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My name is Annie Bickel. If you're new to my work or have just met met, I thought I'd do a little introduction on the concepts with which I identify myself and on the people who have formed me into who I am today.

I am originally from Altoona and currently run my own photography business, Photographic Memories, out of my Bellwood home. I love to learn and I love to meet new people and I can constantly do that in this career. I get to learn new lighting strategies and about radio signals, learn marketing techniques, and learn about social media algorithms. Its the perfect balance for me!

I'm actually an introvert, but I really love people. I just have learned that I really appreciate one-on-one time to get to know someone rather than being in large groups. This is especially true for me when it comes to instruction or teaching. Small groups (especially for hands-on learning) work better. We learn better that way too. Even though I'm an introvert, I feel comfortable doing presentations and speaking in front of groups. I think this comes from years of doing it daily as a teacher!

In this story, I lay out 15 of the most influential people, events, programs, memories, and projects in my life - how I have become me, what I love, enjoy, and what is most important to me.

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1.  Family:

I grew up with two younger brothers. Both live about three hours away and although that's not much, we don't see each other very often because of actually scheduling it with working on the weekends to make it happen!

We grew up with two parents. Our mom worked until my first little brother was born and then stayed home to help with my dad's business and raise us.  My dad has had his own business since I was born. He is a plumber and an HVAC expert too. However, he has spent the last year fighting Mantle Cell Lymphoma and most likely won't be able to continue to do his work because of it. We are hoping for the best and for his recovery. My mom now is a secretary at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center.  Both of my parents taught me to do my very best and to make everything I do excellent.

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2.  Authenticity:

This has always been one of my favorite portraits of myself as a child. I remember the day. I remember begging to wash my play dishes in the real sink. It wasn't because I loved washing dishes or had a clean-streak in me. Its because I craved authenticity - from the time I was very young. I wanted to wash my dishes in REAL water and with REAL soap. That was my goal. It needed to be real. 

That continued as I grew when I tried to make my own books as a fourth grader and ran for class president. It continued well into my adult years and into my artmaking and teaching practices too.

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3.  Namesake: Soulsake:

This is my maternal grandmother. Her name was Ann Marie (Simelbauer) Jacobs. She just went to Heaven in January. We miss her terribly but the things I learned from her while she was with us have been a significant part of who I am. 

She constantly gave of herself, even when she had so little. She made use of everything. She was kind and thoughtful of everyone and wise beyond her limited education. 

I have heard stories about how she didn't have running water in her home when she moved to Dean, PA. She was pregnant, already had two children, and had to cross a highway to get water. She would wait until the children were sleeping to get water for the next day, crossing an icy road sometimes alone and in the dark. She provided for her children and had a strong faith, even when life was at its most difficult. 

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4.  Nerd Embrace:

This was one of the most significant courses in my high-school education. It was my Advanced Placement English class with Mrs. Elizabeth Happeny. I had loved to read when I was very young. I even would use my night-light to be able to stay up and read, without my parents knowledge, late into the night. You could say that I would nearly devour books. My favorite, consistently, were slice-of-life and human stories.

This course was one of the first times that I was with other students who felt similarly. We didn't complain about assignments. It wasn't a struggle to get students to raise their hands in class and answer questions. We were excited to discuss the chapters we had just read with other people. We were reading nerds and not alone! It felt great!

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5.  "Mom & Dad, I want to be an artist.":

My parents were proud to see me graduate from high school, but they were even more proud that I was going on to college. I am the first generation in my family to attend college. 

I know I made them nervous when I said that I wanted to go into the arts. So, after much discussion about "ideal careers" I agreed to go to school for both a B.S. in Art Education and get a B.A. in Art. I went on to be passionate about both and still am today.

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6.  Dr. Kathleen O'Rourke:

This amazing lady is one of the reasons I am where I am today. She took me aside in high school and encouraged me to join the Diversity Club. This turned in to my being part of several different administrator/student committees and meeting others that caused me to be the student representative on the school board. 

Later, when I was teaching at Keith Junior High School, she ended up being the donor for a grand proposal that I had submitted. In those early days, we needed digital technology badly to bring students up to speed. Later, she again was part of another grant project that I wrote to start a student club called Community Inspired Arts.

She is an educator at heart. She cares about people and she doesn't just say it; she shows it daily.

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7.  PSU: Schreyer Honors Thesis:

I was so excited to be in the midst of research that when I was offered to join Schreyer Honors College as a junior at Penn State, I was so excited to work with like-minded research-loving people like myself.

I was paired with James Thurman as an honors advisor who really took my research to heart. He used so much of his time to teach me how research could turn into an art exhibit and helped me learn early digital fabrication techniques. This was a significant part of my work and with the encouragement of Karen Keifer-Boyd, my thesis writing had specific direction. 

My work was titled: Conceptualizaing Culture: a research project on multi-sensory art designed for individuals experiencing visual impairments. My art exhibit was set up in Pittsburgh through the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. This newspaper article about the art show, research, and resultant writing were exciting to me and showed me how much I loved the academic and research world.

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8.  Friend Inspiration:

I am so thankful for Alysia Watt being in my life. She and her husband, Jimmy, were just beginning to work for Young Life when I met them. They were camp counselors. I was a junior counselor. Alysia's love for Jesus, for life and for people is contagious and inspirational. I was a volunteer leader during my first year of college while they led activities, loved on kids, and shared the message of Jesus at a nearby high school.

In the early days of our friendship, I learned so much. I learned about Jesus. I saw what a healthy marriage looked like. I experienced love and support that was unconditional. I made great friends.

After I switched to a different campus, my path changed from Graphic Design to Art Education and Photography. Alysia related to this well. She had also gone to school for Architecture and then switched into Art Education. Years later, we were both art teachers in neighboring districts and it was so much fun! 

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9.  Carnegie Museum:

While I lived in Pittsburgh for a Photography internship and earned money between semesters, I also taught camps at the Carnegie Art Museum. These Saturday classes or summer camps were an amazing early art teaching experience. Who wouldn't want to work with children from a wide variety of cultures who love art AND get to have a real museum in which to dive for inspiration every single day?

This space will always be special to me. Learning how to make engaging lessons and making connections between artists and the hands-on learning activity happened more because of this experience than because of any course I took at PSU.

Carnegie Art Museum 2005 Camp on Architecture: My students built a structure outside of the Carnegie Lecture Hall!

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10.  Marriage:

My husband and I started dating as I was preparing to leave State College to do my student teaching in Pittsburgh Public Schools. The early days were forged with phone calls made with calling cards and emails and visits.

We loved to explore the city together. We were married on 7/7/2007 at Fort Roberdeau. We had a beautiful day and the past ten years have made us even more of a team!

Before I got married, someone once told me that getting married to someone should never mean that the other person completes you. It should mean that you're stronger together as a team to do good work for God's kingdom. That's how I've always viewed us. We might not be good at working in the kitchen at the same time, but we can certainly solve problems better together.

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11.  Teaching:

Specifically, the thing about teaching that influenced me the most was the emptying of myself completely everyday into the lives of students. Teaching students how to be creative amidst budget challenges and a strict administration proved tricky. It was special projects, clubs, kind teachers, and several special students that made it worthwhile. 

This project, in particular, is meaningful to me. This is a mosiac of the school mascot. However, the project was a class pairing of my Introduction to 3D Art students and the Autistic Support classroom that taught us all something daily. We hand-made the tiles together. We glazed them; we fired them; we broke them into pieces - together. Abilities and difficulties - we all had them. We all worked as a team to make something beautiful. I think of this project and hope that the memories made stick with those students the way it has with me.

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12.  Recent Giving:

I have a heart for giving. I joke that I could go on a job interview and they could offer me the job and somehow, I would convince them that I should work for free. This has actually happened!

I taught Sunday School as soon as I was allowed. I volunteered to be a volunteer assistant instructor for art camps in the summer during college.

A few years ago, I started a chapter of Backyard Club at Evergreen Manor in Altoona and wrote curriculum and created resources and kept a balanced budget as well as requested donations regularly. This project has been very meaningful for myself and also for my church community. Backyard Club is a program started by Kevin Dellape of Altoona. Its a way to get connected to families living in housing projects and share Jesus as well as help to fill the needs of the people in that community.

More recently, I responded to a church project and raised funds for our church and larger community projects. 

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13.  My Family:

Brady and I have two little boys. Their names are Jonathan and Christopher. They love baseball and playing outside or with Legos inside. Both also enjoy artmaking. This is something I treasure to share with them!

They keep us busy, they keep us constantly learning and they keep us full of joy and daily appreciation for the time together.

I love my flexibility with work to be present to the little humans that i have the most influence upon. This is incredibly important to me.

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14.  Knowing the Shura Family:

Our lives were changed by this family in a magical way 6 years ago when each of our oldest children found each other in Kiddie-Land at DelGrosso Park. They were friends from school and saw each other and gave each other a hug. Our families met because two sweet two-year-olds ran into each other. Not so common, right!

Our children were dear friends, especially for a boy and girl in early elementary school. They loved getting to sit next to each other at lunch and be with each other at their birthday parties. Their young friendship was stronger than many others I've witnessed over my lifetime. Their sweet little girl, Madison, died on April 14, 2017, only one week after her eighth birthday, from a terrible childhood cancer called DIPG that is currently a cancer with no survivors and little funding to help change that.

Our time knowing her changed our lives. Our time with them since she's passed has changed our lives again. We will never be the same parents, friends, daughters and sons again. Yet, we are so thankful for the gift of knowing all four of them. Their kindness, their gratitude, and their endurance give us hope daily.

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15.  Private Art Lessons & Camps:

In my spare time, I teach a small private art class once a week during the school year. Last year, my students and I tried a variety of media and learned about lots of different artists. Sometimes you just know that you're supposed to be in a place doing a thing. That is how this came to be. I had been so burned and burned out from teaching in the public school for 7.5 years. I stopped teaching when my second son was born. But, deep inside I knew that teaching was still important to me. I just didn't prefer to teach over 500 students per year and simultaneously deal with constantly changing regulations, budget cuts, and requirements. My time away had healed many things.

This refreshing re-introduction to teaching again opened new paths to get back into teaching camps in the summer through the Hollidaysburg Arts Council.

Sometimes just in saying "yes", I have always found that God will reveal new things to us about his intentions for our hearts, lives, and our relationship with Him. I am always really prayerful and thoughtful about those "yesses" but am so thankful for the opportunities.

 If you'd like to see a sample of my other posts, check out my previous post titled Mantle Cell Journey. Telling personal stories is always important to my photography work!

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