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'Art Saved Me': Your Stories About The Art Teachers That Changed Your Lives

Students perform during the homecoming football game on Saturday Oct. 21, 2017 at Locke Highschool in Los Angeles, CA. (James Bernal for KPCC)
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As part of an ongoing series in our coverage of arts and the people who learn them, we asked you to tell us about your impactful arts teachers.

More than 80 of you wrote in to us -- through forms, on social media, in emails -- to tell us about your teachers. Here's some of what you said. (And if you've got your own story to share, tell us here.)

The following has been edited for length and clarity.


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Actor Kate Romero moved around a lot as a kid, so she can't remember exactly which school it was where she met Mrs. Furcrown -- or even how to spell her name. But, the impact her elementary school art teacher had on her is something Romero said remains with her today.

We were extremely poor when I was growing up. I often wore the same clothes many days in a row. My hair was cut short with a dull razor blade ... Many of the places we lived either did not have indoor plumbing or the plumbing would not work. That said, I didn't really smell that great either. I was very embarrassed about my appearance and tried to be invisible because the classroom bullying was pretty intense.

Mrs. Furcrown was always so kind to me and acted as if she could not see how tattered I was. She was magic to me. The turning point for me in her class came on a day I was feeling particularly defeated, but smiling anyway. I was wearing mismatched patterns and colors and had on two different colored socks. Mrs. Furcrown singled me out in the class that day. She told the class how I stood out in all of the best ways. She made a point to use my different colored clothing as a point of reference for painting ... how color brings so much life to everything. She told us all that I was beautiful. She also used my drawings and paintings as an example of using the imagination. I never felt so good, so valued, so appreciated. That feeling stayed with me throughout some very difficult and dark times as I grew up and I sometimes think it saved me in a way.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Mrs. Furcrown.

Jamar Williams does a lot of creative jobs. He's a music producer, audio engineer, recording artist, songwriter, performer, entertainer, and percussionist, among other things. He credits his drumline instructor at Arroyo High School, Ike Jackson, with his work ethic today.

I kinda just had shut down and wanted to stop doing everything. So, upon telling Ike how I was feeling and that I wanted to quit the drumline, he actually gave me an hour-and-a-half-long talk, the talk that I needed to keep me on the right track. He kinda understood where I was coming from ... so, he encouraged me and told me that I just gotta keep on going. I gotta keep working hard. Nothing in life comes easy, but everything that you work hard for and strive towards is going to pay off in the end. And at the end of the day, you gotta keep, keep, keep pushing.

I ended up becoming drum captain and being a soloist in the 2009 Rose Parade ... Holding the responsibility as drum captain was a very high level of responsibility.

Ike - thank you for believing in me. Thank you for pushing me beyond my limits. Thank you for not giving up on me, and thanks for loving and caring for me as if I was a son.

Petrina Mina is a freelance painter in Los Angeles. She is also a teaching assistant at Ryman Arts. Elizabeth Kim was her AP Studio Art teacher at the Fairfax Visual Arts Magnetin Los Angeles.

Without her, I would not have applied to Ryman Arts during high school, which is a scholarship-based arts high school program. My experience through that led me to different paths in the art world. I worked as a graphic designer. I worked in drawing and illustration. I recently worked as a set and prop painter for the Tumble Leafshow ... It's an Emmy Award winning show, and I had the best time working with the crew there. One of my favorite things to do is to paint props and be part of a huge team. And without Ms. Kim's influence, I wouldn't have had that opportunity.

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Ms. Kim also helped me have the confidence to apply for college. If it wasn't for her seeing this potential in me to become a professional artist, I would not have pursued art. Ms. Kim taught me to be patient. Ms. Kim taught me to be critical, but also helpful no matter what the situation is. She taught me how to ask questions and be persistent. And I can't thank her enough.

When Sean Roderick signed up for choir in middle school, she wasn't interested in a career in music. She wanted to be a vet. She remembers her teacher, Jeffe Huls, was a "funny guy who was really sarcastic, wry and very engaging as a teacher."

One of the things you learn when you're in a choir is really how to listen to each other and to work together. And it's not just about music theory: you all have to be able to read the music and know what the different steps and symbols are going to tell you ... but you also have to listen to the person next to you and make sure you're not in contrast... Even if they're on a different part, you have to sound good next to your neighbor... You really learn a lot about getting along with people, even if you don't know them very well. Or even if you don't like them.

Roderick said Hulls helped her audition for the ethnomusicology program at UCLA. "It was the biggest audition I had to that date," Roderick said. "And the panel didn't even let me finish singing everything before moving on. I guess that was a good sign in the end."

Roderick is now a licensing manager at Universal Music Enterprises.


A number of you said your experiences with your art teachers influenced how you teach students today.

LAUSD teacher Jennifer Nutting had Mr. Short for 11th and 12th grade ceramics. She said she struggled at Plymouth North High School in Plymouth Massachusetts. She came from a low-income family, and she moved around a lot. She had even considered dropping out of high school. But, she said, Mr. Short found a way to connect with her.

"Sooner or later you found him sitting across from you as you sculpted clay, getting to know you and offering suggestions and encouragement on your pieces," she wrote. "Most adults never spoke to me much, nor did other students."

Some days I sat in ceramics class for several hours, and Mr. Short didn't pressure me to go to my next classes. Looking back, I think he knew I'd be walking right out the front door to get high if he'd asked me to go to my next class.

Once he said to me, "You should be a teacher Jen. You've got the right personality for it." I laughed and thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. I told him I'd be lucky to graduate. He said, "Think about it. It's a good life."

There are always the kids who gravitate toward the teacher, are confident and taken care of at home. And then there are the quiet ones, hiding in the corners, slinking in and out, rarely speaking to anyone. I see the signs, the clothes they wear might not be their own, they have minimal supplies, and spotty attendance, they look angry, scared and tired. Mr. Short taught me not to ignore those ones, that they probably need a kind word, or a quiet chat more that anyone, that it might be the only time someone speaks to them all day.

... I didn't need to learn how to make a flower vase, but I needed to learn art, beauty, opportunity and validation was available to me. That is what I learned in Mr. Short's ceramics class.

Special education teacher Crystal Kopp said her high school art teacher, Mrs. Killingsworth at Ruben S. Ayala High School, made her realize how important a teacher's influence can be.

She encouraged me to enter the local congressional district's art contest. I didn't end up making it into the finalists, and I was crushed at the award ceremony. But she hugged me and told me it was gonna be ok. My family thought art was great as an extracurricular thing, but was staunchly against an art career, saying I would just be a failure selling art on Venice Beach. I also suffered from mental illness in high school (though I didn't know at the time), and my teachers were nothing but supportive of my struggles.

So many times I thought of giving up ... But art saved me. I don't think I would have been able to cope with my illness if I stopped drawing, and my teacher did nothing but encourage me to continue studying art in college ... My teacher, she saw me for who I am, and I realized that I would always be an artist, whether or not I made art for a living. Without her encouragement and example, I doubt I would have survived my family's judgment, or learned to dust myself off and try again.

Do you have a story about an impactful art teacher? Share it with us below. Or you can follow our ongoing coverage here.

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