Valerie Gilbert was raised in a military family so she has lived in many places, including overseas. She traveled a circuitous route before landing in Decatur about 23 years ago. “I have a friend who lives around the corner on Midway and she told me about this little house that was about to come up for rent. I jumped on it. I felt like it had a lot of potential and that I belonged here. I loved Decatur, that it was close to Atlanta, but not too close, and that it was a cool funky little community.”
Valerie was involved in the professional world of art, showing, and selling her clay-based creations. Before moving into her home in Decatur she was working out of the Beacon Hill Arts Studios. After undergoing a divorce and purchasing her home, Valerie became concerned about her ability to support herself with her creative process. So, she decided to pursue a teaching certificate at Georgia State University (GSU). “While attending GSU, I’d drive past Renfroe Middle School (in Decatur). I kept thinking, ‘That’s where I want to teach.’” And eventually she did.
Valerie found teaching art at Renfroe Middle School gratifying. “I loved the students at Renfroe. Middle school kids have a great sense of humor and they are full of surprises. There was never a dull day. Some students really loved art while others didn’t. My art class was a place where I could meet all these kids in the middle.” Unfortunately, due to Valerie’s demanding teaching schedule, she did not find the time to devote to her own art.
After teaching for 15 years, Valerie retired in 2016. “I love making large figurative clay sculptures, but I don’t feel strong enough to do that anymore. So, I’m switching back to working with mixed media. I gave up my identity as an artist for a while to be a teacher. I put it in a box and buried it, and now I’m trying to recapture that identity. I have a studio in my backyard which I just cleaned and organized so I’m ready to enter the last phase of my life as an artist!”