While Maggie Lyon’s upcoming adventure is with the publisher, I’ve taken some time to work on other projects, finish a play, improve my French language skills, and explore new creative avenues while keeping up with all the chores associated with a life in the woods. One of those new paths is endeavoring to create art.
Until recently, the only proof of my artistic ability had been lost for decades. Art classes were still part of the curriculum when I was in first grade, but the teacher, who described herself as a “full-blooded Irish woman with a temper to prove it,” scared the bejesus out me. My usual response to teachers’ tirades was to keep my head down and do my best to become invisible. This method apparently worked as borne out by all the times that I was presumed innocent when the class was caught out misbehaving. The teacher would burst into the room and find the most extroverted kids out of their seats making a lot of noise. She would start yelling about all the yelling, and I would hunker down. No teacher would believe that that sweet boy sitting quietly in his seat could outtalk every kid in the room. As you can imagine, I avoided writing a lot of “I will not talk in class” sentences.
Miss Smith didn’t assign sentences. She merely kept a large paddle hanging in full view. I can’t imagine what recalcitrance she anticipated in an art class, but maintaining a tight grip on a subject that succeeds with less restraint didn’t occur to her. The added touch of heavy tape wrapped several times around the short-handled boat oar insinuated that at least once she had angrily hit her target with enough strength to structurally crack the weapon. Needless to say, art class did not get out of hand.
My little elementary school was well funded during my first year. The taxes that supported us didn’t have to be spread across a larger district like the one to which we were soon annexed. Sure, we had old textbooks, but we learned to read and do basic math without any trouble. We had fantastic lunches, new desks, and a nice piano, and there was no scrimping on art supplies. We had all types of paints, tools for any project, and we were able to attempt any manner of media our teacher dreamt of.
We filled old milk cartons with a liquid that hardened so that we could eventually chip away at the synthetic stone as though it were Carrera marble. We layered soggy newspaper strips, dripping with paste, over balloons for papier-mâché. I thought Miss Smith had lost her mind with that project, and remained unconvinced by the time my hollowed monstrosity required painting. I was good at nothing, and I never paid attention when I was told that I must use certain colors for whatever was assigned. I wasn’t intentionally disobedient. It’s just that I have an innate ability for tuning out others’ attempts to restrain me when I have a specific vision.
My greatest art class success, however, was purely accidental. Miss Smith entered the art room one morning and passed out sketch paper. She told us that we’d be drawing “free hand.” Upon reflection, I’m certain she’d not prepared a real lesson, but I took a crayon and let my hand wander. I made a series of arcs that smoothly connected, and then I started filling in. The older boy to my right looked over and declared me a genius. Apparently I’d outlined a toucan that could have passed for the one on the Fruit Loops commercial. He was right!
Confusing toucans with parrots, I decided to add color, but the end result was a beautiful bird. Miss Smith had not noticed. I’m sure she’d assessed my abilities earlier in the year, and since I was mute whenever she drew near, there was no reason for us to interact. I displayed nothing that required cultivation. At the end of the session, we were told to pass everything to the right and the work was taken up.
I never saw my toucan until the last week of school when Miss Smith made her rounds to all of the regular classes. She informed us that she was handing back all of our work because an art exhibition would be held during the eight-graders’ graduation reception. She wanted each student to select his or her best example of the year for the show. She pulled out my beautiful bird and held it up as the quality she hoped the students would select. She wanted the very best and looked in my direction to say that she’d saved me the trouble of going through the rest of my awkward oeuvre.
She slipped my toucan into her folder and left. Since my family didn’t know any of the eight-graders well enough to attend the graduation, and I probably lost any note that was sent home announcing the exhibition (more likely there was no one at home who thought that I might ever have a featured piece in an art show), we didn’t attend the exhibition. I never saw my bird again. Nor did I ever see Miss Smith to collect my art. She didn’t come back, and my bird either ended up in her personal collection or the city dump.
Miss Smith resigned because she was getting married. Several decades ago, most of us assumed that she was quitting because her only life choices were marriage or a career. She couldn’t possibly have both. I’m sure the truth is that she moved away and found another classroom with another nail in the wall on which to hang her menacing oar. I wonder how she reacted after being informed that she could no longer hit students. She must have displayed her famous Irish temper over that!
As some of us rejoiced over corporal punishment leaving the classroom, we mourned when the arts followed. I wonder how Miss Smith reacted when her budget was cut? Had she mellowed with age and experience, or did she shout once more to explain why the arts are a necessary part of education? I’m proof that the purpose of arts education is not to make someone an artist, but that exposure to the arts gives one a sense of appreciation for the world’s evocative pieces. May we find our way and renew our cultural appreciation.
© 2019 by Patrick Brown
To learn more about my books, including the two suspense novels featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1