This week (May 6-10, 2013) is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I had several teachers in my early education that inspired me tremendously. Two of them, perhaps not surprisingly, were art teachers.
In 10th grade, at Pelham High School (in Pelham, Alabama) there was Ms. Martha Doyal. In 11th grade, at Dulles High School (in Stafford, Texas) there was Ms. Maresh.
I bring them both up because I think about the lessons I learned from them fairly often. While I no longer do oil or acrylic painting, or make batik prints, or draw in charcoal or conte crayon; I employ the principles I learned from them on a daily basis. Ms. Doyal questioned and challenged me constantly, in the best way possible. Her questions were designed to make me think; to make me see things more clearly; to drill deep down into the details. Ms. Maresh’s influence was the opposite. She taught me how to lose myself in the work, to not get too deep into the weeds, to feel when the moment was right, and to not accept boundaries (self imposed or external). I do all of those things almost every day. I gauge whether or not I need to get deeper into an issue or whether its best to stay back and view the situation from a wider angle; I ask questions to understand more clearly; I continue to challenge boundaries. The only place I learned how to do these things that I do nearly every day was art class.
There were two other teachers that had a significant impact on my life. One was Ken Dyess, head of the drama department in high school. The other was Jay Burton, my lighting professor in college.
I got involved in drama through my girlfriend at the time (Sara Gaston, a wonderful actress). She introduced me to the “drama jocks”. My background was art; and I volunteered to help paint the set for “Barefoot in the Park”. Through several different conversations, Ken Dyess saw something in me that no one else did; and asked me if I would be interested in trying my hand at designing a set. That initial design gig (for “The Miracle Worker”) allowed me the experience of combining everything I love (art, architecture, and color) into one cohesive whole. Ken Dyess no longer roams the planet but I am eternally grateful that he saw my capabilities where I had no idea they existed.
By the time I headed to college, I really wanted to be a scenic designer. Jay Burton changed that (with a timely assist from The Police Synchronicity Tour, where I first saw moving lights). Through his lens, I learned where my true passion was. Thanks to his classes and his approach, I discovered an endless fascination with light that exists to this day.
The common bond between these four teachers was that they looked at me (and I’m sure their other students as well) and they didn’t see who or what I was at the time. They saw my potential future self. They saw what we could be. And they provided the guidance, the direction, the instruction, and the carefully placed words of wisdom that allowed me to find my own way down the path they could see. They possessed an incredibly powerful gift and they shared it with me; and I’m grateful to them every day for it.