One of my Heroines- My High School Art Teacher, Julie Stevens Czerenda

I was in 9th grade when a new Art teacher was starting her year at my high school, from what my friend’s and I had heard, she was fresh out of college…  My friends and I had gotten into class just as the bell rang, sat down laughing, carrying on as often students do…  The new Art Teacher stood behind her desk, looking at the class student list…  She quietly in a soft voice introduced herself; “Ms. Stevens”, where she informed us she had just recently graduated from Saint Rose College in Albany NY, and how she loved art, then started her speech about what she expected from us students…  Little did I realize then how much this teacher would help change and influence my life then…

The past Art teacher, though a great artist herself, was also part of what is called the “Happy Hand” art teaching methods of the 60’s and early 70’s- keep the kids occupied creating things and all is good…  Problem is, in her last few years, the students started to get out of hand, not cleaning up and often threw clay to stick to the ceiling and so forth…

This new teacher- Ms Stevens, proceeded to tell her tail of spending two weeks cleaning up the art room, and it was clean…  As she told us this, her voice seemed to get agitated at the thought of what she had to done…  She had scraped the clay off the walls and ceiling, no easy feat with a 16’ tall room, – swept and mopped the floors, and even scraped the gum from under the tables and chairs- it seemed a “New Art Room”…  She started to bring her voice to a more powerful statue, and informed us there would be no gum chewing, no tobacco chewing, no sodas or drinks, “you are here to learn ART”…  She then turned quickly to point to one of my friends Mike,  told him to swallow what ever he had in his mouth…  The color of his face told all, as he seemed to turn greenish as he swallowed a mouth full of tobacco chew and was enough to make all the students also swallow their gum or what have you they where chewing on…

Informing us she might look small but she is a lot stronger then she looks, as her eyes focused mostly at my table of friends, who she could tell where some of trouble makers,  held up the local phone book and tore it in half…  You could have heard a pin drop and the hollow sound of the breeze as it came in through the window over the mouths that dropped and stare of astounded eyes focused on the town phone book, now in two halves in her hands…  Later I would find out she had spent the night perforating each page of the phone books for an easy tear…

This teacher meant business, and her business was to teach us art and no fooling around…  Little did I know I too would use this same method later in my life, when student teaching a class that had some 14 year old students that had made past student teacher cry and had gotten into fights with teachers…

On this note, her voice changed to a softer tone, telling us to use the paper and draw the flag that hung near the door for the last 15 minutes of class…  And that the next class we would build files for our work, have meeting with her one on one about our projects and she would be teaching us about drawing and shading techniques…

The years flew by, learning of light and dark, how to create different forms of shading techniques in pencil, pen and ink and water color…  We would be sat in circles around the subject of objects she would have us draw, paint and look deeper into the art history- artists and painters through out history- giving reference to their styles of shading or kinds of art they worked on…  Some of the student she also I would find out later, where just naturally talented or gifted in the art’s, their creativity and abilities she knew she couldn’t out do, but she couched us, challenged us and helped to mold us young future artists, art teachers and photographers and graphic designers of the future…

My friends and I had some problems, the glands and teenage youth filling our minds more with thoughts to girls then what we where suppose to be learning…

Often she would challenged me further, away from groups with more challenging demands then the rest of the class and I also heard she did this also with the other naturally gifted art students too…  She earned the respect from me and many students that Art was a great thing to learn- it combined all of the studies; Writing, Music, Science and Math- to do and the joy it brought us understanding in our creative talents…  Even those that might have been challenged in creating art, she pushed to learn and appreciate art…

It was from Ms Stevens I learned and became very good with using Pen & ink, her teaching me Stipple, Hatch and Cross Hatch shading techniques…  Instead of smaller pieces of paper, she would have me work on larger more complex pieces, pushing me more and more to do more, be more realistic, the foundations classes of visual problem solving…  Often she had me sit in a corner to keep me from wasting my time flirting with the girls…

The years went by, and I started to spend more time in the art room, going there often during study hall, to continue to work on the large projects of subject matter she challenged me with…  She also had us look up artists or illustrators, and it was July I thank for my finding this one illustrator- Murray Tinkelman who was a master of Pen & ink illustration…  Later I would have Murray Tinkelman as a professor, teaching me illustration, this because of Ms. Stevens…

Julie had worked hard to gain funds to increase the art budget, and added to the art room a ceramic wheel for making bowls, vases, goblets and such…  She was going to be taken an intro class on how to throw clay and work on the wheel the summer before and had plans on other classes on ceramics that summer…  She wanted me to try it out…  She sat me down, and told me to ball up some clay, get my hands wet in the water bin and get the wheel spinning, then throw the clay ball into the center of the wheel, and it would stick…  This seemed fairly easy in concept, but I didn’t quit make center,  the clay went flying off the wheel, hitting me square between the legs…  She blushed and tried not to laugh too loud at my pain…  Little did I know this too would entice me to know and try to become good at using the wheel at Syracuse University, gaining the backing and intrigue of one of the Master Professors in Ceramics, in my ability to use the wheel left and right handed, and my hand strength in being able to throw off the hump, using 25 pounds of clay at a time to build mugs…  An interest in another form of art because of Julie…

My Senior year I went off to Boces to take a Commercial Art’s Class, and there where the best artists of the different school systems, all challenging each other in their abilities in who was the best…  I helped that year too, when she asked me to use my 35mm camera to take photos, candid’s of people in school, as someone else had tried but so much of their photos where too blurry…  So much of the year book that year where photos I had taken…  She also taught me to follow though, as she didn’t give me credit for being part of the Year Book staff, as I thought I had better things to do, chasing girls and hanging with my friends, but a lesson learned…

It was this year; an illustration I did of an Indian head chief became the school hall passes, letterhead and the front of future yearbooks…  Little did they know the words I had hidden in the feathers about the principle back then…

Off to college I went, majoring in Commercial Art at Chamberlayne Junior College in Boston.  Later I would find my way to Syracuse University, majoring in Illustration under the guidance of one of the high school artist heroes, Murray Tinkelman…  My sophomore year, I started taking some ceramics, and junior year picked up a 2nd major- Art Education…  The ceramic interests was because of Julie and picking up Art Education also was because of her influence…  I finished with the Dual Major and master credits in Art Ed, Ceramics and Presentation…

I chose to come back to my hometown without a stoplight, and heard Julie was leaving the high school to teach elsewhere and had recently gotten married, she now being Mrs. Czerenda (though I still called her Ms Stevens and still have problems thinking to her as “Julie”)…  She wondered why I didn’t add my resume to fill the opening, as she told me she would have recommended me for the position, but I felt I needed to follow and build my own studio…  I just am wanting to wait till another time later in my life maybe to become a professor, but will use the influence and understanding of teaching art to help teach business people how to create websites and take photos of their products…

Julie now lives in Connecticut, has raised her son, and is now enjoying making jewelry and also teaching young children art, which I am sure she is loving as she is and always will love children and their enjoyment of creativity…

So my foundations of understanding drawing, painting, intro to art history, ceramics, photography, advertising, illustration and then later Art Education is because of the care, teachings and inspirations of my High School Art Teacher, Julie Stevens Czerenda…

Even now, memories and of the past show their images in my mind or dreams or with reading some of her blog or FaceBook entries, she still finds ways of sharing inspiration and ideas…

Julie, I thank you for opening the door to this great field of creativity and what would become my life as a Visual Problem Solver in the fields Art…

You can visit Julie Czerenda’s Blog: http://www.juliesheartsdesire.blogspot.com

And you can visit her Jewlery studio sales at: http://www.julescz59.etsy.com

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9 Responses

  1. I’m sitting here with my glass of wine and getting ready to post pics from today’s lessons! The lessons today were…..some photos with a 14 year old. He’s doing a “movie” with his Star Wars figures and we’ll be editing it with iMovie and Zach will be helping!…………I brought in some forsythia branches for my 4 & 5 year olds and they studied them and painted some………..My jr/sr high kids are working on some “abstractions” from realistic drawings of a violin and an electric guitar!!!!

    So, I’m sitting here thinking I’m going to be downloading pics and I see your post!!!!! Thank you for this! While you’ve used a little artistic license here and there, I’m so glad that I was able to inspire you and be an affective part of your life! I swear, Chuck, teaching for me is the best, THE BEST gig ever and it’s because of you and your classmates that I’ll forever be grateful, inspired and proud to call myself a teacher!

    Tonight, my friend, you ROCK!!!! You have made my heart sing!!!!
    Stay well!
    xo, j~

    • J~
      I’m glad you are again back to teaching and can hope you will have more students that inspire you as much if not more then the ones you had when teaching at this high school in a town without a stoplight… You have become a GREAT TEACHER and have grown so much as an Artist too… I know you enjoyed so much being able to help and teach kids about art, a joy one can truly see within your eyes always… I look forward to hearing more and knowing that you have inspired more students to become artists and enjoy the Visual Arts…

      The making a movie sounds great!!! Using the Mac and editing it with iMovie is a great way to get it online too!!! Oh, I haven’t shared this, but I still have my first few Mac’s, even a couple of the old Mac Plus and SE’s and they still work… I plan on using them in an internet café Mac Cluster and around the coffee area as “History of the Mac” idea of “Thinking Different”… Look forward to seeing the Movie you help create and edit!!!

      Am happy I was able to make your night this evening and give you a smile… But it was your teaching that helped turn me to this path I have chosen in art and visual problem solving… You helped nurture the seed that was planted, you made sure those first few years it grew strong within, to weather out the storms of life in creating beauty in motion captured with in images created for a life time of art… And again I thank you for this…

      Once I get moved south, and open my café that will also have a place for selling my artwork, would love for you and your family to maybe come down to Chincoteague, VA to enjoy the beach, wild ponies and some of the beautiful landscapes in the area… Maybe spend some time together doing some watercolor paintings of the light house there or the wild ponies together, artist with artist, instead of Teacher & Student…

      I hold my mug of espresso high- “Tink”- to your glass of wine, “Cheers to a life time of Art”…
      Thank you Julie…

      Also- once I finish this next larger redo of my Blog, will ad a link to your Jewelry studio on etsy.com 😉

  2. sup what is ur MySpace site?

    • To be honest, I started one just to be able to look at other’s MySpace pages… If you look into it a bit deeper, MySpace is web 2.0 online service and was created for the Music industry- for Bands to highlight and sell their songs… It was not intended to be a Social network for all and everyone, just really for sharing music and enjoyments… So I use it to check out such friends MySpace accounts as Writer/Editor of Rip Mag- Lonn Friend, and other music bands I enjoy… But also it is handy for people who have just that set up for a social network page…

      To be honest, using it for a personal networking area is messed up… Most of the pages take so long to load, even for a high bandwidth internet connection… I would recommend highly setting up a FaceBook page or Twitter profile!!!

  3. wow cool story bro.

    • Thanks, I think in this time of so few hero’s, one should spend the time to thank those that influence you and give you dreams and goals to follow…

    • Thanks, Think it is always good to say thanks to those who helped you on your ways in life… She’s an ASSUME Art Teacher!!!

  4. I loved reading about you heroine, Julie, probably because I could picture you and your friends in her classroom, and I know you guys. And because I know how hard it is for a young teacher ot manage that age group. Hurrah for Julie and for Art. Thanks, Chuck

    • Thanks Sabra, And you know and knew bes, where and are like a 2nd Mom to many of us!!!

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