karen leigh 50 years of teaching at fvcc graphic
Feb 9, 2023
Daily Inter Lake

Exhibition Showcases FVCC Art Instructor Karen Leigh

A special art exhibition opening this week honors long-time Flathead Valley Community College faculty member Karen Leigh and her students throughout the years.

The exhibition, at the Wachholz College Center on the FVCC campus, debuts in the Wanda Hollensteiner Art Gallery with an opening reception on Thursday, Feb. 9 from 5-7:30 p.m.

The exhibition, running through the end of March, features a selection of paintings in watercolor and mixed media from several of Leigh’s students as well as one of her own works from her personal collection titled, “After Class.”

Leigh’s love of art began at an early age when her parents bought her a set of paints. Her natural inclination toward creativity in drawing and painting led her to earn a degree in graphic design and continue to take painting classes during her schooling and beyond.

“Over the years I’ve taken workshops from internationally known painters — some 35 artists largely through the Montana Watercolor Society — that have given me insights I work to pass along to my students,” says Leigh of her lifelong development as an artist.

A fourth-generation Montanan born in Great Falls, her family roots in Kalispell goes back to her great-grandfather, Cornelius Hedges. As the first artist in her immediate family, Leigh notes Hedge’s niece was in fact a watercolor artist in a similar style to Leigh’s, so though not prolific, artistic ties do exist back a number of generations.

Forging her own path as an accomplished artist, Leigh started teaching a summer watercolor class at FVCC in 1973 and has never looked back. She has taught a wide variety of FVCC art classes since, including calligraphy, drawing, design, and of course, watercolor.

After 50 years of teaching and creating alongside her students, Leigh credits her inspiration to the people she’s met along the way.

“We created a community here. We’re all interested in the same things and share a common joy,” says Leigh of her classes at FVCC. “My students are truly my inspiration. Some have been with me 15 to 20 years, so I’m always thinking of new things for class.”

The number of returning students each year stands testament to her passion and authentic spirit as an artist, educator, and friend to many.

“Art ties us all together. Art heals and gives you a place where you can just focus on art and tune out everything else,” Leigh explains. “My time at FVCC pays off in many different ways as I think beyond myself to encourage my classes to seek inspiration from all parts of life.”

Beginning Monday, Feb. 13, the exhibition will be available for viewing to the public during the gallery operating hours of noon to 4 p.m, Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to patrons with tickets to WCC performances during show times.

To stay up to date on the current art featured in the Wanda Hollensteiner Art Gallery and to find information about the Wachholz College Center, visit