Sam Van Galder
When he’s not surgically dissecting the landscape at one of the area’s lush, green golf courses, it’s quite likely Sam Van Galder might be re-creating it as a painting with oils on canvas.
A recognized figure in Janesville sports, Van Galder is a seven-time winner of the annual city men’s golf tournament. And you might have seen his surname on the side of countless coach buses that travel regularly throughout the region.
But most days, Van Galder is helping mold the minds of a new generation of creatives as an art teacher at Parker High School.
A 2005 graduate of Craig High School, Van Galder earned his bachelor of fine arts degree at UW-Whitewater and holds educational licensure through Norda Project Teaching. In his seventh year of teaching with the Janesville School District, Van Galder also coaches the Parker boys golf team and runs the school’s chapter of the National Art Honor Society.
Van Galder and his wife, Emily, have a 4-year-old daughter, Caroline, and a 2-year-old son, Vincent. A golden- doodle named Charlee June rounds out the family.
To learn more about Van Galder, his art and information on commission opportunities, visit his Instagram page (@samvangalderart). To see artwork from his students, check out his classroom’s Instagram (@vgs_art_room) and Facebook (VG’s Art Room) pages.
1. You recently published a book you created with a former student called “Ethan’s Animal Alphabet.” Can you explain the idea behind the book? The idea came from just watching Ethan draw. He has a unique way of drawing out his ideas. He loves to draw animals, school supplies, cars, trucks, etc. Meanwhile I have my own two young kids that love to read children’s books, and I came up with the idea of turning Ethan’s drawings into this neat little animal alphabet book after seeing other various children’s books pull off the same playful, illustrative look. It all came together nicely, and I think the book really hits home with a lot of people.
2. Traditionally, educational emphasis is placed on math and sciences. Why is art is so important? Art forces students to solve problems in their own way. In a world where most answers or information can simply be Googled in a matter of seconds, art physically makes students attempt to solve the assignment in front of them. There isn’t one correct formula they must use or one exact answer. You can look up examples and information via research, but in the end, it is the student who must take the leap and trust his or her instincts and ideas on each project. I also think art creates a great form of interaction between students. I promote a social setting in my classroom, and I want students to gather, chat, work together and observe what others are doing. Kids need this verbal interaction more than ever as I see more and more kids relying solely on their smartphones to communicate with their peers.
3. When did you first discover you wanted to become an art teacher? Well, my mom was an art teacher and an artist herself. So I guess since I showed that art was definitely a strength of mine (probably somewhere around age 8-10), it has always been in the back of my head as a possibility. The graduating Class of 2019 really proved to me that I’ve made the right decision, at least for this part of my life. It was my fourth year at Parker, and my first graduating class I had known for all four years. It was a group I made some great connections with and gained the trust of a lot of students. It was very reassuring to have a solid group of students who really valued my opinion and help.
4. You’re a pretty decent golfer. I am not. Do you have any advice that might help me enjoy being on the course a bit more? Get a handicap. Regardless of your ability, everyone who plays or wants to play should get a handicap through the course you most commonly play. The handicap will allow you to compete with anyone of any skill level and will make the game more competitive for you. Just going out swinging a club aimlessly is only so much fun. Golf is one of the only sports that the recreational players could square up in a head-to-head match with, let’s say, Tiger Woods and possibly beat him—using the handicap system, of course.
5. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I feel like I fall more in the middle. I think being a teacher forces you to be a bit of an extrovert just because every day you have to put yourself out there in front of groups of people and entertain the crowd. But I certainly enjoy lounging at home and keeping to myself as well.
6. In your own opinion, what is your worst habit? Procrastination. I am awful at planning ahead. I always get so mad at myself for putting things off to the last minute, and I have been this way my entire life. My brain seems to function better when I am under the stress of a strict deadline.
7. Name a popular actor/singer/artist who doesn’t appeal to you. This will be an extremely unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I have never been able to get into Bruce Springsteen. I just never understood the hype. I have a very clear memory of driving in my mom’s car back when I was probably 6 or 7, and one of his songs was a big hit and always on the radio. I can’t remember the song, but I do remember it was just so depressing, and I used to make fun of it by mocking the tone of his voice. Ever since then I just haven’t been able to understand the hype around “The Boss.” Sorry to all the huge fans out there. Don’t take it personally.
8. There is an entire fleet of coach buses in the area that have your family name on the sides of them. Did you learn a lot about buses through osmosis growing up, or was that simply a subject you weren’t too interested in? My sister and I were always down at the bus lot growing up. My dad would go into work a lot, and he would drag us along. We’d go exploring all over the place. It was a real family operation back then, and many of the employees would let us hang out with them and do whatever jobs they were doing. I drove a school bus after college for a few years. My route consisted of schools on Janesville’s south side, and many of the students I picked up in the morning and took home after school have now been my students. Interesting how that all turned out.
9. It’s your night to select a board game for the family to play. Which one are you picking? Monopoly. It is probably the longest game you can choose, but I’ve always loved playing it. Not really sure why I would pick Monopoly over anything else, but to be honest with you, I’m not much of a board game person to begin with. I grew up in an UNO family. We were pretty serious about it. We have a championship belt we play for and everything.
10. People would be surprised to know that I: Believe it or not, I think I have to say “make art” for this one. Even though I don’t feel like I hide my artistic skill, I don’t think to this point in my life I’ve done a very good job at promoting myself.
11. If you could hang one famous piece of artwork in your home, which one would it be, and why? “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. “Nighthawks” is a city landscape, but it also includes a few figures to help tell a story. It is my favorite painting and is what really opened my eyes to what I like to do within my own personal work, which tends to be a combination of figurative work within a landscape of some sort—much like the work of Edward Hopper.
12. When you go to the grocery store, name one item that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Milk. Having kids now has shown me you can never have enough milk in the fridge.
13. Select your favorite Muppet. Kermit the Frog. I guess when I think of the Muppets, Kermit just seems to be the face of the brand and what comes to mind on the spot. I think I was more of a “Sesame Street” kind of kid.
14. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I would hit range balls. I love going to the driving range and working on my golf swing. It’s like a reset button for me. Some people like to go running or ride their bikes to get their minds right, but for me, a couple of buckets of golf balls usually does the trick.
15. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could play an instrument good enough to be a part of a band. To me, that just seems like such a rush to perform music in front of a crowd. I am always envious of people I know who do this, even if it’s just at local bars. It just looks fun.
16. Right now, what is the wallpaper on your cell phone? A picture of me and my dad on a golf course. It popped up a few months ago as a memory on Facebook, and it has always been one of my favorite photos with him, so I made it my background that day.
17. Name one movie or TV show that, if you happen to come across it even though it’s half over, you’ll still sit down and watch it. I can sit down and watch “Seinfeld” at any time. I just love the characters, the roles they play and all the everyday problems they seem to encounter. My favorite episode is when George pretends to be a marine biologist and saves a whale by removing the golf ball Kramer hit into its spout.
18. If I had to choose one meal to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be: I think I would choose breakfast. There are just so many options for breakfast, and I don’t think any one of them has ever been bad. If I have to get more specific, I would say a Denver omelette with hash browns.
19. Health food or junk food? I think everyone would love to choose healthy food here, but let’s be honest with ourselves—who doesn’t love a bit of good junk food? I mean, if you’re stranded on an island and someone presents a plate of assorted vegetables or a cheeseburger and fries, I am choosing the latter every time.
20. If you weren’t an art teacher, what would you be doing? I would most likely be a golf professional giving lessons and running a golf course somewhere. I’ve thought a lot about giving up my amateur status at some point and begin giving lessons on the side while continuing to teach, but I’m not quite ready to stop playing competitively. More recently though, a friend started his own sign company and has opened me up to the idea of environmental branding. I have been working on my own mockup ideas and designs on the side. It’s fun, and I think it is something I could be really good at if the opportunity presented itself.
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.