Donna Persinger always wanted to be a special education teacher. It just took a while to reach that goal.
Born in New Jersey, she moved with her family at age seven to Aiken, South Carolina, where her father, a mechanical engineer, had been transferred by his company just before it went out of business. Then he got a job with Michelin, and the family spent six months in France before settling in Anderson.
Persinger wanted to study special education, but her parents were not supportive, trying to steer her toward a French degree and a job at Michelin. Instead, she majored in recreation therapy at Clemson University, figuring that it was close to her original goal.
She worked in the recreation therapy field for about two decades, first at the Denton State School for the Developmentally Disabled in Texas, then on the adolescent admission unit at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, and then as an assistant director of therapeutic recreation at the Murdoch Developmental Center in Butner, N.C. “I loved it,” she said.
She finally became a special education teacher for the last six years of her career, serving in three elementary and middle schools. She worked with children with learning disabilities, behavioral and educational developmental issues, profound developmental disabilities, and autism.
She returned to Anderson to help care for her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and has now been retired for about eight years.
Though she’d always loved art, it wasn’t until four years ago that she got serious about it. That’s when she discovered encaustics (painting with hot wax). “I walked into an art supply store in Portland, Oregon, where they had a display of this medium I had never heard of,” she said. “The smell and the way it looked was like opening a box of Crayola crayons. I had always wanted something that could give me that texture and depth. I went in all these galleries that had all these encaustics and multimedia. I was in love.”
Back in Anderson, she searched for classes with little success, relying mostly on YouTube and traveling to Greenville and Asheville to learn different techniques. “I love that I can incorporate different media,” she said. “The wax creates depth and luminosity. I can carve into it. I can go with the flow of the wax and be spontaneous. The whole smell and feel of the wax is sensual.”
Much of her work is inspired by nature, and she describes her paintings as “more intuitive than representational.” She has sold quite a few of her pieces, especially at Arts Off the Alley in Seneca.
And—not surprisingly—she has become an active teacher with classes at Arts Off the Alley, the Blue Ridge Arts Center in Seneca, the Holly Springs Center in Pickens, and the McClellan Arts Council in McClellanville. She’ll also be teaching in Charleston in November. “I love to see people get excited about the medium and experiment and go off in their own direction,” she said.
Persinger’s work will be on display in the Anderson Artists Guild display case on the first floor of the Anderson Arts Center from Sept. 10 to Nov. 8. For more information about Persinger, visit https://www.facebook.com/Dspersing2218/.