As my own kids navigate this new normal, I have found myself wondering a lot about how my own teachers might have handled zoom learning. My mind immediately goes to Ms. Corazon, my middle school art teacher. I can place bets that she is taking this quarantine as an opportunity to inspire others amidst fear, inexplicable sadness and the unpredictable moments in life. I can only imagine what she might have encouraged us to create at home, with whatever we had on hand.
I am fortunate to have had a lot of great teachers in my life. A few really stand out as influential and I was lucky enough to have had the best middle school art teacher. Ms. Corazon was like no other teacher you’ve ever seen. She was the best of the best of the best and everyone wanted to be in her class. I would often take long detours just to peek in and see what she was doing with her class that day. I can still smell the art supplies that wafted through the hallways outside her door. She had her own sense of alternative style. She wore bright colors, leopard print, red lipstick, big curly hair, big earrings, and an even bigger personality. She wasn’t afraid to mix patterns – and somehow made it all look good.
Her classroom was like a dream space. There were hubcaps mounted in horizontal rows around the chalkboard, right next to the paintings of our color studies (I still remember learning the difference between shades, tints and hues). Each one was painted with something different; 70’s rock bands, pop-art, cartoons, and abstract geometric designs. We painted on the walls, each of us getting a cinder block to design and the walls were covered in eight by sixteen inch rectangles of student work. We even painted a Guernica mural on the wall over the course of several weeks. I wish I had more pictures to confirm that my memory serves me.
If you walked around the room you might see plaster masks of past students’ faces, painted and glazed with an intention – alluding to a cause that was near and dear to each student. I made mine about ocean pollution and I painted it with ocean colors mixed with black. I made a casting of my hand and connected it to the mask. I hot glued neon aquarium plants and a dead-looking rubber fish. I thought I was being so deep.
There was a six foot cardboard cutout of Albert Einstein in the corner of the room. During that time I became obsessed with Albert Einstein and bought up every poster and t-shirt I could get my hands on at the mall. I saved up my allowance that year to buy a lifesize cardboard cutout for my bedroom. Anyone who knew me back then will remember my big Al that stood in my room and then later got moved to the corner of my classroom.
Jean jackets, painted on the back with icons of the 20th century became a badge of honor to those students lucky enough to get her as a teacher. I still have the one I made. It wasn’t very good, but it was another Albert Einstein (the obsession was real). My friend, Natalie, who I am still friends with today, painted the most amazing Roy Lichtenstein pop art onto a white jean jacket. She was 13 years old at the time and it still hangs in her closet (see below).
Her room had a clothes line of tie dye shirts with spirals and stripes hanging to dry on wire hangers. Ms. Corazon’s class was the first place I ever learned how to tie dye – she gave us extensive lessons in color theory and chemistry as she discussed the need to use urea and soda ash fixer to preserve the intense color. You see, she didn’t just do art with us, she gave us the foundation and purpose and in-depth technique behind every project. I tie dyed my Albert Einstein t-shirt. I still have it. In fact, I still have all the projects I made in that class. Trust me when I tell you that most art teachers in America weren’t tie-dying with their public school classes in 1991. This was an activity done only at summer camp and definitely outside. After she taught us, I wanted to tie dye everything I could get my hands on. That’s because seeing her as a teacher made me want to learn everything there was to learn about whatever it was that she was teaching.
She taught us how to make cartoon cells, carefully painting a character on acetate and the background on watercolor paper. We learned how cartoons were made, by changing the character’s movement ever so slightly. I painted one of the seven dwarfs. I think it was Doc. There were also rolls and rolls of rubber coated telephone wire with the rainbow wires exposed – an unusual, but bold choice for making sculptures. She had those donated by a friend who was an electrician. She gave me a roll of telephone wire when I graduated. I have often thought about why she gave me that roll of electrical wire. Was it because she saw something special in me? Maybe. I could argue that she probably made a lot of other kids feel special, too — in fact, I know that she did.
In high school, I kept in touch with Ms. Corazon. She once took me and a few of other students on a field trip to see a Keith Haring exhibit in Manhattan. I wore a tie dye shirt and felt like the coolest person on earth (see above).
Most people hate middle school. But for me, middle school was a time of tremendous growth. It was there that I figured out who I wanted to be; what was important to me and how much creativity could improve my life. It taught me that you could love art and not seem like a typical artist. Ms. Corazon was different, artsy and very much herself. She looked and dressed and acted differently than the other teachers in the school. She was so cool. She gave me the confidence to do my own thing and be my own person. I probably wouldn’t be teaching art today if I hadn’t met her.
I guess the point of me telling you all of this at this very moment in time, is because I, like most of you, have had a lot of time to reflect about who I am, why I am doing what I am doing and where it all came from. I credit my parents, brother and husband for being a huge advocate for the arts and always modeling the meditative importance of having a creative outlet (and often over looking my lack of organization). I also see now how important it can be to have a great teacher and I am feeling a lot of gratitude these days for the experience and inspiration that came from being one of the lucky ones to learn from Ms. Corazon.