William Roller, a local artist and a Greenfield Elementary art teacher, has harnessed a lifelong aptitude for art and a knack for winning contests into a new opportunity to have his work displayed at the COSI Museum in Columbus.
Roller placed in a competition with the theme of “Exploring Egypt” which, according to the COSI website, called upon competitors to, “create your own Egyptian inspired artwork,” in the milieu of, “the reign of King Tut in 1300 B.C.”
Roller said that although he hadn’t been to COSI since he was a kid, “My father, my friends, and myself went to see the Marvel exhibit and after that, I began following COSI on social media.”
Roller said that after visiting the Marvel exhibit and keeping up with COSI on social media, he heard about the contest on its Facebook page and got to work immediately.
The result was an imaginative and colorful creation of magenta, gold and purple hues comprised of “pen, ink and marker on heavy stock,” that incorporated Egyptian iconography, per the demands of the competition, as well as Roller’s signature flair for fabricating fanciful fantasy characters.
“I created this Egyptian character who I imagined to be a school teacher, and he’s carrying his morning beverage and he’s got his scrolls of lesson plans,” Roller said. “Of course, I couldn’t resist my father’s suggestion of playing up an angle of ancient aliens flying in the background.
A friend helped him choose a title — Heroglyph. Roller said the play on words emphasized the personal importance of teaching for him.
“The school teacher aspect goes right back to me being a first-year art teacher,” he said. “I love doing what I do. And you feel like you’ve done something meaningful with your day — every day. You get to be a little person’s hero, in a sense.”
The art that Roller created will be displayed with that of the other winners for the duration of The Tutankhamun Exploring Egypt exhibit at COSI in Columbus, which will run for six months.
Having completed the artwork on a deadline, Roller said he got in the final day before the end of the contest.
“The artwork had to be submitted digitally,” Roller said. “I just took a picture of it with my cellphone.”
The most recent art competition honors are not the first public recognition for Roller, who has entered and placed in many art contests throughout his career as an artist.
“In elementary school I won three scholarships to Saturday School at the Columbus College of Art and Design,” he said. Middle School saw him win multiple poster contests. High school provided even more opportunities.
“I designed the majority of anything from T-shirts to posters and programs for four years,” he said. “I created a lot of cool things as a kid.”
His proclivity for art and graphic design eventually got him noticed by the cops. The Greenfield Police Department commissioned him to design its arm patch and he also designed the town’s bicentennial logo.
“Such an honor to do,” he said.
As an adult, the entrepreneurial artist derived inspiration from many things. “Normally, my art is straight out of my imagination,” he said. “I love fantasy and sci fi and the world of Marvel and DC comics.”
Applying imagination and artistry toward the creation of retail displays at the behest of the Idaho Potato Commission has proven to be one of Roller’s most prolific prize-winning attempts, culminating in his winning first prize nationwide a few years ago for his “Spudbusters” display at Community Markets in Greenfield. Under the auspices of the agricultural organization, Roller created a display that creatively imagined different varieties of potatoes as a crack team of superhero fighters.
Roller had participated in the endeavor several years previously but the first prize win had been his biggest and most lucrative contest prize and pitted him against thousands of other produce retailers nationwide in the contest. Roller said he appreciated the opportunity since his displays brought national exposure to a local grocery chain and as an artist in retail.
He said that art has always come naturally to him.
“I have loved to draw since I picked up that first writing utensil,” he said. “I was lucky. I’ve always been able to draw and create. It comes easy.”
Despite all of his professional accolades, Roller said it his role as a teacher at his dream job, teaching kids art, that has inspired him the most.
The latest project that Roller initiated was one that made over $700 for local charitable organizations and helped Roller’s students not only show off their artwork, but to learn about the importance of community service and enrichment.
Fifth grade students participated in Art For A Cause, which allowed for artwork that was created by the students to be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting charities including the Highland County Homeless Shelter and Highland County Humane Society. The charitable organizations were voted on by the students.
The students were provided canvases and allowed their own discretion over what they wanted to create for the art auction. The auction was conducted on Facebook with each artwork being published online. The bidders could place their bids in the comments. At the conclusion of the auctions, winners could pick up the art at the school.
Greenfield Elementary School Principal Robert Schumm praised Roller for helping to develop the auction.
“Teaching children to care is one of the most important jobs we have here at Greenfield Elementary School,” Schumm said.
Roller said that the fifth graders were important ambassadors as leaders of the elementary school who can set an example for others. He said the students enthusiastically said yes when approached with the proposal for the art auction.
Roller said that being an art teacher is extremely rewarding, especially in the ability to help each student reach their potential as an artist, even if they don’t think that’s what they are.
“I’m a huge kid at heart and it’s so fun being able to work with students. Being able to show them new techniques and see them grow and thrive as artists is an honor and a privilege. I always tell them that there is power in trying. Seeing a student say they’re not an artist, they’re a gamer, they’re an athlete, and having them really, truly trust the process and create a piece of art they’re proud of — there is no better reward,” Roller said.
He said that no matter how much he has accomplished he hopes to improve and develop his technique and repertoire.
He said his goal is to improve as an artist and that’s advice he tries to share with others.
“You can always get better. There is no age limit,” he said. “I want my students to understand this, too. They’ll always grow by doing. Drawing, painting, etc.”
Cathy Daniels Rivas, who recently retired and built and launched her own entrepreneurial artistic venture in the Greenfield countryside called Dancing on Tabletops studio, immediately preceded Roller in his position as the Greenfield Elementary art teacher.
Rivas spoke fondly of her time at Greenfield Elementary School as an art educator. She said it was an honor to watch students enjoy making art and a privilege to watch them grow in their abilities.
While Rivas was gearing up for retirement and post teaching adventures, Roller was completing his bachelor’s degree at Western Governors University in preparation of becoming a teacher.
“I am so excited about the new leadership heading the art program at Greenfield Elementary School,” she said. “Mr. Roller’s style of art is very inspiring and relatable to students. It is exciting to see what great things will continue to happen.”
She said art is an essential part of a well rounded education and it is not only a fun time in the curriculum, but important an important part of academics.
Despite all the awards and accolades he has accumulated, Roller said that teaching is what inspired him most. He said that inspiring others to develop their art is rewarding. He said that his persistence and dedication to art is something he tries to impart to his students.
“It’s like I tell my students, ‘You’ve got to put yourself out there and you have to try,’” he said.
He said that prioritizing what you care about is important. “If you are really passionate about something, you will find the time to do it,” he said.
Roller maintains an artist’s website which includes additional biographical information, a comprehensive portfolio, and purchasing opportunities for the illustrated children’s books that Roller has self-published, as well as other professional artistic services, and is accessible at www.williamroller.com.
Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.