Blair's prized possession

Becky with her prized possession.  See story for complete identification.

From the moment she first glimpsed the painting hanging in the Kamerick Art Building on the University of Northern Iowa campus, Becky Blair was smitten. And not just because the artist was a former student of hers. 

“It was unbelievable. It looked just like a photograph.”

The oil painting, titled Mesmerized, was part of a winning body of work by then college sophomore Cayli Graham. Blair remembers Graham in her second grade classroom and always marveled at her perception as a seven-year-old. Throughout the years Blair watched as her pupil’s artistic talents blossomed. In junior high Graham won first place in a drawing contest. In high school she was garnering the top ribbons in community and school shows.

Blair got thinking. Would Graham be interested in doing some illustrations for a children’s book she had conceived years ago and finally put into words?

Graham was ecstatic about working with her on the book. “The whimsical nature of the story captivated me and the familiarity of the “Bubba” character was something I could relate to (Bubba was a good, kind little blonde-haired boy who reminded me much of my little brothers). I have always been interested in illustrating and Becky, as my second grade teacher, was one of the very first people to reach out to me and encourage my passion in art. I haven’t forgotten that.”

If not for that kind of encouragement outside of her family, Graham says she is not sure she would have had the confidence to pursue what she loves. 

That being said, Graham was especially eager to help her former teacher bring the story to life. 

Blair provided a copy of the story and an envelope full of pictures of her son.

These pictures of Becky, her son, their house and back yard, Graham explained, all contributed to the look of the story. “Becky gave me creative freedom on the project, which I was grateful for, but I still wanted to add special details and keep the story both authentic and relatable for other children.”

Her initial water color sketch was exactly how Blair had envisioned. Over the course of a year, Graham had completed 22 illustrations, each depicting a scene from the story.

When researching publishers, Blair sadly discovered they only wanted text. Artwork she was told would be provided by their own in-house graphic artists. For Blair, that was not an option. Not only did she feel the illustrations were perfect for the story, but the story behind them, the fact they were drawn by a former student of hers, would make the book all the more special. This would have to be a package deal.

Graham was back in her hometown recently and stopped by Blair’s home to discuss the book, and catch up on things. Graham had just graduated from the University of Northern Iowa (Blair’s alma mater as well) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree.

Read more in the July 11 issue of The Ogden Reporter.

PHOTO ID: “I’m just so appreciative that Becky owns a piece of Cayli’s work,” says Cayli’s mother Christy Thede. “I love that it went to someone in her hometown, especially someone who was the first teacher to spot Cayli’s talent and suggest we seek art classes outside of the school system.” Becky Blair (pictured) has already found the perfect wall for her newest acquisition.