Recently, I was giving my teenage son a haircut. I’m no Vidal Sassoon, but I can pull off a passable fade. And like Gene — my barber from my high school days — I enjoy a bit of conversation while cutting hair.
We talked about the usual things like school, sports, and work. What I did not expect however, was a discussion about contemporary art.
Midway through the haircut, my son asked me what I thought about Andy Warhol and his artwork. From there we moved on to Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism. But we didn’t just talk about paintings. We talked about the having the courage to resist blind conformity and the importance of pressing forward in the face of opposition. Not just in creative fields, but in all aspects of life.
We only talked for a few minutes, but I was beaming with pride for hours. And I felt a profound sense of gratitude for his high school AP Art History teacher. Naturally, I began to reflect on all the wonderful academic teachers I’ve benefited from and the huge impact they made on my life when I arrived at some crucial crossroads.
With that, I’ll start near the beginning.
Thank you Miss Herring, my favorite elementary school teacher. In 5th grade we had to give an oral report, which I dreaded. As a child I was deathly afraid of public speaking. I was assigned the Battle of Gettysburg. Miss Herring held my hand the entire time as I stood at the front of the class and gave my report. I sobbed the whole way through. When it was finally over, she wiped my tears and runny nose and hugged me and told me how proud she was. I felt like ten million dollars.
Thank you Mrs. Gilpin and Mrs. Richter, my 8th grade History and English teachers, respectively. They taught me to love writing and storytelling. That gift has served me for over 30 years.
Thank you Mr. Gleason, my 10th grade math teacher. He helped me see I was smarter than I thought I was — at a time in my life when I felt stupid and slow. He taught me how to pause and think through the steps and break complex things down into simpler components. An invaluable skill in so many ways.
Thank you Mrs. Belshaw-Jones, my 12th grade high school principal. She was a devoted educator and a lover of books. She championed and encouraged my creative writing and illustrations, which resulted in a third place prize at our district’s creative writing contest. I ended up with bronze, but it I felt like I had won gold.
Thank you BYU Fine Art department staff. They had the foresight and wisdom to see that I was cut from a different cloth and gently urged me away from gallery painting and towards commercial art and design. It forever altered the trajectory of my career in the best way possible.
Thank you Greg Olsen, Wilson Ong, Rob Colvin, Robert Barrett, and the many great artists, designers, and teachers of the BYU Design department. They opened my eyes and expanded my visual horizons. And a special thank you to my mentor, friend, and colleague Richard Hull — an absurdly talented artist and an even finer individual. His love of the craft and sometimes-not-so-gentle, critical eye took my work and thinking to new levels.
Thank you teachers. Every one of you.
Note: I’m sure I have omitted or overlooked many, many more. For that, I sincerely apologize. But just know that whether I mentioned you specifically by name or not that you’ve contributed immeasurable threads to the complex tapestry that is me. I also want to thank the hundreds of non-academic teachers — relatives, neighbors, friends, coworkers, church members, Boy Scout leaders, and more — that have enriched my life. But I’ll save that list for another day.