In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I got the chance to go to Governor’s School of North Carolina. It’s a six-week program that offers academic and creative and thought-provoking classes and opportunities for rising seniors–and a chance to meet other kids from all over the state. If you’re nominated to attend in an academic subject like English or Math, you’re selected based on teachers’ recommendations and your “resume,” so to speak. If you’re nominated to attend in the arts, you have to audition for a spot. That process, which involved my parents and sisters and me driving to Raleigh after school one Friday evening, staying in a motel (I had the squeaky roll-away), and spending most of the next day at Meredith College waiting while my art portfolio was reviewed and faculty asked questions and trying not to worry about how few spaces were available in the program–that’s a whole other post in itself.
I snagged a spot for the 1985 summer session and ended up at GS West in Winston-Salem (GS East at that time was held in Laurenburg, SC which was farther away and flatter and hotter and had fewer extracurricular activities–like malls and movie theaters–to make it more attractive). I had classes in art, art history, philosophy, and psychology and felt very grown-up and collegiate and cool (all of which, of course, I was not). But I digress.
The only real rule in art class was that we had to be painting at all times. There were plenty of materials, you could try different techniques, and the teacher spent time working with each of us, helping us get started and encouraging us to try new things, all the while smoking thin, brown, evil-smelling cigarettes like she’d stepped out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.
I, of course, developed an enormous and inappropriate crush on my philosophy teacher, who looked a little like a goat-man out of Greek mythology. I’m pretty sure he knew about the crush, and though he never encouraged it, he also didn’t make me feel like a fool for having it. That’s an admirable way for a teacher to be able to act, and a very fine line to walk, and I admired him all the more for it…sigh…
Anyway, to finally get to the point of this post, my masterpiece that summer was inspired by mythology and romance and my unrequited crush and a desire to express something as old as time and certainly older than me. Using surreptitious sketches of my philosophy teacher done during class, I created Bride of Pan featuring a bearded, slightly saturnine Pan figure lifting the veil of a green-eyed, red-haired woman (who on earth could THAT be?).
Word got back to my very kind and long-suffering teacher that his likeness was taking shape in the art room, and I remember looking up from the painting one day to see him standing on the sidewalk outside the studio, watching his face come to life on canvas. He came in to see the painting up close and I showed him the sketches, complete with little goat horns, and I think–or at least I hope–he was a tiny bit flattered. He was certainly surprised, but once again, he was very kind and very encouraging, without being inappropriate in any way.
Thank you, Dr. S., for your great kindness and your interesting face; for your nice, hairy forearms, and for your feet that I’m pretty sure were really hooves inside your shoes, and mostly for your ability to make me feel like I was an interesting person rather than just a dopey kid with a crush!