Healing in art: UTRGV retired professor wants to motivate others

UTRGV professor Kathy Bussert-Webb works on her art piece on June 09, 2021, at the Edinburg campus. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Kathy Bussert-Webb spent more than 20 years of her life teaching.

Since 2000, she was a professor in the department of bilingual and literacy studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the legacy institution University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College before she retired last year. Now, with more time on her hands, she went back to school to get a master’s of fine arts and became a full-time artist.

But art is not a new theme in her life. All her life, she was involved with art somehow and remembers when she started teaching in Sevilla, Spain, after college and would enjoy the local arts. She also was part of the Peace Corps in Honduras where she remembers enjoying the beauty of the place and sitting down outdoors surrounded by nature and doing sketches with clay.

“I received scholarships to study art in college, but I used the scholarships to study journalism and political science,” she said laughing. “I just always wanted to be an artist when I was a little girl.”

The full-time artist, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, finds her inspiration for her art work in family members and the relationship she has had with food throughout her life. She said she has been a vegetarian for five years and hopes to not only use her art to heal but also to educate people on how important it is to watch what we eat and the amounts.

“I want to use my God-given talent to help our world in any way I can,” she said.

“I have a lot of emotional scars. My mom was born in Hungary and she went through, like most people when they go through a war, a lot of food depravation and after the war they were refugees in Germany in 1947. So they were really poor for many years and she was obsessed about food. She hoarded it, and she had food in a lot of interesting locations of the house, and lots of it. When I was growing up we had 10 pounds of flour in a container and 10 pounds of sugar and when she died a couple of years ago, she left a ton of food and stuff was like 10 years old, really expired.”

Retired UTRGV professor Kathy Bussert-Webb has turned to her artwork to heal her emotional scars. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Bussert-Webb said when she was getting close to retirement she decided to audit some art classes at the university where she fell in love with ceramics. After a few years, she knew she wanted to focus on creating art for the rest of her life and applied to the MFA program in studio art. The professor is set to graduate next spring and will exhibit interactive and performing art pieces that will depict her relationship with food.

A lot of her inspiration comes from her mother because she was very unhealthy and diabetic. Bussert-Webb said she had tried to become a vegetarian years ago when she came back from Spain but her mother told her she would die without meat. She said she wishes her mother would have taken care of her body.

“I have some bad memories, too, related to food. Like when we grew up, we were supposed to eat until we were really stuffed and that’s one sculpture I’m working on right now, it’s going to be a performance piece. I’m going to eat until I kind of vomit, but I’m not going to vomit, it is just going to look like it,” she said.

“We ate meat three times a day in huge portions. … I started to become a vegetarian again about five years ago. A lot of it relates to my mom’s and family cancers. My dad had colon cancer and then he had two different types of blood cancer. My mom had pancreatic cancer and she was really obese and severely diabetic, and she didn’t care what she ate. She would take insulin and then sometimes she would pass out because she wouldn’t measure it.”

Bussert-Webb hopes with her art people will get motivated to stop eating as much fast food and go back to where families gather around the table to eat home cooked food and talk, all together. She said that to her, it is important to not eat meat, especially red meat because it is not only bad for the body but also for the environment.

When it comes to the future, she hopes to continue creating art and finding inspiration in other things. She said she also would like to see a bigger art community in the area and especially more public art such as murals so that everybody can have access to art.

“I think through art, is another modality that can hopefully help me to tell my story, help me to heal emotionally and also maybe to help other people with what they eat and the portions,” she said.