&…Looking Back

I just received the latest issue of my high school alumni magazine and there is an article mentioning most all of my early art teachers. It’s so nice to see them together getting the recognition they deserve and for me to reflect on how important they were in my life. Mrs. Fitzpatrick (grammar school), Mrs. Timmerick and Mrs. Boone (middle and high school)  were my main teachers and each had different teaching styles and talents but their influence was a major impact on me wanting to be an artist. They gave me the fundamentals for how to “see” as an artist and the mechanics for how to create the artistic vision. I am indebted to their teaching and their inspiration. I always thought St. Martins had one of the best art departments and I always looked for that kind of caliber in my own sons’ schools. I like the ceramics on the cover as well — an interesting comparison to my son Jackson’s interpretive work.

2009 spring Bell cover. Ceramics by St. Martins\' students

2009 spring Bell Art Teacher. St. Martins Episcopal School

Now the other interesting thing about this is Amy Threefoot and Betsy Threefoot Kaston (another teacher of mine) are sisters and their family house is right around the corner from mine. Their mother was an excellent potter and she offered to let me fire some tiles in her kiln when Piers was an infant. We had just bought a house in Alexandria and wanted to add our first construction project — a fireplace with a homemade tile surround. I remember when I pushed his wee hands and feet into the semi-soft clay when he was six and a half months old. Here they are below, symbolically representing the “Elements of Life.” We installed them on post and lintel fireboard so we can take with us when and if we ever move.

Fireplace Tiles by Ashley Spencer. Photo © C. Ashley Spencer

Thinking back on art teachers, I would absolutely have to mention Ed Carlos as a major influence with his out-of-the box style of teaching while I was at Sewanee (The University of the South). We had to draw life-size, human skeletons as our comprehensive exam. My husband and I still argue over who’s is the best. He took Carlos’ class too. I learned so much from Carlos, as he’s affectionately known and as the art teacher with incredible talent who lives in the “purple haze” house. His artistic talent has been passed onto his son, Adam (see link above). Surprisingly, he always remembers us when we return and I wouldn’t be surprised if my Jackson has met him while he’s been attending school nearby. He’s kind of a fixture. Sewanee is a small-town community with big ideas. Everybody seems connected to everyone else here.

Here’s some artwork that I learned about recently and never even knew existed at Sewanee. I’ll look forward to seeing these restored watercolors of the domain by John Henry Hopkins, when we pick up Jackson from St. Andrews — in a few weeks. Yikes!

John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868). Watercolor of Sewanee Domain

On our way there we’ll have to be sure to go through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as described, In the Land of the Blue Smoke by Sue Kovach in the Washington Post’s Travel section this past Sunday. The only problem is it’s more South of where we need to go and it’s already a 22 hour round trip drive. The ice blue trees and skyline in this scanned photo by Jay Dickman are spectacular!

Land of Blue Smoke Photo by Jay Dickman via Washington Post

Sewanee Scenes

Sewanee, TN is picturesque and in many ways Arcadia. Being the birthplace to The University of the South, where my husband and I attended college and the location for St. Andrews-Sewanee School, where our son attends. We have more excuses to return to our alma mater now. With good friends and family and recollections of our history there, we always feel like we’re going home. We soak up the serenity and are always sad to leave but feel the call back to the activity of the city. Just when we’re feeling the pressures of work and city congestion stifling us, we’ll be back in Sewanee. This symbiotic relationship serves as a pretty good balance that will last at least for the next two years or maybe more — with college apps looming on the horizon.

It is interesting to me to see how someplace so individually personal can be seen by others in a fresh new light. Art helps enhance our perspective. Our son Jackson took these pictures of his new school home and environs. I’m a bit biased but I think he has the photographic eye for the details that make images resonate with the viewer, who may or may not know anything about Sewanee’s captivating natural setting, history or sense of place or time. I see these photos as timeless all the while capturing a moment in time. That complex duality embodies their artistic character and good composition and photographic detail further supplement their substance.

Sewanee Lookout and Valley Below. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Rocks. Photo by Jackson SpencerSewanee Rocks 2. Photo by Jackson SpencerSewanee Rocks 3. Photo by Jackson SpencerSewanee Trees. Photo by Jackson SpencerSewanee Trees 2. Photo by Jackson SpencerSewanee Trees 3 from above. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Grass. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Pine. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Horizontal Tree. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Disappearing Tree. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Overlook. Photo by Jackson Spencer

Sewanee Night Sky. Photo by Jackson Spencer