Yesterday was my last day as a classroom teacher. After 15 years I’m ready to “graduate” from high school. I’ll be closing that door, but opening another door to a secret garden– my life as an artist.
On the other side of that door are mornings watching the sun rise and move across the pasture– the most beautiful time of day on my farm, and one of the things I most look forward to. There will be long days in the studio with music blasting, and colors colliding. I expect there will be expeditions to creekbeds and hillsides, and sandwiches drawn from a backpack and eaten over half finished paintings. But yesterday, teaching stood up tall and asserted itself to remind me of all that’s good about it– sharing the magic, alchemy and inquiry of art with hundreds of kids.
Yesterday my sculpture students pulled together an extravaganza– they showed off their body sculptures and light sculptures in a fashion show, complete with a red paper covered runway. They blacked out all the hall lights and the hall windows and brought in the perfect hip hop recordings for an ultra-hip show. They recruited willowy girls to model, and lined one side of the hall with their Noguchi inspired light sculptures. The lights and music were so magical that many people sat in the hall just to soak it in. I found myself hanging out there too, enjoying the transformation of the cinderblock public school hallway. The body sculpture assignment had been to create something that related to the body, but was not intended for actual practical use. They’d been plotting this fashion show for weeks.
At the assigned hour students started appearing, having found ways to persuade their teachers to release them from class, or having tricked their teachers into not noticing. They assembled along the wall opposite the lightshow. The first model hit the runway moving at a high rate of speed, but once she realized she was the center of attention, she slowed down and started to enjoy it. The mood was contagious, and each model seemed a little less self-conscious and more inspired by the music, the lights and the admiration of the audience. Eventually they achieved the kind of strut that the show’s organizers had been encouraging. Among the creations were a headband with a bow on top, and a metal mustache attached; a mirrored shield which hid half the face from view and had large metal archs attached, bearing more mirrors; an apron with a barbed wire neck piece, and detergent labels sewn all over it; a piece worn on the torso that looked like the orbiting moons of some far away planet; a headpiece with a medieval quality; a bracelet that looked like an exploded atom on the arm. There was a headpiece made of peacock feathers and a chest piece made of forks. There was a metal beard, which I preferred used as a breastplate.
I had doubted that we had enough energy and work to put together a show worth skipping class for, but I was wrong. And on my last day of teaching it felt great to have this ebullient, raucous, funny and imaginative experience. What a spirit, and what a sight on which to close the door.