Recently, I was corresponding with a fellow metalsmith and heard the tale of how a high school jewelry arts teacher changed that individual’s life. This is a phenomenal coincidence to me as I owe an unending debt of gratitude to my high school art teach, Ms Helen Howell.
As an undiagnosed dyslexic, I suffered throughout my grade school and high school years. My grades and assessment scores in high school left little doubt that I was not college material. Yet, my first ever official art teacher saw something in my aptitude for color theory, my patience with challenging processes, my willingness to try again and again and again, that made her put that torch in my hand and I was hooked. But more than that she connected with me after I graduated and when she saw I was floundering she helped me get accepted to a state university, metals program.
Once accepted to university, based on the strength of my early portfolio, there came the challenges of paying for it and navigating the academic world, but she got me to the doorstep of my future and happily gave me a shove. And I bless her for that. Decades of jewelry making (and two masters degrees) later, I had my own classes of high school students to consider as I introduced them to metals and jewelry making.
Things had seriously changed since I had attended high school. Classrooms designed for 20 students had become overstuffed with up to 37 students. Budget cuts and misguided administrations gutted supplies, tools, and curriculum. But even with all of that not so positive change there were still young people excited by what they could do with a torch, some tools and some hard work. I can only hope for those of us in the field now, who were started on this path by a great high school jewelry arts teacher, that we have passed on the passion we found to help close this never-ending circle.