Debby McClallen: Art teacher and founder of holiday bazaar

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Debby McClallen (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)
Debby McClallen (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)

For the past ten years, Queens Lake Middle School art teacher Debby McClallen has found a way to promote the arts as well as showcase both current and former student talent and artwork through the annual Queens Lake Middle School Holiday Arts & Craft Bazaar.

“It’s been so inspiring,” said McClallen. “Their work is so amazing.”

Hundreds of visitors attend the bazaar each year. In addition to arts and crafts vendors, the PTA-sponsored event includes food trucks, music, dance and martial arts demonstrations, and other entertainment.

McClallen, who has been with Queens Lake Middle School for 21 years, first approached the PTA a decade ago with the idea of hosting the arts and crafts show in part to highlight the arts, particularly her students’ work, as well as to offer an outlet for those looking to grow their home-based businesses. The art show has grown steadily through the years, attracting vendors from Richmond, Hampton Roads, and even North Carolina.

“We have a nice mix,” she said. “It’s exciting to see people with their hand-made crafts, wanting to make a business of it. I love to shop, especially for hand-made things, and I love showing people through this show what they’ve been missing. I also love that it is art-oriented.”

Art has always been a part of McClallen’s life. As a child, she used to draw under the kitchen table while her mother was working in the kitchen. McClallen began taking art classes in high school, which is when she first knew she wanted to make a career of it.

“We were on a field trip, and I saw this amazing Renoir painting, and that just motivated me,” McClallen recalled.

After graduating with a degree in art education from James Madison University, McClallen taught middle school students in Fairfax County for six years. She took a respite to raise her family before resuming her role as an art teacher at Queens Lake Middle School.

“I’m so lucky to be doing something I just love to do,” McClallen said. “How often is it that you can do something you are passionate about? The thing that keeps me coming back is the kids, and how excited they are about art. The kids are able to do the skills, but don’t know it, and it’s fun to just watch them take off.”

Former students frequently visit McClallen to share their plans about attending art or design school, which thrills her. Some of them have even participated in the Holiday Arts & Crafts Bazaar, including photographer Kylan Thomson; Ashley VanFleet, who makes scripture art and jewelry through Simple Art by Ashley; and charm designer Courtney Brite.

“I always knew they were going to do something in art,” McClallen said.

It takes about a year of planning for the holiday bazaar. McClallen attends other art shows throughout the region over the summer, scouring for talent. She also likes to involve her middle school art students in the process. They help paint posters and promote the event and volunteer at the show.

“People should come out and see how a school show can be,” she said.

This year’s show will feature the works of two local art teachers, including a middle school teacher from Isle of Wight County. Handbags, sewing crafts, candles, jewelry, pottery, and fine art will be among the art for sale.

“I enjoy promoting the show, and talking to all the artists,” she said. “I’ve met so many people in the art world through this, and that has been so exciting to me.”

McClallen is in the process of handing off the holiday bazaar’s organization reins due to her husband’s health issues, but she hopes to continue to focus on art as much as possible. Her current media of choice is printmaking with clay.

“I love to do clay,” she said. “That’s my passion. I want to keep art in my life.”

Queens Lake Middle School’s Holiday Arts & Crafts Bazaar will be held Saturday, November 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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