An Artist’s Journey

Art Professor Oliver Schemm is grateful for his position at Castleton

Castleton art professor Oliver Schemm constantly moved around as a kid, growing up in places including Washington D.C, Connecticut, North Carolina, Belgium, Germany and New York. 

He owns a German Shepherd terrier mix. He enjoys rock, classic rock and grunge music, naming artists including Led Zeppelin, The Smiths and Nirvana. He loves fantasy movies, like “Conan the Barbarian,” for example.

And from a young age, he was interested in sword and sorcery types of things, which is apparent by the plethora of items scattered in his office, including axes, swords, and of course Frederick the skeleton. Other items in his office include various pieces of artwork, both his own and from students.

Schemm’s journey to becoming an artist began at a very young age.

 “I was constantly digging and building forts with my brother,” he said. “One time I had a hammer, there was this stone I was hitting with it, and it was creating sparks. I was like 5, and I was fascinated by it. The sound, sparks, feeling of the vibration,” he said.

As a kid, he said people would describe him as curious. 

“I’ve always been interested in the world – the why, the what, the how, what’s behind this corner, how did this happen, when did this happen?” he said. ”Understanding where we are now compared to where we were, what the evolution was, I find absolutely fascinating. In a way, it helps you figure out where things are going.”

Art classes were always something he loved, as well as building. In high school, Schemm worked as a laborer for a construction site. Art was something he always had passion for, although it wasn’t always something he’d imagined being able to do for a living. That was, until his second year of college, when he mentioned to his father about wanting to become an art major, and pursue art for a living. 

His father responded with, “son, there’s a vocation and an avocation. Art is an avocation – it should be a hobby,” he said.

Despite his father’s concern, his passion fueled him to go against it.

“I would say it’s no more different than any other discipline. You just have to persevere, you just have to keep going,” he said

Not only did he have a passion for art, but for teaching also, which made him want to pursue a master’s degree to be able to teach as well. 

He comes from a family of artists and teachers. His mom was a Montessori teacher, his grandmother taught English at Castleton back in the 70s, and his aunt was an English professor as well. 

Interestingly, his grandmother on the other side is a painter. 

But the journey to his career in art was not always smooth sailing. Schemm had children at a fairly young age, and this changed a lot. 

“The biggest turn in my life was having kids. My former wife and I had kids at a young age, I was 23. It made me focus and create a sort of plan,” he said.

He always wanted to go back to school to get his master’s so he would be able to teach. It took him about 10 years to get to this point, and he ended up going to graduate school with three kids under 11 years old, which he described as “fairly challenging.” 

“I wanted to make sure I would never blame or make my girls the excuse on why I didn’t do something. So, I just worked double as hard, to both raise my children well and go back to school,” he said.

Having children may have made his journey to achieving his master’s degree a bit more difficult, but he doesn’t regret any of it.

Oliver Schemm is grateful for being a dad.

“I loved being a father and raising my girls. I love the openness and excitement. They are completely themselves and I cherish that,” he said.

Schemm feels that Castleton is the perfect place to teach. He enjoys the class sizes and interaction he’s able to have with students, as well as the kinds of students who attend here. 

“Small school with a big heart,” he said, describing a phrase coined by former Castleton President Dave Wolk.

Schemm’s favorite materials to work with include stone, wood, leather, glass, bronze, iron and various metals. He likes to use pretty much any material he can get his hands on and manipulate, although he steers clear of any unnatural materials, like plastic for example.

 “I tell my students about the give and take you have with the material – you’re learning from it – like you’re guiding it, but it’s guiding you too in where it wants to go, and I just kind of lose myself in it. Time goes away when I’m working,’’ he says. 

His biggest artistic influences include sculptors/printmakers H.C Westerman and Lee Bontecou, as well as painter Robert Rauschenberg. 

Schemm describes art as being beneficial to other aspects of life as well, including “precision, eye for detail, being honest with myself, troubleshooting and skill development.”

He often preaches to his students about the value of what you learn in art class and how it is applicable to not only art, but life in general. 

“Experimentation, observation and being able to verbalize what you’re seeing are incredibly important skills you’re going to use throughout daily life,” he said. 

Some of his favorite pieces to work on are installations, especially ones that involve interaction – where people are able to walk into it and be a part of the work itself. Works that instill curiosity and wonder. He loves to see children and young people especially being involved in his work, and to intrigue and inspire the younger generations. 

“My ultimate goal is that I leave the world in a better place – that some good came from my life for the world,” he said.

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