Like most college professors in the arts, I teach a combination of lecture and studio courses. Lecture classes in art history and appreciation tend to be larger classes, as students are often required to fulfill a certain number of hours in the arts and humanities, regardless of major. Some of my most outstanding art history students have been nursing majors! And then, of course, the history majors like these courses to add a dimension to their understanding of the various time periods in western civilization. Studio classes tend to be smaller, often with less than ten students enrolled in a painting, photography or ceramics course. While a grammar school teacher would tell you that the small class presents less discipline problems, more one-on-one teaching, and the ability to move at a faster pace, the university-level teacher would come up with entirely different positives. For me, the greatest benefit of the small class is the interaction that takes place in a studio setting. I get to know the students on a deeper level as they come to know me. Our lives interact along with the studio work. We share family stories, opinions on every conceivable topic, and the good, the bad, and sometimes even the ugly of our lives! On any given day, the studio can become a political forum, a show-and-tell event, or even a therapy session!
I’ve been hearing a lot in recent days about teachers and students. The effect that a teacher can have on a student’s life can be profound. Sometimes long after one has been in school, a teacher will come to mind…a simple skill learned or a life lesson engraved on a student’s heart. The influence of one on another is far reaching.
The Thomas Cole House in Catskill, New York, is presenting an exhibit, Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. This exhibit, which runs from April 30th through November 2nd, features the work of teacher, Thomas Cole, and his only student, Frederic Church. I can think of no better example of a teacher-student relationship that lasted a lifetime and still today, features the two in tandem.
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was a British painter who immigrated to the U.S. in 1818. The family first settled in Steubenville, Ohio, followed by a series of moves that finally achieved permanency in New York in 1825. Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School of American painting. Characterized by the ideal of man and nature coexisting peacefully, the Hudson River School painters worked in landscape, centering on themes of exploration, discovery, and settlement. They were closely aligned to Emerson and Thoreau. In 1827, Cole bought a farm in Catskill, NY, called Cedar Grove. There he lived and worked, and taught his only student, Frederic Edwin Church.
Frederic Church (1826-1900) was born in Hartford. At the age of 18, he went to study with Cole. During the years 1844 to 1846, Church lived with the Cole family and worked in the studio. Church’s early works reflect his teacher’s ideals. But while Cole was somewhat a romanticist, painting ethereal, almost mythological scenes, Church was more of a realist whose works reflect a natural landscape, always with a spiritual dimension. Church came to be called a luminist, utilizing light as a primary compositional technique.
The friendship between the Cole and Church families lasted a lifetime. During his studies, Cole once took his student to see and paint “Red Hill” in the foothills of the Catskills. Church eventually built a home there at Olana, just across the Hudson, placing the two families on the East and West sides of the river that they loved.
Richard Clague, Jr. (1821-1873) was born and trained in France, the son of a British shipping tycoon and Marie-Delphine-Justine de la Roche, a Creole from New Orleans. Clague, billed as the founder of Louisiana landscape painting, settled permanently in New Orleans in 1857. He had been trained in the naturalistic style of the Barbizon School. In earlier years, Clague concentrated on portraiture, the popular genre of Southern painters, but by 1860, he was fully entrenched in landscape painting. After a brief stint in the Confederate 10th Louisiana Infantry, Clague set up a studio on Camp Street where he produced domesticated rustic scenes of the Louisiana bayous and rural settings. Landscapes were just not popular then, and Clague depended on teaching for income. His studio was large, despite the fact that landscapes didn’t sell very well, and his students came to be loosely known as the Bayou School. William Henry Buck was his closest follower.
William Henry Buck (1840-1888) settled in New Orleans, coming from his native Norway, in 1870. He worked as a clerk for a cotton factory. Buck studied with Clague from the late 1870’s through the early 1880’s. Buck’s work displays naturalistic scenes of Louisiana bayou country with eerie lighting effects and atmospheric mysticism. He didn’t sell much, so it’s a good thing he had the cotton factory income on which to rely! Until the 1960’s, Buck’s work was generally viewed as inferior to Clague’s. However in 2010, his painting, The Hotel at Spanish Fort on Bayou Street, brought in excess of $200,000 at auction. So one could say he is now right up there with his teacher!
Robert Wood (1889-1979) immigrated to the U.S. from England in 1910. For several years, he traveled the country as an itinerant painter, producing small-sized works and selling them on the street. In 1924, he married and settled in San Antonio, where he remained until 1941. Wood painted the Texas landscape, especially rural settings in the springtime. He was an astute businessman who oversaw a thriving studio, selling to art collectors and tourists alike. Wood often employed young painters to assist him with the labor of preparing canvas to paint and subsequently framing the work for sale. One such young man was Porfirio Salinas, who worked in Wood’s studio for over 5 years. Robert Wood left San Antonio to join an art colony in Laguna Beach in 1941. Throughout his life, he continued to return to San Antonio and to paint the Texas landscape.
Porfirio Salinas (1910-1973) was born in Texas to Mexican tenant farmers. Receiving little formal education, Salinas began work in an art supply store at age 15. There, he met Robert Wood and went to work in his studio. Under Wood’s tutelage, Salinas began to learn his craft. Wood taught him how to stretch canvas, mix paints, prep a canvas, make the frame and frame the completed work, and to paint! Salinas’s natural artistic ability flourished under Wood’s guidance. They often worked en plein air; Wood painting his fields of flowers with rough farm houses in the distance. He paid Salinas $1.00 for every bluebonnet he painted into the scene! Blue Lupin, or Texas bluebonnets, were Wood’s thing, painting them into almost every Texas landscape. By 1930, Salinas was ready to embark on a career as a professional painter. His teacher’s sound business skill had rubbed off, and Salinas was able to market his works to tourists in San Antonio. His rise to fame came later when Lyndon B. Johnson became prominent in national politics. Johnson had collected Salinas’ works for years, and labeled him as his “favorite painter”. Suddenly, those Texas landscapes that were the souvenirs of tourists were hanging on the walls of the White House. Salinas was set for life!
Teachers and students, the passing of the craft to the next generation. It is an obligation and a calling. I become very irritated with the old cliché, “if you can’t do, you can always teach.” I believe that “if you can do, you must teach.” These relationships on which I have reflected prove that good teaching results in the continuation and success of the next generation. So, whatever your skill, thank a teacher!