We almost lost the yellow house with the bad perspective a week ago last Thursday.
I was out, and had an art substitute who was teaching for me in the “new” artroom which is inside the school. The elementary school has been undergoing a big renovation in the past two years. Many new classrooms, new offices and a lovely new cafeteria with a large stage have been added. The old auditorium has been divided into two parts and I have the largest part and the music teacher will have the part with the stage.
The reason why I was not at school a week ago last Thursday is because my daughter-in-law and son were experiencing the birth of their first daughter, (and my husband and my first granddaughter) Marlee Michelle, who weighed in at 8lbs, 1oz.
It was a joyful and most wonderful day.
Not so at my dear elementary school, which is the school that I went to as a child and the school I love and want to help. When I went to school there as a little girl there was no integration. The school was all white. There were no art, music or P.E. teachers. The classroom teachers taught everything. There was no air conditioning, we had windows around every room. We had prayer in school, a Jewish boy read the story of Luke when we performed the Christmas program. We were allowed to walk home for lunch and walk back to school afterwards. If we were in trouble with our teacher we were in trouble with our parents. My teachers encouraged me to write, draw, and create scenery for plays which we performed ofen. We ran track and were always the number one school in town for track meets.
The demographics at my old school have changed radically but the school is still beloved to me. The students are still the same at heart. They are like I was, with the same hopes and dreams and I am there to help them succeed at them. That is my personal goal for my school and so many of my fellow teachers feel the same way. I’ve heard my principal say often that our school has the hardest working teachers in our school district and I agree. I see them in action and I know that to be true. No one can count public education out when you walk through the school where I teach art.
Our grand Open House is coming up soon and everyone has been scrambling to get moved into their new classrooms. The moment the classroom teacher moved out of her temporary digs which was the half of the old auditorium into her new classroom I asked the principal for permission to move into the school from my mobile classroom outside. It was a wonderful place to teach for three years but truth be told, much too small and always worrisome when the children needed to go to the bathroom. I had to stand at the door to watch them go into the school and send another child along with my key to get inside the door to the school and hope the child didn’t drop it along the way, especially in the bathroom.
But I had lots of art in the room and I hung the yellow house chalk drawing along one wall and had glorious art prints along all the other walls and I made art history bulletin boards featuring wonderful artists who helped to make our world a more creative place to live. All around the room were the names of the great artists that I wanted the students to remember done in good calligraphy.
I am a neat-freak so I always had things where I wanted and that worked out well in such a small room. I only had one small bookshelf so I had to keep my books moving on a revolving basis and when the principal gave me permission to start to move in the big auditorium half the first thing I took with me were my personal artbooks. (too bad I wasn’t able to move the bookshelf)
Since most of the first grade, second grade and kindergarten teachers were also moving their rooms with only the help of the two school custodians I knew I was more or less on my own so during every school break I was heading back and forth to the old room, grabbing art supplies and paper, some art prints and miscellaneous.
All that had been left in the old auditorium was a tiny old oak desk, five small rectangular tables, and chairs. I had talked the principal into giving me the old teacher mail boxes since we now had a new office and it included a new mail center so when he said yes, I could have it, I was elated. It works well as a place to keep all my classes work and has cabinets below I can use for storage which is a good thing, considering what happened on that fateful Thursday a week ago.
While I was out rejoicing over the birth of my granddaughter, a big truck pulled up behind the school, and stopped in front of my old art room. In to it walked a bunch of men who began to carry out my art cabinet, desk, file cabinet, (full of art history videos) and everything else in the room. Our school custodian saw what was happening and asked them if they had been in contact with the principal and the head man said no, but he had been ordered by the official in charge of buildings and grounds to get the mobile building ready to be moved away so the school would be ready for the Open House on March 15th.
Our custodian informed them that the teacher hadn’t completely moved out of the room and needed the items so they needed to stop and leave the room alone until it could be emptied. But they didn’t stop. The custodian started to move things that he knew I would need such as the rolling art text book cabinet out of the room. One of the fifth grade teachers also saw what was happening and organized her students to get in the room and save the art prints, the art supplies, the white board, the yellow house chalk drawing, The Mona Lisa wall hanging, and many other important art items. The students hand carried all of the art text books (2nd grade - 6th grade) from the old art mobile building into the new room.
All this chaos was happening while the art substitute was teaching the students. She told the fifth graders where to put the saved items and luckily there was plenty of room for them at the end of the very large room. My computer was saved. That was a lucky thing as I had just recently gotten it and hadn’t even been able to install it yet. After five years as an art teacher I had been able to finally scrounge up a used computer and almost lost it.
The next morning, a Friday morning, as I was pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the mobile building no longer had it’s steps. As I got out of the car and walked towards the school, I saw that the doors were open and the building looked empty. My heart started beating harder as I walked over to the building and looked inside. It was completely empty.
As I walked into my art class inside the building I saw a pile of items inside the room. I sighed a breath of relief when I saw my big black art cabinet sitting in the middle of the room. I looked for my desk and file cabinet and book shelf and art cart and other items but they weren’t there. They had been carried off and stored in a warehouse. Will I get them back? I have been told that I will. I won’t hold my breath.
I returned to the pile and began sorting through. On the table at the end of the room was the Yellow House chalk drawing folded neatly (it’s just made from butcher paper) and it had no damage done to it. I found the Mona Lisa wall hanging and my computer later on that day on the stage in the music room.
I know I can count myself very fortunate to have finally found myself included (along with my fellow music teacher) in a school which honors its art and music. We have a place now, not in closets, not on carts but in rooms of our own. We are also blessed with a fifth grade teacher who has always honored our efforts at our school (along with many other teachers) and in my opinion she elevated her students and taught them what a good deed really is. They did a lot of hard work by saving all the Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, and O’Keeffe prints (and many others) oil pastels, water colors, paper.
In a very small way the fifth grade students were re-enacting a race that took place during World War ll when the Nazis were destroying and stealing the great art in Europe. No, there were no stormtroopers rampaging through the parking lot at our school but the entire contents of the artroom would have been taken had the men not been stopped. At the very least, the students, their teacher and the custodian stopped a bureaucrat’s wasteful destruction.
The film about rescued art of WWII, The Rape of Europa, tells the story in documentary form about the heroic acts of individuals to save the art of our past, our art lineage, from defilement and destruction by the Nazis. I am going to try to find this film to view it. I hope it is being shown in high schools. For some reason, I am not extremely optimistic that it is, although it ought to be.
“The Rape of Europa” (based on the eponymous book by Lynn Nicholas) is a film that needs to be seen by every high school student, college student, history teacher, history buff, art teacher and museumgoer worldwide. It is not about the famous allegorical painting by Titian (1487-1576); it’s a riveting documentary about the theft, destruction and miraculous survival of many of Europe’s artistic and architectural treasures during World War II. “Europa,” by Richard Berge, Bonnie Cohen and Nicole Newham, elicits a visceral weeping for what could have become a total holocaust for Europe’s art and for its national treasures. The film details the race against the Nazi-programmed destruction and theft — mitigated by acts of heroism, sacrifice and determination — that underscores one of the film’s truisms:
“Art is what makes us human.”