Wednesday, April 04, 2012
D is for Diana
I wish I had a picture of Diana. Indeed, I wish I could remember exactly what she looked like, but the more I think upon this theme of legacy , which I've devoted my A-Z April Challenge to, the more I realize the truth that our bodies are but shells of our souls. A person's legacy is not physical at all, like an inheritance of cash, real estate, or jewelry is physical or tangible, and therefore a photo is but a thin and fleeting reminder of one who left us a legacy.
As my pastor said (and I don't know where the quote originated), "A legacy is not something you leave to someone, but something you leave in someone."
Diana left a legacy of vision in me. Her philosophy, her vision, was that every child, every person, is an artist to some degree, and that by being taught and practicing, everyone can improve in their artistry. At the time she said it, I was dubious. For twenty-some years, it was entrenched in my being that only some people are artists and the rest of us were destined to be jealous onlookers, wannabes, or--at best-- simple readers of art history. That sort of inculcation was hard to overcome, but Diana began to envision me with a seed of artistic passion that would take years to germinate. And a few more years to bear fruit.
I was part of a homeschool co-op in the 1990s when I first met Diana. Normally a co-op consists of parents who exchange their teaching expertise in a group of many families. This co-op chose science, geography, and art. One of the moms taught science, and I taught a geography station (cuisine). Diana, however, had no children in the co-op. She had grown kids and was teaching there of her own volition.
Her passion was art, and she had been an elementary art teacher in both public and private schools. I doubt we paid her because we were all struggling financially. Yet she faithfully came to co-op every Thursday morning at 9:00, smelling of cigarette smoke, heavy perfume that filled the whole church in a good way, and coffee breath covered with mints. Every finger of hers wore a ring of sentimental value, and every fingernail was perfectly manicured and painted a bold color. To me, those were an artist's hands! Her hands were a canvas, as was her hair, face, and body. Diana had flair. Spunk. Pizazz. She made it fun for me to see how she'd be dressed every Thursday. Never dull. Always a vision, or at least an attraction.
She loved children and was passionate and gifted at helping them learn not only skills, but how to associate artists with their great works. I hadn't heard of Raphael until college, and couldn't have told you then what he was remembered for, but Diana taught kindergarteners that he was best known for his angels. My Sarah can still get than factoid correct when she plays a game of Masterpiece. Moms of kindergarteners, who sat on the mat and listened during our free time, also learned that Raphael and angels go together. Diana would have them march around, flapping their arms like wings, and chant "We're Raphael's angels. We're Raphael's Renaissance angels!"
She showed them books and told them stories about Raphael, the great Renaissance painter, as if she had just hung out with him at a family reunion over the weekend. (One child, bless her heart, raised her hand and asked, "Miss Diana, do you KNOW Raphael?")
Then Diana would set big, thick sheets of paper in front of them (on large--very large--dropcloths) and hand them brushes. They would "go to town" painting angels, or some of them painting whatever their minds drifted to, which was okay. Diana always encouraged their creativity and praised their efforts.
I remember that she had the gumption to take a bunch of little homeschooling families (or in some cases, BIG families of 8 or 9 kids--I kid you not--) to the National Gallery of Art in Washington ,DC. I sat on the bus right behind her because I enjoyed her company richly and wanted to "pick her brain" about my children's capabilities.
"How do you spot a true artist when they're young, Diana? I mean, are there signs that perhaps a child is really gifted instead of just able?"
Diana thought carefully and nodded, adding her signature "whenever" instead of "when" (a western-Pennsylvania and southern grammatical error).
She said, "Yes. Look to see whenever they close a circle. That's one sign. If they close it, they are aware of shape, they pay attention to detail, and they might have patience. "
Of course I remember this advice whenever I am observing the youngest kids at school or church.
I always have my eyes open whenever I hand them a pencil or crayon. You just never know whenever a God-given artist will walk into your life wearing a Pull-up. Whenever.
Diana's physical presence in my kids' education lasted only two years and they barely remember her except for her heavy perfume, heavy breathing, and heavy encouragement. But I remember her for having not just vision for her own art and her students' art, but for leaving a legacy of vision in me that has encouraged me to do the work of an artist and art teacher with as much enthusiasm as she had.