Thanksgiving always makes me sentimental and nostalgic and I get a little mushy around the edges, so I was already in a mood. Then this afternoon I was working in my studio and turned on my little TV set to keep me company and Oprah was having a show about thanking people for kindnesses and making a difference in one's life. It was touching and she closed by saying, " call up someone who deserves your thanks and tell them thank you. It will make both your days." There are plenty of people I could call and thank, but for some reason the first person that came to mind was my high school art teacher, Lorna Obermayr.
Once she gave us a big assignment. A painting. I don't remember the instructions, but it was the culmination of several weeks of color study. Then she sat with each student to evaluate their work. When I sat down for my evaluation she looked at me earnestly and said, "You misunderstood the assignment and you have done this all wrong, BUT—I love what you did and that is why I didn't stop you. I wanted to see where you would go with this." Then she told me everything she liked about the piece and why, and what I probably learned in doing it. Then she explained, again, what I was supposed to have done, gave me another week to do it and gave me extra credit for the incorrect piece. As I walked away, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, she said, "you are really a very good artist."
She left our High School before my senior year and took a job at the university where her husband was on the art faculty. She eventually became the chair of the art department. She was a gifted writer as well as artist and beloved teacher. She wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper—her observations about the university, the town, arts events, interesting people. She would have been a blogger in another time, I am certain. After I left Pocatello, my mother would clip her columns from the paper and send them to me. They were just the bit of hometown news that I craved. I heard that she and her husband divorced. A surprise to me.
This afternoon I googled her name to see if I could find her. I knew she had moved to Canada some years ago. Today I learned that she died last year. It seems she is sorely missed and her memory has been honored by an exhibit of her work and the purchase of one of her works by the British Columbia city where she made her home. In an online newspaper there was a recent article saying that her studio was for sale.
So how would I thank her if I could? Not for anything heroic or dramatic that she did—she didn't save my life, like some of the people on Oprah—but for being such an inspiring teacher. She did no more for me than she did for any other student, but she showed me, and helped me believe, that being an artist was not a silly or impractical desire. She treated her students as if we were artists. She gave us the great gift of taking us seriously. And she found something beautiful or joyful or funny to point out every day. Once I won a statewide contest to design a poster. There was a ceremony and dinner held in Northern Idaho at a resort and part of my reward was to attend, along with my art teacher, to receive my $100 prize. Mrs.OB and I flew on the governor's plane, attended the dinner and spent the night at the resort, then flew home again the next day. She acted as if we were old pals off on a crazy adventure and we giggled together at the pomp and the fancy clothes and speculated about meeting the governor and whether we should call him Mister Governor or just Governor, or maybe (snicker, snicker) your majesty! I think she had as much fun as I did and I was awfully glad to have her along. She charmed everyone we met.
I spent a year as an art teacher in a Junior High school. I thought about Mrs. Obermayr a lot. I wondered how she stayed so upbeat and where she found her ease in dealing with teenagers. She loved teaching as I never could. I was lucky to have good teachers and several exceptional teachers in my school experience. Mrs. OB was the best.
what a lovely tribute to her memory Terry, thanks for sharing it.ReplyDelete
Terry- I know she hears you with this! What a lucky encounter for you- a meeting that has colored your whole life.ReplyDelete
You write the best stories Terry. I love coming here every morning to see what you're up to and what you are thinking about. She could see, early on, how much talent you have..what a gift.ReplyDelete
How lucky you are, Terry, to have had such a wonderful and encouraging teacher. She was a gift from the universe -- and look how right she was about you!ReplyDelete
What a beautiful tribute to your art teacher. There are not many teachers that can leave such a profound impression on their students. She had a gift. And she shared that gift with you. Passing that gift along would be the best way of honoring her and her memory. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful part of your life and the impact one person had in your world.ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing this story. Mrs. OB would be so proud of you. Not only how you continued to create beautiful art, but how generously you share your creative process with others. Thanks Terry.ReplyDelete
What a beautiful tribute, Terry -- it sounds like you were lucky to have her, and she was lucky to have you as a student. I'll bet you were one of the students she remembered long after she taught you.ReplyDelete
Thanks for a wonderful story. Mrs. OB sounds like an incredible woman. My art teachers in Jr High and High School were my favorites too -- one a hippy and the other an antiques dealer. But, the teacher I think I actually learned teh most from, and who's lessons I remember often was the crotchety old HS English teacher whose class I hated!ReplyDelete
Great, great story. Bringing back memories of my bohemian art teacher, Mrs. Papish. I loved her.ReplyDelete
How sad that you missed connecting with Mrs. OB by just a year. I especially love the story of your doing the wrong assignment, but learning from the effort, and then getting extra credit for it. That's the mark of a good teacher.ReplyDelete
Sadly many art curricula are being cut out as budget-saving measures.
I enjoyed reading your story about Mrs. Obermayr.It reminded me of an art teacher in college that also was caring, and enthusiastic, who inspired me to be myself.ReplyDelete
Lorna was never my teacher in a formal way; however, I was on the edges of that Bohemian group in Pocatello, Idaho back in the '60s and I knew Lorna "socially" as they say these days. I had the privilege of being the editor of the arts and entertainment section of the local newspaper and as such rec'd and reviewed the columns Lorna wrote for the paper. Later we were both members of the same women's groups at the university. She was truly a multi-talented and "great" person and you have captured her soul. Thank you ...ReplyDelete