By Jessica Kennedy
Cat Traen: Artist, teacher, mentor and living her childhood dream
From the time she was quite young, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Cat Traen would proclaim to her family, “I want to be a starving artist!” They thought it was a cute answer and encouraged her to draw.
School didn’t hold much interest for Traen, except for one class: Advance Placement English. While everyone in her school was evidently terrified of this instructor, he pushed his students to use their creativity. One project in particular she remembers vividly: “It was ‘Dante’s Inferno’ and while every assignment in English was usually about writing, he wanted us to do a project that didn’t involve writing, but conveyed the message of the book all the same. I did a ‘Nine Layer Hell Cake’ to represent the book and let me tell you, no way would I have eaten that. It took two days to make it and it was quite tall as you can imagine.” What made this teacher so inspirational for Traen was the way he engaged his students in projects and worked with them to help insure their success.
Recruited by University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she moved from the frozen tundra of North Dakota to warm, sunny Las Vegas. “It was nothing like North Dakota. I mean they had palm trees and a pyramid! It was paradise” Traen said. She originally studied Kinesiology, the study of the movements of athletes, but that didn’t last long when she realized the incredible number of math and science classes it was going to take to complete the degree. So, she floundered for a short time and decided to take Drawing 101. The next few years she went through the motions of getting her undergraduate degree, a B.A. in Studio Fine Art, but she still didn’t know what it meant to be an artist.
Her pursuits and artwork took her to Seattle before returning to Las Vegas where she earned her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with certification in K-12 Art Education from UNLV. From there, she began teaching at Rancho High School. In 2008, everything clicked for her and the vision she had of herself as a child. She realized that in order to be a good influence to her students and to show them what it means to be an artist; she had to live the life and show by example.
“My students inspire me, every day” Traen said.
Walk into her studio at Rancho High School where her students are all busily working on various projects and her studio is incredibly clean, not something that is typically associated with a clay studio. Her advanced students are preparing for a trip to the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts showcase. Last year, two of Traen’s students were chosen to participate in this event. “There are thousands of entries and only 150 are chosen. The fact that we have two from our school is huge” said Traen. They are presently raising funds to attend in Providence, R.I. The trip itself is quite an education with lectures and opportunities to meet with individual artists. The students that went last year had an amazing time and came home inspired to push themselves further. And in doing so, have pushed Traen as well, creatively.
As a result, Traen is having her first solo show at Las Vegas City Hall in the Grand Gallery from May through July. She is presently working in her home studio, amassing pieces for her show and preparing for NCECA. Keep an eye on her, this lady is really going places!Mother, instructor, entrepreneur, graphic designer, philanthropist and writer; Jessica Kennedy, a Midwestern native, participates with several local philanthropic organizations including the Las Vegas Hospitality Association, the Clark County Artists Guild, College of Southern Nevada Foundation Gala Committee, Metro Arts Council and Blackbird Arts, Inc./Blackbird Studios.