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[teacherartexchange] telling our life story

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From: Jean Womack (jeaneger_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Jul 10 2005 - 02:18:20 PDT


When I was a child, sick in bed, my mother brought paper and pencils to me
on a bed tray and I could draw to my heart's content. When well, I walked
to a local stables, fed and groomed the horses in exchange for rides, and
read every horse book I could find in the library. I drew horses non-stop
for a long time. I won a prize for a soap sculpture of a deer. That was
an important turning point towards art.

Art never lied to me. I can draw my own conclusion about what's in a
picture. We were told that poor was beautiful, as in Migrant Mother and
Kathe Kollwitz. I wondered about that, why do we think those desparately
poor people are beautiful? Maybe it's because an artist could tell the
world about them and get them some help that way.

The high school wanted me to take the career track into commercial art, but
my parents wanted me to go to college. By that time I had a full blown case
of bulimia and was throwing up my meals several times a week. No drugs, just
mustard powder and water and then, after awhile , the builimics throat
muscles are trained to throw up at will. It's a nightmare of dehydration,
abcessed teeth, bad breath, departing boyfriends, and anemia (because the
nutrients are not absorbed through the throat because of scar tissue, I
guess). I began to recover from that around 1984.

I went to Swarthmore at my parents' choosing, but Swarthmore had no studio
courses. I took every art-related course I could find--aesthetics, design
in drawing and painting, and modern architecture. I dropped out after three
years with a very low GPA. I think they should have kicked me out after the
first year and not made it so hard for me to finish college. I took art
courses in New York City and the San Francisco Art Institute. They always
steered me toward abstract art, which was not what I wanted to do.

Then, while raising my son and running a small newspaper, I meandered
through junior college dropping all courses in which I was not making an A
or B, because my goal was to pull up my GPA so I could transfer to a state
college or university. I finally went back into art in JC, and rediscovered
the love of art of my younger days. The drawing instructor thought I'd be
good at printmaking because I was good at drawing, so I majored in
printmaking at SF State. Glad I did. It was my big opportunity to learn
something new, so I printed night and day. Every chance I got, I was in the
print studio.

I got a BA in printmaking and art education and then, thinking I was on a
roll, I went for the MA in art education and got that. I love San Francisco
State. They have great courses, great teachers and a wonderful variety of
choices in the courses I could take. I wouldn't trade that experience for
anything. I didn't have to knock myself out to graduate. I could take 12
units a semester instead of the 20 units that Swarthmore required. At
that time I was living with a wonderful man who was going to become my
husband a few years later, who was SO supportive and loving to me while I
finally accomplished what I had started out to do so many years before. Him
being there for me was really what enabled me to accomplish so much. Plus
some great teachers who thought I had what it took to graduate.

My husband's sisters are teachers, so I thought it would be acceptable to
his family for me to be a teacher, so I went for the teaching credential.
My mother had told me that the only way I could make a living in art was to
teach. Of course that's not true, but that's what one's parents say when
they don't know much about careers in art. Anyway, I am very glad that I
became a teacher. I love teaching. I have to forget about everything else,
and think about those kids and what they need and what I can give them in
the way of setting the tone of the class, as I go from school to school as a
substitute. It has really been a joy and a challenge for me.

But I would still like to teach art--that's really why I went into teaching.
I still make art every spare minute I have away from teaching. I think I
have the teaching skills I need now that I have been subbing for a few
years. I know I started late in life, but I'll be 70 in a few years whether
I am teaching art or sitting at a typewriter typing up someone else's legal
documents and feeling my shoulder muscles tense up every time I make a
typing error. I want to be around the youth who are so full of life, and
looking hopefully at their future, hoping they will have a teacher who can
make the future bright for them. I think I can do that for them--show them
the path to the satisfaction that comes from creating something beautiful
and meaningful with one's hands and one's mind.

Jean Womack
"Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare
time for personal contention." Abraham Lincoln

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