A Thank You Letter to My High School Art Teacher

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When I heard the news of the recent passing of my high school art teacher, Emily Tims, like many I was taken aback and sorrowful. Having graduated in 2008 and moved away from my hometown almost 10 years ago, I had no idea she wasn't well. Taken too soon by a disease that has reached far too many, Ms. Tims was always remembered in my eyes as the cool teacher, usually wearing Converse shoes and playing bands like Jimmy Eat World in her classroom while her students worked. She was undeniably creative and unique, and she put up with teenagers who thought they knew it all; you can only imagine how patient and forgiving she also was.

My senior year, she created Project Advanced Art, a play on the Project Runway television show. Each week, everyone in the class would be given a new art project to create. Whether it was a certain medium or subject matter, Ms. Tims made sure each week was not only fun, but allowed us students to dive in head-first and push the boundaries of what we thought we were capable of manifesting. Other teachers would come into the classroom at the end of each week and judge the works, which were displayed anonymously.

Being an annoying overachiever, I remember feeling incredibly motivated to do well with whatever task Ms. Tims asked us to craft each week, spending my limited free time brainstorming and roaming the aisles of my local Joann Fabric store for the perfect supplies. I was thankful Ms. Tims' assignments allowed me the opportunity to slow down and get lost in the reflection and introspection that art often affords us.

There was truly exceptional talent in that class. It felt like a grand challenge to count myself among the best! When all was said and done, I'd worked with paint, glass, foam board, plexiglass, metal wire, Gorilla glue, an x-acto knife (at home, shh) and much more. Somehow, I ended up winning the challenge, even though I could have thought of at least three other students who probably deserved it more. Among the prizes I won was a meeting to share my portfolio with admissions counselors at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and a one-on-one lunch with Ms. Tims. Already knowing I was headed to Michigan State to study (at the time) veterinary medicine, I passed on the meeting with CCS.

I hadn't kept up with Ms. Tims after high school, and I'd stopped creating art on paper and canvas after college, finding seemingly more important tasks to occupy my time with. The love for painting and the creativity art offered never waned, though. I always told myself I'd get back to it, especially during quarantine. As a singer, I'd long told myself my true art I could offer to the world was my voice. And that's true, it is. But there's something powerful to be said about taking the captivating images in your mind—no matter how nonsensical they are—and putting them into a visual art form.

It's like sharing a secret with the world, yet you're still the only one who truly knows what that secret really is.

All these years later, there's one thing I've always been regretful about: I never took Ms. Tims up on that lunch. I've always wished I had.

Ms. Tims truly challenged me and others to think beyond ourselves and what "made sense" in our world. I don't think I truly understood until years later the effect her subtle guidance and powerful teaching had on me—not just while dreaming up my beyond-emo art as a teenager and young adult, but how I've moved through life beyond my coming-of-age doodles and into my career, where I now put words on the page and attempt to connect people through sharing their varying stories and experiences. I should have reached out and thanked her more. I was pleased to hear, through the many social media postings I've seen, that she still had a profound effect on countless students, long after my time in those halls were over.

I hope you take the time to recognize and thank the educators and mentors you know and the profound effect they have on the lives of those they teach. No matter the subject, being able to offer knowledge to others is such a gift.

Please don't forget it.

Tonight, I think I'll paint.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Suydam


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