My Art Teacher

A reminiscent journey from the classroom of Mrs. Strack:
A couple of weeks ago, I was handed a list of classrooms that needed painted over the summer. On that list was a single wall in the art room. It was not the first room to be done, so I put it out of my mind. The next week, my dad and I strolled in to discuss the paint job.  To say the least, I was unprepared for the events that followed.
We went over the job, and that was great, but memories started to arise. I pushed them away.  There was work to be done, no time for daydreaming.  It became increasingly difficult to focus on the work the longer we were in there. The memories were increasing in vigor. NO!  I have to work, must do the job I’m here to do. But this room had me surrounded by art, and art tools, and an artistic environment. It was very hard to focus. I’ve always loved art, and wasn’t horrible at it either. While I didn’t posses the skills to do it professionally, I was well beyond stick figures, and have found enjoyment in seeing others works.
I managed to get through day one, slightly frustrated.  It bothered me, being in that room after 24 years. That was my favorite class in the entirety of my education.  I vowed, the next day, I would take a little time and ponder things.  And ponder I did. This was the room where I learned to airbrush, glaze, stencil, pencil, charcoal, read the color wheel, sketch, paint, open my mind, accept critique, and accept praise. (That last was the hardest).  I didn’t think this way as a 16 year old, but those skills were forming, regardless of recognition.
In 1992, at 16, I was an absolute terror.  I most likely sent teachers home in tears. I was destructive, troubled, a smoker, and just onrey as all get-up.  I was not the model student to say the least. But then came Mrs. Strack. She was unphased by my shenanigans.  And I was less likely to cause them in her class.  I was eager to learn here.  This was art class, and I couldn’t help but be enthralled, and encapsulated.  It was my subject.  And my teacher was goooood lookin’!
She taught art with an understanding that students are at different levels, and only expected us to do our best.  She could easily read a students skill level and push them to do better.  Every class has their exceptional classmate.  My class had Ken Burgard. It would take me 20 hours to accomplish what he could draw in 20 minutes, but it was okay…skill levels right?! (It drove me nuts that he could do that) But I digress. Being a 16 year old boy, I was very much fascinated by the female figure, and during an art exercise, I chose to draw one. It was descent, I thought. Mrs. Strack walked by and said “thank goodness I don’t have that figure”. She was smiling, but I was devastated inside, but only for a moment. Then I laughed. Then I was devastated again. (I was 16! Everything was confusing) I would get my redemption later during airbrush when she recognized that I had drawn the Beastie Boys. My art teacher knew who the Beastie Boys were, AND that’s what i was drawing??? That’s awesome!!! Regardless, I loved that class!
So, here I am painting in her classroom just after her retirement. Thoughts, feelings, memories flooding back; an endless flood of emotions. After Williamsville, I would have Mr. Sorrels continue my art education over at Athens High School. But it all began in Stracks room. I would later take some art history in college, go to the Louver in Paris, France, admire Rome, Italy, and drool in Brussels, Belgium. Seeing some magnificent pieces made by mankind, and having some understanding of period, and styles, and mediums. I’ve seen original art of all 4 Ninja turtles!! (I’m an 80’s kid. I can’t change that) Art was a part of me, and often, I would think back to the influences I had early on.
Teachers, you may never get to hear how your students lives are impacted, but don’t loose heart. You never know when there is some quiet, awkward kid just absorbing what you’re teaching.  A little kindness really does go a long way, sometimes much much further than you will ever know.  And as it goes with introverts, we won’t tell you…ever.  Well, not vocally anyway.  If I ever saw Mary Ellen, Id probably run or hide.  Not because I wouldn’t want to say hello, but because there’s no way I could ever express my thanks.  I’m socially awkward.  Its like if you met Superman, you would just fumble around words, and wonder if any came out, and wonder if they sounded like actual words.
I finished painting what I was supposed to, and as I turned to walk out of the room (for possibly the last time in my life), I stood and looked around one last time and softly spoke. “Thank you Mary Ellen, for everything”.
I turned the lights off, and walked away.

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