Getting There

December 9, 2020

Maine College of Art – Student Journeys

Maine College of Art (MECA) Masters in Arts and Teaching (MAT) students presented their work in an exhibit called “Getting There”, November 28 – December 7. Due to the pandemic it was only accessible by MECA. Thanks to the efforts of many this blog post provides background information, an overview and photographs of the work displayed. The content was coordinated by the efforts of students Philippa Grace and includes contributions from 10 students presently enrolled in the program.

During past work of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI-now MAEPL), ‘Teacher as Artist’, ‘Artist as Teacher’ has been researched and explored so I’m pleased to see attention being given to this topic at MECA. You will read the thoughts of some of the MAT students below on the topic.

After reading their Artists’ Statements and responses to a group of questions I am confident that the future of visual art education in Maine is in good hands. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this blog post.


The exhibit “Getting There” is a reflection of our individual and collective experiences as students learning to be teachers, while also nurturing our creative practice. In addition to our coursework, observations, and field work, all ten of us have been auditing BFA classes at Maine College of Art this fall. Due to limited class sizes because of the pandemic, we weren’t all able to be in our top choice – but we all learned so much. Although our initial prompt was to tie our experience of learning to teach while being an artist to our BFA class, we all expressed ourselves in different ways – from portraits of each other, to new skills we learned, to creating artifacts for future lesson plans. The show is a time stamp of our cohort on the cusp of student teaching this winter. Though this is an unusual year, we are all eager to join the field of art education! 


Throughout the summer and fall, candidates explore the tools they will need to keep their artistry alive. They also learn how to digitize evidence of artistic and teaching performance. During the summer, candidates explore key personal dispositions of the artist-educator and learn how these qualities shape their lives as artists and future educators. Candidates reflect on their identity and articulate how their personal qualities contribute to their development as creative educators. During the fall, candidates register for an art studio course and continue to explore the artist/educator theme. By examining personal learning goals, they select an art form to study that either supplements or expands their existing repertoire. Candidates create a group art exhibition and prepare a final reflection that examines the strengths and challenges of maintaining high-quality teaching while continuing to work as practicing artists.


Getting There 

November 28 – December 6, 2020

Masters of Art in Teaching Exhibition

Getting There encapsulates our Master of Arts in Teaching program experience. As we develop into artist-educators, we wish to share our individual reflections on various art education theories meaningful to the ten of us as we balance our creative and teaching practices.

Throughout the summer and fall, we have been developing the tools we need to keep our artistry alive in this emerging hybrid and remote learning culture. In between fieldwork assignments and coursework, we explored key personal dispositions of the artist-educator role, and learned how these qualities shape our lives as future teachers. We respond to the prompt of how we are individually ‘getting there’ within our own paths. We reflect on our identity and articulate how our personal qualities contribute to our development as creative educators, which culminates in our exhibit, Getting There



Getting There: While Embracing Being a Novice

Metal, fabric, casted aluminum, wood

As my brain is reaching information overload, I am excited by all the new tools I am adding to my personal tool box. While I am learning how to be a teacher, I am also learning how to work with wood and metal in my Sculptural Imagination class. I have had the opportunity to learn how to cut wood on various saws; bandsaw, miter saw, and the table saw. I also learned how to weld and bend metal, as well as pour aluminum into sand casted resin molds. I am learning to be a teacher, but I am also learning how to continue being a diverse maker. I will soon be an expert teacher, but I will never stop enjoying  learning new mediums and embracing being a novice.

Lauren Anderson

In this exhibition I have shared a piece of each of my sculpture adventures. I created necklace wearables for my body extension project based on the idea of huge chunky necklaces. These necklaces were created from textile materials as well as metal. I also included my aluminum casting composed of intuitive shapes, and my final project titled “I miss you”, a piece created with metal, wood, and crocheted yarn. In this piece I depicted my mom, my sister and I as circles and focused on displaying our personalities through different materials. My mom, the metal circle, is tough as metal and never fails to make me feel safe. My sister, the wood circle, is older than me and very tough to get through to which is why she is depicted as solid wood. I, the crocheted yarn circle, am very soft, gentle, and easy to open up to. In this study of materials I stepped out of my comfort zone and gained many new tools to add to my personal tool box. 


The Courage To Teach

Digital painting

Studying best practices in teaching is the most important thing to me at this point in my life. Best practice pedagogy has been formally defined as a program’s procedure that continuously and regularly produces superior results when compared with other strategies. With the right intentions, teachers can be some of the most valuable people in this society. This painting is my visual interpretation of the book The Courage To Teach by Parker Palmer. In this book Palmer writes “To correct our excessive regard for the powers of intellect, I stress the power of emotions to freeze, or free, the mind.” Now more than ever, we as educators need to better focus our efforts towards getting students excited about learning. 

Teachers are doing this. By working overtime every week to make sure that remote learning is successful, whether the gym teacher is doing backflips to start a zoom meeting or the English teacher starts class by playing piano. Teachers show up to class with the positive energy that the students need to feel safe in an environment that feels so dangerous. This is important as schools can very well be safer than home for many students. With the face of the school being the teachers it is vital that they are cool, calm and collected. 

Seth Baron

As an art educator, students should be able to come to my classroom knowing that their voices are heard and respected. Whether their voice is in the form of talking or visual communication. When going outside feels dangerous, art can comfort and make one feel as if they are safe even if they are a mouse riding on the back of a wolf. 

In this painting animals symbolize how I perceive educators are reacting to the CoronaVirus epidemic. As the epidemic is making schools a terrifying place to be, Teachers continue to show up everyday for their students with a big smile on their face. Educators show up to school cool, calm and collected. 


Getting There: The Traveling Shrine 

Storyteller, tomb of travelers, driftwood, cotton sheets, stones, glass vials, story books, assorted found objects

Behind every art piece in Getting There, is an artist, and behind every artist, there is a story.  The Traveling Shrine is a sacred place, a crossroad where my path as an artist intersects with those of my fellow art teachers in training. Together, we are travelers navigating the path from artist to art educator by way of MECA’s Masters of Art in Teaching program (MAT).  The Shrine also serves as a place of rest, and a vantage point for those passing through to observe the present.  Cherish these small moments, for who knows if or when we’ll cross paths again.  It is this feeling of nostalgia and reflection that inspired me to build this shrine that embodies my journey up until now.  Comprised of and adorned with relics, artwork, and trinkets from my past and present, the Traveling Shrine is a reminder to myself and my cohort that we are all indeed getting there.

Sean Dillon

My entry for Getting There is unlike anything I’ve drawn or crafted previously.  In the spirit of using innovation and divergent processes to make art, which is one of our seven MAT dispositions, I chose to bring my spiritual space into the tangible world in full life-size form.  The Traveling Shrine is fully immersive and welcomes visitors on all paths of life.

Visitors of the Shrine are encouraged to sit, observe, and reflect on the surrounding artwork and their own journey that brought them here. They may also inscribe their own story into the Tome of Travelers, a living book that remembers all who visit the shrine and grants them good luck on their own journey.  Time and again, the spirit of the shrine will appear to tell tales, share fortunes, and barter strange magic for the stories of others. 


Failing Fearlessly

Porcelain clay

“How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control.

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Philippa Grace

I never wanted to be a teacher. No matter how many friends and mentors encouraged me to teach, I always dismissed the possibility; my stubborn adolescent self was keen to be different from my professor parents. But in my efforts to avoid teaching, I became an artist; and as an artist, I was fascinated by how the built world is put together. That curiosity led me to become a woodworker and sculptor, and then an apprentice at a wooden boat-building shop. Covered in cedar shavings and epoxy, I was happily entranced with the knowledge that there are “100 ways to skin a cat” when it comes to woodworking: every maker has their own methods; everyone will try it differently and end up with an incredible result. I became a tinkerer, an explorer in the woodshop. And then, I did so as a grassroots labor organizer, as a soup kitchen cook, and then as I built my portfolio to become a teacher candidate. I have found the joy in never knowing the answer, of embracing failure as a means to understanding the questions. These pieces are the embodiment of my acceptance of learning to fail – so that I can teach my future students that making mistakes is how we grow. 


My Teacher’s Journey

Getting There: Continuing to Learn 

Illustration – ink and watercolor

Throughout my compulsory education I looked forward to art class and looked up to my art teachers. They always encouraged me to strive big and pursue my passion for art. These teachers led me to further my art education through college. 

My prior experiences with children, from babysitting in my early teens to working as summer camp counselor during college, allowed me to realize I enjoyed working with children. The biggest contributor to my decision to become an art teacher was when I volunteered at my local art museum for their summer art camp. This opportunity opened my eyes to children’s learning capabilities and excitement for art. The Master’s of Art in Teaching program at MECA was a perfect path for me to travel on and has expanded my understanding of pedagogy and problem solving any challenges that a teacher may face in these uncertain times. I feel I have found my true calling and I aspire to be like the teachers that encouraged me and to spread my passion for art to children as an art educator. 

Shelby Pyrzyk

My art practice revolves around my playful, childlike personality so creating children’s book illustrations is a perfect way to depict snippets of my past experiences that have led up to the MAT program. The smaller panels depict experiences that inspired me to work with children. The medium panels depict major factors that played a key role in planting the seed of going in art education. And lastly the largest panel is of the MAT program, focusing around teaching with small snapshots of different moments, from online observation and working with students from Waynflete and Portland Rec Center. I’m continuing to learn and I’m getting there.


Back to Basics

Collection of handbuilt glazed porcelain vessels

I started my journey with porcelain as a complete novice. As a painter, I had never wheel thrown before and had only distant memories of working with any sort of clay. Walking into a room of skilled wheel throwers was intimidating to say the least. Handbuilding felt like the natural first step in tackling this new medium. In creating my first ever porcelain cylinder I discovered so much about how the medium responded to my handbuilding techniques. After forming my block of porcelain into a wonky cylinder I felt an intense frustration that I just couldn’t get it to look the way I wanted it to. That’s when I realized … this is how my students feel!

Madison Mahoney

After that, I felt a new sense of clarity and direction in my making. As an emerging teacher, it is imperative that I understand what my students are going through and support them in the frustrations and triumphs of the making process: those times when you think you’ll never be able to make a smooth pot on the wheel and those times when you finally figure out exactly what colors mix to create the perfect mauve. Students are experiencing these feelings every day when they walk into the art room. I want to create a supportive learning environment for my students where experimentation is encouraged and failure is embraced as just another way of learning. 

This exhibit highlights my embrace of noviceness and experimentation. I did not try to make the most beautiful, polished or perfect porcelain vessels. But rather, sought to explore this new medium with enthusiasm and curiosity.


Getting There

Glazed Porcelain 

I crave connection. I revel in feeling connection to myself and to others. I notice connection in my visual world, especially in nature. In the Masters of Art in Teaching program at the Maine College of Art, I connected theory to practice, in both fieldwork placements and in my Introduction to Porcelain class with Cathy Hammond.

The bases and lids of these jars used to be connected; they were originally thrown in one piece, a cylinder connected at the top. Each time you use the jar, you lift and replace the lid, disconnecting the form and then leaving it reconnected. To me, the theme of “Getting There” celebrates the connections I’ve made in the learning process. Each jar is an example of my progress and reflection, a step on my way to becoming a teacher. 

Sophie Olmsted

This porcelain class also reminded me of how special it is to be a student. I’ve missed being in a class and so I relished in the demonstrations and assignments, successes and failures, redundancy and discovery. It was inspiring to be surrounded by creative and enthusiastic artists. I hadn’t worked with clay since college and I didn’t use the wheel at all for my senior thesis, so this class was a time of personal and artistic reconnection. The class ended just as I was getting comfortable with the clay body and glazes, which was a timely reminder of the iterative nature of the learning process. Making these jars fuels my excitement to teach students how to see connection. I am in the early stages of getting there; I’m observing and collecting ways teachers can facilitate opportunities of learning and connection for their students. 


Finding My Way

Handcrafted book ~ Watercolor, collage, graphite, pen, colored pencil

I’m getting there…

The journey from artist to teacher has expanded my perspective on the world. As a working artist, I often felt isolated, deeply buried in late studio nights and internal thought. I love to create but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t invest every piece of myself into it. I felt as though it wasn’t a sustainable practice for myself or my well being. As much as I loved it, I needed something different, a different purpose. After four years of focusing on the art world, I felt the pull to come to the teaching program. Despite the pandemic, and the upheaval of the world around me, I knew that it was the right decision. 

And now I have learned why. It has brought out and amplified parts of me that hadn’t made sense to me before. My love for leadership and advocacy, my tendencies towards organization and planning. It allows me to see the grand big picture, while honing in on all the small details. But most importantly it has brought my passion for art into a new light, and given it a new meaning. As a teacher I can create, without the boundaries of being a working artist. I can play with all the different mediums, in endless ways. I can create for just me, I can create for an audience, and I can create for my students.

Audrey Robidoux

This book is an encapsulation of these ideas. It’s formatted as a sketchbook of prompts that is designed for high school students, based off a curriculum map that I dreamt up. High school education is a difficult experience in the current society, and art can teach the lifelong lessons of creative and critical thinking. Giving a young adult a sketchbook can awake a childhood passion that seemed lost and change their perspective on life. The sense of individuality that is born within a sketchbook can inspire. Art and creativity is what every student needs in this current world, where we have no idea what the next few years looks like, let alone the rest of our lives. I want to equip my students with skills that will stay with them no matter what path they take. And it takes an artist to teach these concepts. There really is an art to teaching. And I’m getting there.


Gateway Triptych

Acrylic paint and oil-based paint marker on panel

Trent’s statement:

 “…it is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience. We live through visual images as much as we do language” – Paul Duncum 

To us, the phrase “getting there” refers to our journey from artists to art educators, but it also takes us back to our own childhood, before we ever considered ourselves to be artists. As children of the 90’s, the visual culture that we were exposed to via television, internet and video games had a major impact on us. Our admiration for these colorful and imaginative characters ultimately transitioned into a desire to create, thus shepherding us into our respective artistic practices. For us, this series of colorful paintings is a love letter to visual culture. It is our way of paying homage to the classic characters that inspired us, but it also represents the artistic merits of VCAE as a potential gateway into creative expression for kids. The painterly execution of these works further emphasizes the overlap between visual culture and fine art.

Collaboration was also an important concept for these pieces, as Cooper and I worked side by side to create the series in a single day. As future art teachers, we realize the importance of fostering collaboration among students in the classroom, as it requires students to think flexibly and to cooperate with others. With these works, we wanted to highlight the importance of working with people who have different aesthetics and ideas, while ultimately being able to reach the same goal. Cooper’s vibrant underpainting provided a great backdrop for my bold, line-based character renderings, as we successfully harmonized our two distinct artistic voices into one unified series. Cooper was one of the first friends I made at MECA, and to be able to work with him on this project was a joy. Making art with friends can be incredibly fun and rewarding, and we want to encourage our students to experience that.


Team Awesome 

Ten 6 x 8in Oil on Panel 

Cooper’s statement:

I’m getting there…

The journey from artist to teacher has changed my outlook on everything I thought I knew about the subjects. Through readings, guest speakers, field work, and our amazing community of teachers and students, we are all bettering ourselves and deepening our knowledge of the practice. The education system is designed to condition students out of their creativity and to discourage mistakes. The only way to combat this is for teachers to encourage exploration while fostering a safe environment where students can not only make a mistake, but learn from it and discover something new. 

Through this MAT program, I have developed a completely new outlook on art as a whole. My art has always been inspired by a deep interest in the traditional academic style of painting. I was enveloped in the ideas of “mastery” and obsessed with learning different techniques to accomplish what I was trying to convey. These ideas and techniques work for some people, but I have found that each and every student learns differently. There are so many different tastes, styles, and students. The teacher has to have a wide variety of skills and knowledge to help foster an inclusive environment where all students can learn.    

The teacher candidates I work alongside at Maine College of Art have such diverse and creative backgrounds. To capture this I painted each teacher candidate and had them concoct a paragraph describing where each individual is at in their studies. The Masters of Art for Teaching program has introduced me to many incredible new people and ideas. It is my hope that through our study of inclusivity and best practice we can reform not only the future of teaching, but the future of all of our students.

Part II of this post will appear tomorrow. Included in the post will be the 10 photographs created by Cooper and much more! Photos are contributed by Rachel Somerville and Seth Baron.

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