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Artist Mark Kistler inspires young artists at Montessori program

Mark Kistler signs a drawing for a River Falls Montessori student. Johnathan Harsdorf, who helped arrange the event, said the students were very excited and lined up for Kistler to sign their drawings. Photo courtesy of Johnathan Harsdorf.1 / 2
River Falls Public Montessori students draw along with artist and art educator Mark Kistler as he presents a program to their school. Kistler said he performs programs like this all over the world because he loves art and believes drawing can have a positive impact on people's lives. Photo courtesy of Johnathan Harsdorf.2 / 2

When Johnathan Harsdorf was 8 years old, he liked to watch artist Mark Kistler's PBS show.

"I watched him almost every day, I'd draw along with him," Harsdorf said. "It was great."

Harsdorf continued drawing, doing cartoons for school newspapers and majored in website design in college.

"It influenced my decision a lot in what I did as an adult, in choosing a more creative career path," Harsdorf said.

Now, Harsdorf does website work for Kistler. And Harsdorf and his son, Christian, now 8 years old, draw together.

Harsdorf said his son now has all of Kistler's books on his desk and draws with them.

"It's kind of neat," Harsdorf said. "It's neat to see him continue to inspire the next generation!"

Harsdorf said Christian has told him Kistler was his "favorite person he's never met before."

That was, until Christian had a chance to meet Kistler Wednesday, Feb. 6, when Kistler came to the River Falls Public Montessori to do a school assembly for the students.

The program

According to Kistler's website,, the assembly includes students sitting down together to draw together, guided by Kistler.

Kistler has presented his "You CAN learn to Draw" program at K-12 schools around the world. He said he's also presented at universities, children's hospitals, children's shelters, art museums, "Comic Cons" and more.

"I presented this school assembly as a special gift to the Harsdorf Family," Kistler said. "Their company Brilliant Impact Web Solutions has recreated my websites brilliantly! This was a token of my appreciation for their two years of talent, time and effort."

Kistler said it's the mission of his new nonprofit, "Mark Kistler's Imagination Initiative," to fund these programs and to "promote, educate and inspire students around the world with the creative joy of drawing."

Kistler said he does programs like the Feb. 6 assembly because he loves the arts.

"I specialize in the visual arts," he said. "I believe learning how to draw can can positively change a person's life.

"Drawing is visual communication, a conduit for creative inspiration, a launching pad for imagination, a joyful way to share with the world what you are thinking, feeling and communicating. Most importantly, drawing is truly fun."

The experience was certainly fun for the Montessori students, according to teacher Maggie Watson, who said it was a "terrific experience."

"He's an amazing teacher," Watson said. "He could break down a seemingly complex drawing and teach about adding shading and depth, overlapping, expressive marks, all the while creating a silly story to go along with it.

"He is absolutely hilarious, I think, and the children certainly spent as much time laughing as drawing."

Watson said the children were "entirely captivated" by Kistler as he taught.

"It was amazing that absolutely no one got frustrated with their drawings, or felt discouraged, and it's the way he teaches," she said. "They see their work come to life and they each felt so proud."

Those wanting to find out more about Kistler's work or about the classes he offers can check out his website Kistler said his blog (found on his website) also includes stories of his recent teaching travels through India, Vienna and Dubai.

Harsdorf said he and his son had a great time at the event.

"My son Christian got to sit up front with Mark and draw with him and that was really neat for me to experience as well," he said.

Harsdorf enjoyed seeing the students get excited about drawing and being creative.

"Especially," he said, "as they were going up to his table to get him to sign their drawings, they were really excited."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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