Closing the door
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.
Elizabeth, everything you touch is magic. Some of these young people may not realize it, but what they learned from you and experienced with you may be one of the highest forms of magic they ever experience. For others, however, you have taught them how to make their own magic. They will love you forever and when they are our age, they will wonder, sometimes, if you are still alive because they will want so much to tell you how you changed their lives. I love you. So do they.
There is so much before you! You have touched so many lives, not only the young, but those of us that have enjoyed your work for years.
I am sitting here in my lovely Ohio ‘Grey Horse Farm’ country home on five acres of land, complete with rolling hills, a lovely pond, a gardener and many eclectic treats, including a cook fire place in the kitchen and a to die for sun room complete with my Elizabeth Bradshaw original in its place of honor surrounded by many other treasures collected over the years.
Best to you as you travel your next road(s)!
What a journey you shall have!
Best to you, Gail
Thank you so much, Gail. I love thinking of you in what sounds like a truly wonderful place. I’m excited about the journey!
I had no idea that you were retiring from teaching. I’m glad to hear that it’s also the beginning of a new life chapter. One should always begin where another ends, so congratulations. Also, I wanted to let you know how you’ve inspired me. I am a former student of yours. As Oscar Wilde had put it, life itself should be a work of art. Whether I’m contemplating social theory and wondering how to make the world an easier place to live or sitting down to explore myself with some watercolors and ink, it’s art. It’s important. You were an amazing teacher and you always will be. Thank you.
Wow! Thank you so much. It’s always a special delight to hear from one of my kids! Sounds like you have made yourself a rich and interesting life. I’m honored by your kind comments.
Thank you, Peg. We all know what that one special teacher did for us. Some of us had more than one. I hope I got to be that one for at least a few children. When I think about Miss Kirkland, and remember how she transformed my life, I know what you mean by this.
Elizabeth, you are and have been a sparkle of light to our little community of family and friends. It’s so exciting that you have set yourself free to be YOU. I know great and beautiful things will be forthcoming and you will enjoy life as never before. Congratulations on yet another milestone. Love you!
Thank you Suzanne! I feel the same way about your “sparkle of light”. Hugs!
Elizabeth, congratulations on your “graduation” best wishes to my favorite art teacher, but most importantly my friend. You always spoke to us as adults and treated us like family. Good luck to you in your future farming endeavors
Casey– that’s one of the nicest compliments ever. You always deserved to be treated like an adult because you were one. And the “treated like family part”– that’s huge to me. Thank you!