Friday, September 18, 2009

Stay in touch!

An approaching 40th high school reunion, and my thought process in trying to decide if I will attend, has me reminiscing again about the “old” days. In particular, my old art class memories have led me to wonder if the same experiences that I had are tolerated, accepted, or embraced in the classroom today. My guess would be that they are not, in part because we live in a society that is afraid to offend, goes to great lengths to avoid any sign of favoritism, and one that I think sometimes stifles creativity.

Memories of school often begin with my junior high school art teacher, Richard Wariakois, who got my attention early when he warned his students that the dense and opaque, black India ink would cause paralysis to our hands if a spill occurred. Yes, I was especially na├»ve, but it took me a couple of years before I realized that his words weren’t true at all, and that it was just his clever way of insuring we were neat and careful with supplies!

Mr. Wariakois must’ve recognized my love of art, and a talent needing development. Perhaps that was why he allowed me to work on larger and more unique projects when opportunity arose. One of those projects was a large oil painting of a serene pasture, with horses and a pond. When finished, it was hung above the stairway leading to the boys’ locker room. I didn’t take gym class and had no reason to be in the area, so I didn’t learn until much later that my painting was dubbed “the snag pit.” I won’t go into detail about why my painting came to be called that, but suffice it to say that junior high school boys often lack art appreciation, and good manners!

Another “special assignment” from Mr. W. began when he brought in two, 8’ long telephone pole sections, and asked me and one other student to go to work with chisels, mallets and knives to create American Indian totem poles. It was a challenging task for a couple of East Side, Scandinavian kids, but we must have done enough library research (thumbing through fat encyclopedia volumes) to make them believable, because the tall statues guarded the art department entrance for years after.

As the end of the school year approached, Mr Wariakois told me that I could have all of the opened tubes of oil paint. He would receive a new supply the following fall, and rather than throwing the old paint away he wanted it put to good use. It has been. I think that I just finished squeezing out the last of that paint this past winter.

High school art classes led to new adventures. I started with Art 1, since I felt like I should start at the beginning, but it only took a few weeks for my teacher, Richard Larsen, to recommend that I transfer to Studio Art. I maintained communication with Mr. Larsen, but Studio art was where I belonged! It was there, under the watchful eye and gentle guidance of Helen McKenney, that I was exposed to additional mediums, clay work, and new friends who had similar interests. Dave, Dave, Ned and I, quite often, would work while softly humming or whistling. One of our favorites was the theme song from the epic film, Exodus. (Thanks, Cousin Kris, for helping to identify the name. You, and your terrific memory, ROCK!)

I did editorial cartoons and caricatures for the school paper, many special projects, and started selling my art to other students. I joined Spectrum, the high school art club, and was elected co-president. (Sally: if you’re reading this, I apologize once again that while we shared the title, you did all of the work!)

I was a prolific artist, leading to more recognition as time went by. Once, during a school-wide art fair, my Spanish teacher asked the class if any of us had artwork on display. Before I had a chance to reply (I was quite shy at the time), one of my classmates boldy exclaimed, "I do! I've hung my work under my alias – Dennis Sterner!"

Unlike other students, when I occasionally ditched a class, I didn’t sneak out of school to get a burger or meet a friend or have a smoke. I quietly slipped into a studio art class so I could spend an extra hour in my favorite pastime. Sweet Mrs. McKenney never ratted me out!

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Mrs. McKenney gave me a blank canvas when I was about to graduate, and asked me to paint something for her sometime. To this day, I regret that I never did. I never saw her again, and have not heard anything about her since. Mr. Larsen supplemented his teaching income by driving a cement truck in Forest Lake during the summer; I’ve waved to him from time to time, but have not seen him for quite awhile. I heard that Mr. Wariakois recently died, and though I have not stayed in touch, I thank him for starting me in the right direction, and stressing the importance of keeping a tidy workspace and not wasting ink.

Memories are treasures that should be embraced. It’s a shame we get so busy that we don’t stay in touch with people who shaped our lives.

Maybe I will attend my class reunion.


whistler said...

you are such a neat person! no wonder i love you so much!
if i gave you a blank canvas would you paint something for me?!?

CousinK said...

With our computer having been offline for 5 days I was faced with 89 emails when we finally got back to "cyberspace" yesterday & Vignettes was one of those 89. I have never been mentioned in your blog before so you gave me a good smile and a "Oh my!" My head is often full of information no one cares to know so thanks for asking! Glad I could help. Terrific story about high school days and yes, dear cousin, attend that reunion.