In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8-12, 2017) , I would like to recount one of my strongest remembrances of an art instructor during my early years in Arkansas, and a strong lesson that I learned from him about making art.
Most of us have had at least one teacher who inspired or energized us, and taught us an unforgettable lesson. This art instructor was named Paul Ganong and I had enrolled in his sculpture class at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. This was extracurricular from my regular high school classes and I received invaluable practical studio training in Paul’s class.
Paul was one of those art instructors whose appearance suggested a radical, 1960s rock star; he favored bellbottom jeans and wore his hair down to his shoulders, with a mustache. Paul’s sculpture medium of preference was welded steel. As I had become enamored of the steel sculpture of David Smith, the machismo style of hammering, bending and welding steel appealed to me. Paul taught me how to use an acetylene torch to weld and cut steel plate, and I also learned the basics of arc welding under his guidance.
I had been working on one particular sculpture using sheet metal, heating and bending it to build an abstracted figure that stood about 4 feet tall. I thought the piece was finished and wanted to enter it into a student art show at my high school to impress my fellow students.
So my mother and I drove down to the Arkansas Arts Center one Saturday morning to pick up my sculpture from the studio and take it over to enter it into the high school art show. In the parking lot, just as I was loading my sculpture into our car, I saw Paul pull in and park. He noticed what I was doing and walked across the parking lot toward me.
With his gentle but assertive tone, Paul asked what I was doing. I told him that I wanted to enter my sculpture into the art show.
“But it's not finished yet,” he stated firmly.
I cannot remember all the other things he said to me that morning but I do remember the sense of loss that came over me as I realized I wasn’t going to enter the sculpture in the art show. But I also knew that Paul was right; the sculpture had abstract forms at the top that had been welded sealed but there were large gaps of negative space at the base. Slowly I recognized that there was work still to be done.
The image posted at the top of this page is the sculpture as it stands today at my mother’s home in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. The photograph that I took recently shows the steel has rusted over the years. You will note the additional work I put into the sculpture at the base, by closing up those negative spaces and raising the height of the piece to near human form.
The lesson I learned from Paul Ganong that day resounds with me these years later, that the yearning for recognition and fame should never outweigh one’s own sense of intention and creativity.
Thank your teachers today, and let them know how much you appreciate everything they do for you.
Image: Wounded Figure (date unknown), welded and forged steel, photograph by MCB.