Laurie Loftus, the Workshop’s Institutional Giving Manager, shares a letter to her first arts influencer.
Not only has it been a very long time since I had the pleasure of spending time in your art room at ES-M high school, it’s been even longer since I spent any and every possible moment I could get away with – lunch hour, after school — in the art room at Minoa Elementary. Thirty-five years, to be exact.
As an adult, I’ve reflected a lot on how I got to be who I am and where I am, and doing that, you were always right there. So this is a long, long overdue note to thank you. I’ll try to explain why that time in your art room was so special and important.
As a kid, I loved being surrounded by all the materials of grade school art-making. To this day the smell of linoleum blocks or certain markers can bring me right back there. And I can conjure the swampy funk stink of the pail of straw you kept for our basket-weaving project. (I still have that basket).
But as I cut my Queen of Hearts for my linoleum block deck of cards, or worked on my watercolor Bilbo Baggins portrait, or designed my chicken egg-shaped font, my fondest memories were of your dry wit, that wicked twinkle in your eye, your thick Boston accent, and your calm, unflappable way with a roomful of 10 year-old goofballs. You seemed so exotic. I couldn’t fathom my good fortune that you’d managed to land in my nowhere little school.
I loved it when you let me help you with your watercolors. Gessoing your papers, brushing on the rubber cement ground in the tree-shapes you’d drawn… I felt so proud when we rubbed it away to expose the delicate white branches and leaves against your watery-blue sky.
Above all, though — what has stayed with me, and affected who I am today — is how seriously you took my curiosity and interests. You gave me my first and earliest understanding of painting, composition and perspective. I recall staying after school as we looked through painters of the Depression, and you patiently showed me how, in a Thomas Hart Benton painting, the telephone poles and buildings formed points that connected in a diamond shape that our eyes and minds resolved in logic. And I remember how it pleased me when I got it.
This may be why I remember that in such vivid detail, when I can hardly recall what I did yesterday.
That was a long time ago. After coming very close to becoming a “doc” myself, I actually now work to fund arts education programs and get the arts back into every kid’s school experience – because, sadly, my experience of hanging out in the art room is a quaint memory.
You gave me the first focused individual attention to my learning that I recall getting, at home or in school. We have a fancy name for that in education-speak, but maybe it’s really just kind, respectful and very good teaching. I’m glad my school gave you the time for it.
The single overriding admonition you gave me, I’ve applied to anything I’ve ever painted, drawn, formed out of clay, written, cooked… the standard I apply to any form of art I encounter. I always hear it with your broad Boston vowels:
“Don’t beat a dead horse.”
With that in mind, I’ll just tell you that over the years in all my studies, I’ve thought of you often and fondly. I very much regret that it took me so long to tell you. I can’t ever really convey what your presence in my life meant to me.
With love —