get excited every time I introduce them to these mediums and to the different ways of producing and seeing art. I see they enjoy the process of creating in the classroom more so than being online,” said Oropeza.
Oropeza said It brings her great joy and pleasure to know that students get a break from their everyday routines and hard work in the classroom and do art.
“Art allows students to express themselves in ways that schoolwork doesn’t. Thus, I find teaching art to be a privilege every time I’m in the classroom, and rather than going to work each morning, I feel like I’m going to have fun instead,” said Oropeza.
Color and textures inspire her artwork quite a bit and she tends to get ideas through observation of the world, her travels, and life experiences. She also likes learning about artists, their lives, and what inspires them as well. Other artists always serve as an inspiration and add a new lens to another world of creativity.
“I get inspiration from anything I see or dream that provokes interest and inspiration. My students also inspire me. They not only keep me on my toes when it comes to teaching, but they also provide that lively energy that has kept me young at heart, mind, and soul,” said Oropeza.
Oropeza showcases her work in art-related events within the community and other art-related venues. To see a list of her art involvement, please visit her biography on her website.
Whenever she is not painting or creating art, she gathers crafts, beads, and findings and puts jewelry together.
“I hand assemble bracelets, necklaces, and earrings and I make my own Day of the Dead skeleton dolls out of polymer clay and glass bottles. You can also see more of these on my website,” said Oropeza.
Oropeza’s advice to anyone is to follow your passion and see where it may lead. She said you always have to keep an eye out for opportunities and mingle with like-minded individuals that may help you along the way in one way or another.
“Seek new possibilities, stay active- never stop creating, be strong, and don’t be afraid of failure. Take criticism as a tool to make you stronger. Have faith in yourself and be optimistic; good things will come your way,” said Oropeza.