Gina’s Story of How The Master and His Apprentices Came to Be

Gina FergusonFirst, let me say that writing an art history textbook was never something I intended to do.  In fact, it wasn’t something I wanted to do.  So how did I end up here?  Well, that is partly my story, but mostly it is God’s.  I’m sure there are details I haven’t even connected yet, and the whole story would take a long time to tell, but let me share with you a few of the main points.

However, whatever you walk away with, the most important thing to understand is that this work belongs to God.  Without Him, it never would have been completed.  I was simply the tool He used to bring it to fruition.  Any errors or inconsistencies are no faults of His, simply my human shortcomings.  Moreover, my prayer from the very beginning has been that God would use this work to draw many people to Himself, believers and nonbelievers alike.  For my part, I’m excited to see what He will do – trusting that His name will be magnified!

In many ways, I feel that the Lord has been preparing me for this work ever since I was a child.  The stories are too numerous to tell, but suffice it to say that the Lord’s hand was in them.  For example, when I was in high school my family just “happened” to be in a multigenerational Bible study where we mentioned my growing interest in art as a prayer request.  As God would have it, one of the women in the group was really good friends with a German artist who had classically trained a number of apprentices over the years.  She was nearing retirement and had just stopped accepting new applicants.  However, she had mentioned to this same woman that she would very much like to find one last student – someone with real potential and determination to finish her career with.

Well, as the story goes, by God’s grace, I became “that one.”  For the next two years, Ms. Herta and I worked together in what can only be described as a gift from God.  I learned the fundamentals of art far better than in any class I have ever seen or experienced since – college included.  Because of my age, I was able to advance very quickly.  Plus, it was only because I was homeschooled (another story) that I was able to accept the daytime training schedule.  Moreover, Ms. Herta wasn’t concerned with just teaching me vital skills like value, perspective, lighting, and color theory, but she also made art history an integral part of our studies.

Ultimately, my art and writing earned a full college scholarship and I graduated four years later with a degree in art and English.  I could tell stories of how God directed my course selections – often much to my annoyance at the time – but I am trying to keep this short.  Suffice it to say, God must have been lovingly smiling at many of my frustrations knowing how one day these “unwanted” courses would assist in His plan, to which I am most grateful!

Following graduation, my plans were to write and illustrate children’s books while I taught private art lessons from home.  My personal belief has always been that a Godly wife and mother is one of the highest callings a woman can aspire to.  Even though God hasn’t opened that door yet, I felt that focusing my efforts on writing/art/teaching – generally from home – was work/ministry that could potentially transition smoothly from my single years to (hopefully) homemaking years.  In other words, I wasn’t on the typical career path, so a few weeks following graduation, when an opportunity to serve the community presented itself, I had the flexibility to accept.  By God’s direction, I ran into a homeschool mom (I didn’t even remember), at OfficeMax, who impressed upon me the need for teachers in the local homeschool community.  Would I consider teaching high school literature, writing and art history classes?

When I agreed to teach these classes, I figured the art history class would be the easiest.  I mean, I had just returned from seeing some of the world’s most famous art in person (a whole different story), and I had taken several years of college-level courses before that, so how hard could a high school class really be?  Well, quite difficult actually.  First of all, I assumed that by this point someone would have developed a great homeschool resource covering all of the major artistic periods.  This assumption proved wrong and I realized I would have to create my own materials.  Realizing this, my second assumption was that I could probably just use one or two of my college textbooks and add the Christian history in myself.  Nevertheless, this second assumption also proved wrong.

Technically, having these resources was a provision from the Lord as I had sold back all of my other textbooks but had kept my two favorite art history books.  The problem was, these books contained a lot of nudity and other material the co-ops I would be teaching at had made clear they did not want to be included (the classes being taught to a mix of 13 to 18-year-old guys and girls).

Ultimately, I ended up working from over a dozen different books – literally requiring a rolling suitcase to transport the 30-40 lbs worth of material back and forth between classes.  Often, I had to tape over pictures so I could still show images on the same or opposite page.  This became quite a headache to organize!  In August 2006, as I had all of these books spread out around me, preparing for that first class, I remember complaining to the Lord:  “God, this is so frustrating.  There really needs to be an art history resource available from a Christian perspective.  Why can’t I find one?”   Like it was yesterday, I can still vividly remember this thought in my spirit, “You are right, a new resource does need to be created, and you will be the one to write it.”

Now, I can’t say I heard a voice, but I did know this idea wasn’t from me.  I was really frustrated putting the lesson plans together, and I had no interest in non-fiction writing – let alone a textbook!  I remember almost laughing with a reaction like, “You can’t be serious.  Me, an art history textbook?  No way!”  However, even though that was my initial response, and there have been several occasions when I have wanted to quit, I am certain the Lord called me to this, and that is the only reason you are reading this now.  On my own, Chapter 1 would never have been written.

While this project has been overwhelming and stressful at times, I haven’t exactly been “kicking and screaming” the whole way through.  The Lord laid the project on my heart before I even taught my first class.  Working with the kids and seeing their excitement provided great encouragement and motivation for me.  Many of my first students had absolutely no interest in art; however, when we got into the material, many realized they actually enjoyed it.  In fact, often for the first time in their lives, they were able to make connections between their different classes.  Visually “seeing” the periods allowed them to create a framework in their minds for combining various timelines from other disciplines, be it history, Bible, literature, science, philosophy, etc.  More importantly, many students were awaking to the fact that the Bible isn’t just a story, but real history – a history that overlaps other famous periods, places, people, and events.

For the next five years, I didn’t worry about “writing” anything, I simply worked with the kids, learning from their questions and interests in various periods as I continued to expand and refine my “lecture notes.”  However, when my parents decided to move from the suburbs of Chicago to a tiny rural town in North Carolina to start a small family farm, I made the decision to move with them.  As a result, the first half of 2011 was spent assisting with designing and building our home, while in the second half I spent a semester in Colorado as part of an intensive discipleship program.  Having part of each afternoon off from classes, I decided to use the time to read through the Bible, noting every reference I could find regarding art and creativity.  Upon returning home, and having an even clearer Scriptural focus, I began writing The Master and His Apprentices in January 2012.

For the past five years, this work has continued on a steady part-time to full-time basis as I have also been helping on the “farm,” managing a few small online businesses, and teaching weekly private art lessons (and later online classes, but that is another story).  The limited population here hasn’t allowed for many local students, but the peaceful rural setting has been ideal for delving deeper into a project like this.  Graciously, God “blinded” me to many of the challenges I would face until I was ready to tackle them, thereby preventing the sheer scale of the project from becoming too overwhelming.

Time and again I saw God leading me to just the right resource or person when I needed the help the most.  For instance, the layout required an understanding of Adobe InDesign, a program I had never worked with.  Creating templates, inserting images, and flowing text between pages was proving difficult.  Fortunately, God provided a “friend of a friend” to assist in guiding me to just the right resources to simplify this process.  Next, I had to find all of the images I wanted to use in the public domain.  I’ve since seen God’s timing in this, for I realized that even had I wanted to hurry through and publish the work during my first couple years of teaching, the majority of quality images hadn’t yet been uploaded under the proper licenses!

Speaking of publishing, from the beginning I wanted to create something people could afford.  The way I saw it, if God wanted me to write this, then He wanted people to read it, and price shouldn’t be an obstacle – something I knew a 300-400 page book with full-color photos would be in a printed version.  For that reason, the book was designed with an 8½” x 11” layout so families could inexpensively print the pages they wanted at home.  Nevertheless, 11 years ago I didn’t know exactly how I would disseminate the work.  Today, though, digital books are rivaling printed copies, so the timing is once again perfect.

Through an unexpected turn of events, the book is now available in both digital and print versions, and I am so excited to see how God will use this resource in reader’s lives this coming school year.  From the beginning, I’ve been praying that God would use this book to draw non-believers to Himself and to push believers even further into Jesus as His fingerprints become more visible in creation and history.  In fact, I can tell you that I personally believed in God growing up, but working on this project has caused me to love Him so much more as my own understanding of His work in history and Creation has increased.

So where do I go from here?  I don’t know exactly, but I am trusting that God will continue to direct my life and provide in new and unforeseen ways.  I still hope that one day I will be blessed with a family of my own and children/grandchildren that I can read this book to; but in the meantime, I am excited to help other families.  Furthermore, I hope that this story (albeit condensed) has been an encouragement to you.  There is nothing exceptional about me; I am just a young single woman trying to love and serve the Lord as best I can.  God has graciously met me where I am at and opened doors as I’ve continued to walk with Him.  I know He can and will do the same for you if you trust Him.  Ultimately, I hope that one day we will meet in heaven (if not here on Earth) and get to share, in more detail, our different stories.  Until then, God Bless!