Today’s guest blogger is my old friend, Mary Mollica whom I have known since 1975 when we found each other in 2nd grade. Mary and I have been in and out of each others lives for over 3 decades, but we really reconnected when we learned that we had both been blogging.
Mary’s professional blog, The Decorative Paintbrush, is a journey where she shows readers how she finds trash and turns it into treasure. (I was recently with her when she found a piece of crap leaning against a building and she circled back to get it, declaring with absolute certainty that she was going to turn it into something gorgeous. I am sure she has. I have seen what she can do.)
Mary’s personal blog is called 2moms5kids and that is a whole different kind of adventure, equally amazing. You can follow Mary on Twitter @thedpb.
Today, Mary recalls our most excellent high school art teacher, Carl Wenzel whose work can be found HERE. She’s not lying about his quirky-awesomeness. Note: While I took numerous art classes, I had nowhere near the artistic potential that Mary did. Some of us are artists and some of us are writers. And some of us are financial guys.
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Not To Be Trashed
I remember the first time I stepped into his classroom. There was music playing, and the lights were off. Quel ambiance, right? I remember thinking this guy is either a total nut job or very cool. Turns out he was a bit of both, and I say that with total admiration. He’d probably admit that himself. Mr. Wenzel was, and still is, an amazing artist and, as an artist now myself, I’d have to admit, in order to be a good one, you have to be a bit of both!
Until ninth grade, I had taken art classes along with the rest of my peers. Pinch pots, papier maché, and abstract self-portraits cluttered my mother’s refrigerator. Like most young children I liked art – it was fun – but the first day I walked into Mr. Wenzel’s classroom, I knew things were going to be different. He ignited a passion for art inside of me like no other teacher had before.
Mr. Wenzel introduced me to techniques that enhanced my own creativity instead of trying to manipulate my work into a carbon copy of his own. He gave praise as well as constructive criticism, which, at first, I’ll admit was not easy to take. But along with the criticism, he always gave a solution that helped fix the problem.
I remember once we were getting ready for the annual art show. We all had to do a piece in hopes that it might be submitted. At the time, Mr. Wenzel was trying to teach us about atmospheric perspective (reducing value contrasts, and neutralizing colors in objects as they recede) and, for whatever reason, I was struggling with this concept.
My frustration started to build.
I wanted to be in the art show so badly, to show people what I could do, to prove I was a good artist, but my piece was not cooperating with me. At all.
I was irritated as I watched Mr. Wenzel walk around the room casually, giving kudos and words of praise to the other students. I wanted those accolades and looking at the junk in front of me, I knew I wasn’t going to get it. He finally stopped at my desk.
“So, what’s going on here?” He made a circle with his forefinger over my work.
“I don’t know…”(Yes, I was whining.) “I just can’t seem to get the hang of this.” I threw down my pencil in disgust. “I should just start over again.”
“Well you could start over…” he said sympathetically, “or you could try something else.” In one swift motion he grabbed a sheet of rice paper from a shallow drawer behind him, flipped the chair next to me around and snatched a big old jar of Elmer’s Glue.
He plopped down and started humming as he ripped the paper into large random pieces.
I watched him.
“Some of your biggest artistic mistakes will turn out to be some of your best creative work,” he said gluing down random slips of paper to the front of my project.
I had been trying to recreate a landscape from a picture I had cut from a magazine and although the background was wonderful, the fence in front was flat and unattractive. He slapped down the paper over the large fence posts, layering and molding them as he went, until finally they resembled old pieces of wood.
“A paper collé!” He exclaimed.
“A paper collé. A visual and tactile technique you can use to embellish certain areas.” He smiled and his mustache wiggled. “If you add color to these, they will stand out and make the background seem distant, like it should. Sort of 3D.”
I worked feverishly on that piece, falling in love with it more every day. My piece actually took first place in the art show that year and sold for a nice chunk of change. And to think — I had wanted to throw it in the trash.
Mr. Wenzel inspired me for many years after high school and helped me transform my hobby into a lifelong quest. His ability to arouse the imagination and motivate students was astounding. He taught us how to transform the mundane into the magnificent with very little effort. So, now when I screw up on a piece of art (or in life), I remain calm and remember Mr. Wenzel’s words.
What are some school art projects that you remember loving? Or hating?
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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.
If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!
Excellent bloggie Mar! You brought me back in time. He was an excellent teacher! Okay, I never got beyond the milk carton, but I did enjoy his classes 😉
I know! When I wrote the piece I was actually sitting there in his class reliving the whole thing. I remember the one time he made us draw self portraits while looking at ourselves in the mirror. I still have that piece. I redid my nose over and over to get it right (and I wonder why I’m so anal today, lol!) But he was an excellent teacher 😀
Mary: Thank you so much for being here today! I know you just had hand surgery, and I hope your recovery is easy. I’m sure your carpal tunnel had something to do with all that repetitive motion you do while painting. Or texting. 😉
Gonna show Elizabeth this one. She has him this year for Drawing and Painting and is on the fence (hahaha!) about whether or not she likes the class. She is currently frustrated with her drawing of an Adirondack chair!
Gina-Tell her she will not regret it! He can be hard, I’m not going to lie but if she gives in and doesn’t fight him, she can really learn a lot from him. Does he still paint his own stuff in class? I used to watch him for hours.
I had Mr. Wenzel for homeroom and my locker was immediatley outside his door. I don’t recall ever having a class with him. My mom loved him and I think has a couple of his pieces. I do rememeber his slapping me in the face after I said something about his kid.
You were only in Mr. Wenzel’s homeroom so you could be close to me as I was stationed in Mr. Benedict’s pit of doom next door. And Mr. Benedict slapped me plenty. Well, once. But that was enough. 😉
Thanks for sharing this. it really shows the power of a great teacher can not be measured by a test score.
So true. I wish there was more time in the curriculum for the Arts. So much has been trimmed, little by little.
I should probably add that I likely deserved it so no one is left with the wrong impression of Mr. Wenzel
Renee-thank you so much for having me! My hand is healing well (yes i’m typing with one hand!) It’s funny, and I think I’ve heard this repeated on here before, how one person’s “great” teacher is another person’s “nightmare”. We all interact differently with one another, I guess. Mr. Wenzel was an inspirational force in my life, whereas a lot of other teachers were not, I guess it’s who meets you where.
So sorry Jeff about where he met you!
But all in all, he was a passionate, opinionated, bold and talented artist that inspired me to be better than I was and for that I will be forever grateful.
Jeff deserved it! 😉
I love seeing the beauty in what others believe to be old junk. I don’t know what I’d do with a brand new house with no “challenges” to make lovely…Thank goodness for teachers who not only teach us technique, but philosophy of life…
KD! You get it! That’s just Awesome! LOL!
At first I thought you would be horrified that your teacher defaced your project. I was relieved when you embraced the idea instead!
You know Susie I really didn’t even have time to think about it! lol! In some weird way I trusted him too. Heck, the piece was toast anyway from my standpoint, it couldn’t get any worse, so I think I was curious to see what he was going to do with it. 😀
Mary, this is a great blog. I quickly ran and got my 1984 yearbook out (I lost my ’85…well my ex-girlfriend did) to once and for all declare my favorite teacher. Couldn’t think of any favorite. I suppose all the ones that I can remember without looking in my yearbook I would consider in a group of favorites: Schmitter, Pistello, Mrs Reed, Monterosso, Daley, Quimby and a few others. I’ve got great memories of all these teachers but most are of them as just people and not of their teachings.
Looking back now, I realize that I must have considered learning to be only a bonus for attending school. The real reason was totally for the social aspect and checking out all the girls. Sorry, I was young. If I had to do it all again, maybe, just maybe I’d work a little harder at the learnin’ stuff.
I did however have a huge crush on my third grade teacher, Mrs Shallish, at Jamesville El. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t teach me anything because I didn’t even remember my name after her class. LOL.
Glad to hear that your hand is getting better. Take it easy for a while.
Jeff! I loved Mr. Schmitter! And I’m sure if I dug out my ’84-’85 yearbook I’d find countless others I loved and admired too. Mr. Wenzel stuck with me because of what I aspired to be, I think; we connected on a certain level.
And lets be honest Jeff, who wasn’t there for social reasons! Ha! It wasn’t until I was out of HS until I realized what an impact Mr. Wenzel made on my life! Isn’t that always the case 😀
Is that Jeff F that got slapped around? So at least he was prepared for future bitch slapping in adulthood?
I took one class with Mr. Wenzel and have to admit he did teach me something about art. I actually still have that one drawing that I did — somewhere.
Great work Mary- I still remember you being very talented with art. Great to see you stuck with it.
Jeff I hope you are not bruised too much!
Thanks PBM! 😀
This makes me so happy for you and so sad for my children (whose art teacher was simply pathetic).
Both my kids were so excited for her class; but she was the type who sat at her desk, issued commands, and put instructions on hand-outs.
She never returned any of their work. Any of it.
My kids left her room uninspired and disinterested in art or creativity.
Relative to what I’d hoped for them, it was a tragedy.
So thank goodness for the Mr. Wenzel’s of the classroom. And thanks to you for highlighting an excellent teacher.
Too often the focus is on what’s wrong with education instead of what’s right.
And your lovely furniture? Made my day.
A testament to what GREAT teaching can do!
First of all Julie, thank you for such a wonderful compliment! You made my day!
Secondly, I am so sorry for your kids. It kills me when I hear that teachers just sit behind a desk!
Whether they’re artistic or not, all children are full of creativity and that should be encouraged and nurtured. They should be allowed to bring it to the surface and express it in any medium that suits them. That’s why it breaks my heart as well, when I hear school districts cutting out music and art programs. Children, need, or should I say, crave, those outlets.
I’m sure your children found interspersion in you though, and you encouraged them to find their passions!
Oh, Mary, you’ve captured Mr. Wenzel brilliantly! I can just see him circling his finger over your work, his lip curled up a little bit on the side, saying what’s going on here? That’s so him! I can just picture him in that beautiful cream-colored cardigan he wore. I never consider myself an artist and finished his class with a huge tulip watercolor that hangs over the mantel in my daughter’s room! I’ll send you a pic. Same story, I was frustrated, and he pulled the chair around and came to my rescue! Thanks for taking me back in time!
Hahahaha! He always did dress so beautifully, didn’t he! Almost like a gay man, and I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration! I would LOVE to see your picture! I actually still have a lot of my pieces from HS stashed away in my portfolio-I’m glad to hear you proudly display yours!
One of the very few things I liked about high school was my Cultural Aesthetics class. As the class name implies, we got to create art of several different origins. I’ve been thinking of posting a few of the things I drew then, mostly because another blogger wants a follow up to a post I once wrote on doodling through classes. 😉
Oh, you really should! I’d love to see them and I will, if you post them, I just signed up for your blog 😀 I found it very interesting to say the least. So, I’m going to check on those drawings 😀 Not to freak you out or anything, LOL!
Yeah! Thanks for that. I’ll be giving your blogs a look after my little one goes to sleep tonight. For now, I’ll link my old post on classroom doodlings. (Some of them really were more doodle-esque!)
Mary! Deb is an awesome blogger! She does everything. You should see some of her blogger art. Her bloggie doddles make everyone happy.
And she is a damn good writer, too.
*whispers* And she is a published author, too.
Deb, Mary WRITES, too. I didn’t even mention that part about her! 😉
Renee I tried to do comment her blog but don’t do face book. Want nothing to do with it as consider it plagued with silliness and friends I never heard of. I used to do these things so it is of special interest. How do I subscribe?
Carl, do you mean Deb’s blog? It is called “The Monster in Your Closet,” but it is under her name: http://deborah-bryan.com/ If you go there, you will find Deb to be wonderful.
I bet you’ll like this one: http://deborah-bryan.com/2011/11/05/silly-images-theyre-whats-for-dinner/
If you are looking for Mary, you can click her link above.
You know I only hang with the coolest peeps.
Oh my gosh I LOVE that desk!!! I want one.
There were so many cool art projects that I did in school – I could go on for days. I had an awesome art teacher in elementary school who only graded with the following: A+, A++ and A+++. I actually dropped out of a (my only) college art class because I couldn’t stand not getting one of those three grades on every project 😉 One particularly neat art project in grammar school was with little sheets of tin, where we pressed them into shapes and patterns and mounted them on black paper.
Jules! I just lifted that one image off of Mary’s website. You should see what she can do. She can do ANYTHING. She does EVERYTHING. She does jewelry boxes (tiny) and chairs (medium) and custom pieces.
And lately, she’s doing it one handed. Because she just had surgery for carpal tunnel.
Seriously, go and check out her photos of some of her transformations. Unfrickin’ believable.
Also, you should dance while you look at the images.
Just to spite Papa Duggar. I’m still bitter about that.
You guys would like each other. A lot. Mary has lots of “guilty pleasures,” Jules. 😉
I love your art teacher’s advice! I’m going to share it with my daughter who has been struggling all semester to maintain a B in her visual thinking class.
Your work is amazing–who couldn’t smile when looking at those colors?!
We sadly didn’t have an art program in the school district that I attended, but my grandmother and father both painted. A few years ago I took up collaging with mixed media and really enjoy it.
There are some teachers…you know as soon as you walk into the room it’s going to be a year of discovery. And then there are some that stop the clock forever until you wished you could bang your head on a desk. Thanks for the great memory.