Chris Bronstad with one of his portraits. Photo: Richard Miller, KP News

After 29 years of teaching, June 19 was Chris Bronstad’s last day of school. 

Bronstad taught at Key Peninsula Middle School for 17 years. That followed 12 years in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood.

“I was hired at KPMS in 2001 for science as a 0.9 (part-time), teaching sixth-grade science, seventh-grade science, sixth-grade math and language arts,” he said. 

Bronstad’s visual art classes, for which he is perhaps better known, only began after the last full-time art teacher retired from KPMS in 2006.

“Chris Bronstad is an amazing artist and KPMS was blessed with him sharing his talent with students,” said Principal Jeri Goebel. 

“My degrees are in Earth sciences and I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed teaching that,” Bronstad said. But art started for him when he was 5 years old. “My grandmother was an artist and did oil painting,” he said. “The first time I ever wielded a brush with oil was with her.” 

Bronstad graduated from high school in 1970 and earned a degree in biology from the University of North Texas at Arlington in 1975. In September 1976, he went on a backpacking trip to Europe that lasted until April 1978.

“I had an opportunity on occasion to teach some English,” he said, and he also studied art history on his own. “I spent most of a week in the Louvre; I visited museums in Munich; I managed to get down to Florence for almost three weeks to look at Renaissance artwork—it was mesmerizing.”

Bronstad returned to Texas,  where he met his future wife and fellow artist, Colleen Carrigan. They shared a love of nature as well as art and science that led them back to school at UT Arlington.

“The Dreamer,” Bronstad’s 2011 award-winning charcoal portrait of his daughter Kathryn. Courtesy Chris Bronstad

“We both got our degree in the sciences in ’84 and we both decided to go into education,” he said. They also decided to move to Washington in 1987 after being impressed by its natural beauty on an earlier trip. 

“We got a U-Haul and towed up a ’74 Super Beetle, a dog and a pair of snakes; we shipped the cat,” Bronstad said. “I got a job building pools and subbed off and on around Tacoma and Steilacoom, where we lived. Then I got a call about a half-time position teaching science at Clover Park, and I went from the bottom of a swimming pool one day to teaching science the next.”

A year after his daughter Kathryn was born, a colleague suggested Bronstad look at Vaughn Bay for a place to live. The family moved there in 1993 and remained until 2015, when they relocated further north on the KP.

Most of Bronstad’s career was spent teaching science. He earned a National Board Certification for teachers in 2011 and was very involved in the NASA Explorer School program at KPMS. “That was so rewarding,” he said. “I enjoyed working with students and colleagues, particularly (science teacher) Karen Borders who, with our administration and the Peninsula School District, made it happen.”

The program sent Bronstad, colleagues and students to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, among other places, where they met astronomers and astronauts. “I got to meet Buzz Aldrin and I couldn’t think of anything to ask—can you believe that?” he said.

But art has never been far from Bronstad’s approach to education.

“I’ve always tried to infuse science with art,” he said. “We do a lot of illustrations, sketching rocks, fossils; studying landforms and astronomy. Sometimes we’ll sit down together and work pencil mark per pencil mark because students have a hard time seeing it. It’s a skill: When you learn to draw, you’re actually learning to see.” 

“I would’ve loved to have been a student in his classroom,” said Patricia Rivers, who has taught math at KPMS for 16 years. “Besides his artistic ability, he’s very dedicated to his students. He encourages them not to give up.”

Bronstad spends many afternoons teaching after-school art classes with Two Waters Arts Alliance and other local groups, and since 2009 has submitted his students’ artwork to the Western Washington junior-senior-high show at the state fair in Puyallup every fall. “The last two years, virtually every piece has got a ribbon,” he said. “I strongly encourage it because I just want kids to experience that.” 

Bronstad is a veteran of many shows and contests himself. In 2011, a portrait of his daughter won a place in the Art Renewal Center’s annual salon, a prestigious competition that included entries from 69 countries. That portrait, “The Dreamer,” is now on display at the ARC museum in New Jersey.

“In retirement, I’m thoroughly looking forward to spending more time with my quite understanding wife, Colleen, as well as her dad, John, who at 91 has been willing to join us out on the peninsula after having lived most of his life in Texas,” Bronstad said.

“I will also continue to do art, of course, and I definitely want to teach,” he said. “I love working with kids. I would like to find a way to keep doing that. I guess that’s my passion.”

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