One day last week, Beverly Beck Glueckert's class of about 15 kids, ages 7 to 11, were doing warm-up pieces in the basement classroom of the Missoula Art Museum.
The watercolor paintings followed a theme – "A Place in My Dreams," with the kids drawing something from a dream, whether it was one they had while sleeping or awake.
After the warm-up came the mandala project, and reference books were scattered about for the kids to look at.
"I have the most craziest dreams," one youngster said. Another said she gets to choose her dreams, but unfortunately, not her nightmares.
Glueckert, a longtime Missoula printmaker whose work touches on transitions, mortality and the natural world, laughed a bit.
"We get into very heavy stuff here. We work a lot with personal symbology and icons and subjects that are familiar to each of us that tell other people something about our own lives," she said. "We work with that whole idea a lot: This piece of art is a way for others to get to know me better."
Glueckert first started teaching at the MAM back before the new building, when she was earning her MFA in printmaking at the University of Montana.
The whole time, she has developed her own career as a printmaker.
Glueckert's prints use a personal language of butterflies and insects, birds and feathers, plants and animals, and an often limited palette of muted tones.
Many works, like her current "Tree of Life" series, use repeated images and play with positive and negative spaces. Some are arranged four panes on a grid.
"That's one of the exciting things about printmaking is that it allows for multiples," she said.
At the home she shares with her husband, fellow artist and retired MAM curator Steve Glueckert, she keeps a studio stocked with a press and filled with pieces from other projects that didn't pan out.
"I love doing collage with some of my remnants, maybe some images that didn't work that well with another piece I can use on something else," she said.
Recently, she made some somber collagraphs with images of bones and birds.
"I've been pretty mortality-minded I guess for a while, and for a number of reasons. We always focused on helping people realize that death is a part of life during all those years of Festival of the Dead," she said.
She and fellow artist Michael DeMeng started the festival in 1993, looking to adapt the South American tradition for Missoulians, so they could find new and different ways of dealing with death. DeMeng, whose work was always dark, had attended a festival in Mexico. Glueckert, meanwhile, had lost her father a year before.
"I guess that just seemed like a really comfortable realm for me, given some of the ways that I was thinking and starting to lose people in my life," she said.
Glueckert recently finished a print portfolio of 50 pieces, called "Two Pods and a Pea," that showed the lighter side of her work.
"I have a sense of humor and a love to laugh," she said. "I'm not one of those people who works a lot of puns in my work. But it's not like I want my work to read as very heavy or anything like that. But I'm very connected to the whole idea of art processes being therapeutic."
The community has connected with that feeling, and she's shown her work at a long list of places across the state.
She has a lengthy teaching resume as well: She was a professor at UM off and on for 11 years, ending in 2011. She leads workshops across the state, including for Living Art of Montana, the nonprofit that offers free classes for people with terminal illnesses or those grieving.
She also works with Opportunity Resources on occasion, and with adults who have traumatic brain injuries, both on life skills and on art.
She said both the adults with disabilities and the children have vastly different ways of making art than self-conscious adults.
It's a "raw and honest way of art-making. It's free of any pretensions, untainted by what happens to us as we go into the grown-up art world. We're afraid to make a mark," she said.
Her enthusiasm for teaching could likely be traced to her childhood.
Glueckert, a fourth-generation Montanan whose grandparents were homesteaders on the Hi-Line, grew up in Great Falls, where schools and family supported her art.
"From as early as I can remember, my parents nurtured all of my art whims and fantasies. They got me different kinds of art materials and stencil books and Prisma colors," she said.
In high school, she served as art lab assistant, helping her fellow students on all sorts of projects.
The kids back in her MAM classroom weren't reluctant at all, and weren't afraid to voice their opinion on the exhibitions.
"One of the great things about teaching here is we have this entire museum to glean information from. We have all these exhibits to learn from and inspire us," she said.
Often, their projects are based on exhibiting artists. Recently, they made small prints in Styrofoam, imitating the unique process Bozeman artist John Buck uses in his large prints that are now on display as part of "Free for All."
Each section of the children's designs was cut into different pieces of foam, then inked separately and put back into place. To print them, they had a handy tool many classrooms lack – a Conrad etching press.
Glueckert's long experience in the classroom, and the energy it provides, seems to color her reactions to the kids' jokes and comments.
While Glueckert was describing their recent projects, one kid who did an impressive print interjected: "I'm glad we're finally done with John Buck."
Glueckert laughed, and the kids went back to working on their mandalas.