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Then and now: Joshua Morton

Mark Bjerkestrand Special to The Spokesman-Review
Joshua Morton has a story to tell, not only with his art, but with his life. The 38-year-old Mead High School graduate has been teaching art and coaching wrestling at Grants Pass High School in Oregon for 12 years; he is also an artist. During his high school years, Morton was a wrestling standout. He won a state championship at Mead in 1994 at 158 pounds, a junior college regional title at North Idaho College and an NAIA national championship at Southern Oregon University. Becoming a top wrestler was a difficult journey – nothing came easy to Morton. During his junior year at Mead, he entered the regional tournament as the top seed at 122 pounds, but didn’t make it out of regionals. He made the giant leap in weight classes his senior year to 158 pounds and went undefeated on his way to the state title. “He competed so well and worked so doggedly at everything,” said former Mead coach Cash Stone. In the NAIA Nationals, Morton was seeded fourth, but beat the top seed in the semifinals and the No. 2 seed in the final. “He was not the favorite coming into the meet, but he really rose to the occasion. He is an individual spirit and sometimes in wrestling that’s what it takes to be a national champion,” said SOU coach Mike Ritchey. His Olympic dreams derailed his academics. Morton was searching for that balance between intensity and enjoyment. When he hit academic rock bottom, Morton turned to art to refocus his life. He started taking art classes at Southern Oregon and found his calling. He tries to convey his own personal style in his art, just like he does in his teaching. “The biggest impact that wrestling has had on my life and career as both a teacher and an artist is the work ethic that wrestling teaches you,” said Morton. “If you can make it through a wrestling season, you can make it through anything.” His personal style as an artist is derived from music. The music of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Phish and Dave Matthews all influenced him. Music started playing a role in his life when Morton was asking that age-old question – “Who am I?” – and began influencing his art from the rush of inspiration he got at a live Phish performance in 1997 and then again with Dave Matthews at the Gorge. Morton intertwines music into his art, as well as into his career as a teacher. His art usually takes two weeks but some pieces take months; he tries to recreate the energy that he gets from a live show. Morton tries to tell a story with his images using content and technique. In the midst of his teaching and coaching duties, Morton makes sure to dedicate 30 hours a week to his art. He tries to tell his students that “if they are going to be good at art, they must work. I would take a hard worker over someone with ‘talent’ any day of the week.” Since he has been assistant wrestling coach at Grants Pass, the program has had 55 state placers, six state champions, and two high school All-Americans. Morton likes teaching work ethic and fundamentals to beginning artist and wrestlers, really stressing the work ethic. His favorite type of student and athlete is the kind who wants to be the best they can be and are always willing to work to be better. On the first day of every semester, Morton puts the same quote on the board: “Hard work is the reality that leads to the illusion of talent.” Morton is currently working with the band “Umphrey McGee.” Morton has done seven original oil paintings of the band and has had the band sign them. He hopes to auction off the paintings in order to raise money for the scholarship he started for students at Grants Pass.

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