Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 1, 2014

Class of blues

Richlands Middle School art teacher combines two loves

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. —  It is a combination of a first love and a hobby turned second job for Richlands resident Victor Lawson. The 35-year-old is an art teacher at Richlands Middle School during the week and a blues musician on the weekends and summer.

“Teaching is my first job and first priority as far as a profession,” Lawson said. “Some people play golf for fun, I play music. However, it has grown into a little more than a hobby over the last few years.”

Lawson will perform at the Greater Richlands Area Festival this month, as well as other local venues in Mercer and Tazewell County. He performs classic rock, country, bluegrass, disco, dance music, oldies and his favorite, the blues.

His students, grades sixth through eight, can identify with his weekend hobby. A few of them come out and listen to him perform on stage. He doesn’t perform in the classroom, but the teenagers know he is avid musician.

“Many of my students who play music or have family members who play can identify with my playing music. They like to talk to me about where I play and what songs I play. They tell me about how they learned this or that last night. Some students bring their instruments to show me. A huge part of teaching is about the relationship you build with students,” Lawson said.

 Before music, there was art. Lawson started drawing before he could write.

“I knew I wanted to teach art by the time I was in the eighth grade. Art was my first love and what I feel like I was born to do with my life ... I couldn’t imagine going into any other field than art after I started eighth grade,” he said.

Lawson graduated from Richlands High School and attend college at Emory and Henry. He likes to work on oil paintings. He has exhibited work at the Appalachian Art Center in Wardell, Va., and will have an art show at Southwest Virginia Community College in the fall. He credits two teachers, Mike Smith from Richlands Middle School, and Kim Jackson from Richlands High School, for inspiring him to become a teacher.

“I didn’t go into music full time because when I was younger I had a belief that God created me to do something with art and I knew that teaching art would also be a part of this. Art is still who I am,” Lawson added.

Lawson enjoys forming relationship with his students. He feels responsible for their education and wants every student to become productive members of society. By combining a life of music and art, Lawson believes he can show students there are no limits in life.

“In many instances, it helps me build relationships with students who may not have much in common with other teachers. I play a lot of places where my students can come out and see my band. I think they enjoy seeing what their teachers do outside of school,” Lawson said. “I always want to be a positive role model for all my students. I hope when my students see my artwork and hear or see me play music it inspires them to do something creative. I hope they see what can be done with hard work and dedication to a craft or skill. This applies not only to music, but anything they are interested in.”

He remember listening to his grandfather play music. Don Horn wasn’t an advance player. Lawson said he played old gospel hymns and a few bluegrass songs.

“He was the first person who I remember seeing play the guitar. He was my first inspiration,” Lawson said.

When his mom married his stepfather, Don Armstrong, he heard him and his brother, Mickey, play an old surf song called “Pipeline” by The Ventures. Lawson knew he had to learn to play the song.

“Don spent many hours teaching me how to play old instrumental songs that he and his brother had learned as children,” Lawson added.

The Armstrong family were also teachers.

“None of these people were formally trained, but they all played in bands professionally their whole lives,” he said.

He has a lot of favorite songs. But a few hold memories like “Sunday Morning Coming Down” as sung by Johnny cash, a favorite of his father, Tom Lawson.

“My dad didn’t play but we listened to a lot of music together. He introduced me to ZZ Top, also one of my influences.”

Other artists he draws inspiration from include Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and old blues artists Howlin Wolf, Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson.

“While performing the audience inspires me. If they get into the music and enjoy it, it gives me energy to play and perform better than I think I can sometimes,” he said.

He is also encouraged to work hard as a teacher and musician by his family and his faith in Jesus.

“I’m inspired when I think about what Jesus did for all of us. I believe He died for us so we could be saved. I can’t do anything good with Him. He is the greatest inspiration to me — period.”

His daughters, Isabella and Emma, are his biggest fans. He also credits his mom for building up his work ethic and teaching him he could do anything he wanted to do.

When it comes to the classroom, he looks toward other teachers.

“We have teachers that truly give it their all in Southwest Virginia. All teachers at my school care and do their best for their students every day. They also have high expectations for their students. When teachers and students have high expectations, it is easy to inspire each other,” Lawson said.

For Lawson, it all about the connection — in the classroom or on the stage. One art project and one song at a time.