When Trent Alvey was in junior high, she loved writing poetry as Miss Sisemore, dressed in her usual cashmere sweater and stiletto heels, turned up the Bach in her classroom.
“Back then, I’d never had a ‘Miss’ teacher, and certainly not one in spiked heels,” says Alvey, a mixed media artist. “Miss Sisemore was clearly my first significant female role model—creative, smart and stunning.”
Years after she left teaching, Claudia Sisemore became known for her documentaries on Utah artists, like portrait artist Alvin Gittins and contemporary artist Lee Deffebach, as well as local performing arts companies, such as Repertory Dance Theatre and Children’s Dance Theatre. She is also a painter, known for her geometric color field style—large fields of color spread across a raw canvas. But she really started shaping the local art scene nearly 50 years ago at Hillside Middle School.
“She set the tone for my whole life of creativity in that class,” Alvey says.
And Alvey isn’t the only artist Sisemore inspired at such a young age. Local artists Layne Meacham, Carol Edison and Ann Williams were also in her classes. “She was very strict, and she devoted her life to her students,” Williams says. “Now I’m a painter, and it is in great part due to Claudia. She accepted me for who I was, she opened my mind and made a safe, challenging place—a nest for us to become strong and then learn to fly.”
Sisemore earned her bachelor’s in English from Brigham Young University, and after teaching for a time, received her master’s in filmmaking and painting from the University of Utah. During her teaching days, she taught creative writing, drama and English, along with an experimental creative arts class, where students read literature beyond the junior high curriculum, learned to write poetry and organized school plays. Now, she runs her own production company, Canyon Video, and displays many of her paintings at Phillips Gallery.
Sisemore’s continued focus on creative endeavors is what prompted Alvey and other former students to organize an exhibit in her honor last summer at the Rio Gallery. Along with Sisemore’s paintings, the gallery featured work from her fellow artists, former students and friends, such as Bruce Smith and David Chaplin. “It was an incredible show,” Sisemore says. “I’m glad to have known all of these people.”
She met and filmed many of the gallery’s artists over the past 40 years, shooting more than 20 documentaries. This past summer, she completed films on Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and is finishing films on Denis Phillips, owner of Phillips Gallery, and sculptor Angelo Caravaglia. In fact, Sisemore’s little black book reads like a who’s who list of prominent local visual and performance artists: Edward Bateman, Kaziah Hancock and even the late Virginia Tanner are among her long list of professional relationships and friendships.
And Sisemore, who is in her 70s, plans to continue her art well into the future. “As long as I can shoot and paint, I’ll do it,” she says. “I can’t stop. I love it too much.”