Art : Featherstone Center for the Arts celebrates art teachers
Photo by Susan Safford
Unlike many professional artists who keep secret their skills and techniques, there are those who seem intent on imparting all the knowledge and inspiration they can. They are teachers, as much a calling to them as being artists, and bonding their two vocations seems to offer them as much to gain as to give.
"I always feel that anything I learn, I just hand back to others," says photographer Kathy Rose, a former college teacher and Boston Globe garden photographer, a Featherstone teacher for the past 15 years. "The more ideas we can get out there, the more beautiful art will become. The students perpetuate the art."
This Sunday, Featherstone's Past and Present Teacher Show opens, and Ms. Rose is showing two still photos from a video she's been working on during the past year, documenting the dramatic erosion at Wasque.
Julia Mitchell, an internationally recognized tapestry weaver whose work is at Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven, has been teaching at Featherstone for five years. The Featherstone show includes her "Three-Fold Screen," a tapestry mounted on a customized folding frame by John Thayer.
"I tried teaching when I was in my 20s," Ms. Mitchell says. "I just started my career…At that time it was just too frustrating. You put so much energy into it, and then you're exhausted and you don't have any creative energy left for your own work. But I don't find that to be true anymore."
The "tipping point," in her decision to teach was when a talented presenter at a weavers conference in Kentucky — "a crackerjack tapestry weaver, really good" — told the audience she became a tapestry weaver "because of Julia Mitchell."
Ms. Mitchell says, "And it just blew me away. That made me realize that people were learning from me and I was affecting them. I just love teaching. I never thought I'd be able to say that, but I love it. I like the idea that somebody is going to know what I know. Otherwise I'll just get old and die and then it won't be there anymore."
Ann Smith, Featherstone's executive director, says, "In the past 15 years, Featherstone has had 75 teachers, and several teacher and student shows...but in this case, on our 15 anniversary, we wanted to focus solely on our teachers because they are the backbone of what we do at Featherstone."
She beams and adds, "From Thad Harshberger's and Gabriella Camilleri's stain glass and painters Ellen McClusky and Ken Vincent — these are the highest caliber artists on the Vineyard who show in New York and around the world. I want to stress the importance of being able to rub shoulders with some of the best Island artists who teach our classes."
Painter John Holladay, a graphic arts teacher at Falmouth High School who shows at Louisa Gould Gallery, will display two acrylic paintings of Chilmark landscapes in the teacher show.
"I've been teaching at Featherstone for 10 years," he says. "I've always said my life is dual, one's the teacher and one's the artist. For me, it's so important that you put back what you receive. And students are constantly bringing me ideas. As a teacher, it's important that you experiment so when you go into a classroom it's important that you can answer all the questions."
Printmaker and ceramic artist Washington Ledesma, an art teacher in his native Uruguay, agrees. "The way that you communicate with the students moves you to be very alert and to experience and create new things…It works in both ways," he says. "The students are influenced by my energy and at the same time I am influenced by theirs. It's very rewarding when you explain something and then see what they achieve."
Mr. Ledesma, one of the Island's most sought-after and distinctive ceramicists, will show three pieces: a drawing made with a coffeewash and detailed in pen and ink, a three-color lino print in which all the colors are applied to a single plate, and one of his popular thrown vessels.
Scott Campbell, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and Featherstone ceramics teacher, says, "Everything that you do when you're teaching reflects back into your work."
A graduate of Syracuse University, who worked with some of the country's most established potters, began as Featherstone's ceramics consultant when the center's barrel kiln was built.
He credits his students with inspiring his own creativity: "As a matter of fact I go in each day and think, 'Now what is going to surprise me today?' because there's always something."
"For this show, I'd like the viewer to see each piece as a teaching instrument," he says, "to see something different and maybe apply it to what they're doing."
"Form in Clay" is the result of a class demonstration. ("I've learned a lot about kiln firing and clay forming just by doing demonstrations.") He explains, "I've always wanted to make pots by just using gravity. So I got about 40-pounds of clay and held it up and pounded it. The piece actually forms itself through gravity, so you've got a thick, heavy pot that has to be fired very slowly."
Sunday's opening is a chance to celebrate with the artists who so willingly share their skills.
Ms. Mitchell sums it up: "The most important thing in teaching your art is to communicate — that's why we do our work — and to explain through direct contact and fire up somebody else and pass the passion on."
Artists' Reception: Featherstone Center for the Arts Past and Present Teachers Show, Sunday, April 10, 4-6 pm. Show runs through May 1. Open daily from 12 noon to 4 pm. 508-693-1850; featherstoneart.org.