© 2011 Aaron Atkinson

Thumbs Up

When I reflect back on my favorite teachers, it’s ironic that the ones who gave me the most trouble and who pushed me the hardest are also the ones who I enjoyed the most and continue to admire. Foremost among them is my high school art teacher, Mr. Weiss. Wise and witty, with a malfunctioning yet measured mind-to-mouth-filter, his twinkling brown eyes, strong stubbled jawline,  and slightly Einstienesque hair, give the impression of a man who’s wheels never fully stop spinning. Prior to taking a class from Weiss, art had always been a subjective subject. Weiss found a way to make it highly objective, and if you were up to the challenge he held you accountable to that objectivity.

While he helped to inspire my love of photography, one of my fondest memories comes from a pottery class. Centering a heap of clay on the potter’s wheel is an art that most students couldn’t quite master. When it came naturally, Weiss pulled me aside, commended the effort and let me know that henceforth he’d hold me to a higher standard. When that same, first-thrown pot was later destroyed in the kiln by the shrapenel of an other student’s exploding work, Weiss gently mocked me and with a slight grin threatened that a past due project was a past due project and would be thusly graded. An objective of this particular assignment was to have a pot with moveable pieces, so I spun and fired another pot, and for the moveable pieces I put the broken shards of clay from the first pot into the newly formed bowl. With the aforementioned twinkle in his eye, he gave me a B+.

The other day I took the opportunity to visit briefly with my old mentor at an art show he was hosting in Des Moines. Laura was with me and to us he said the following…

Weiss: Aaron was a definitive student.

He held up his hands, spreading apart his lean, weathered, craftsman’s fingers.

Weiss: I’ve been teaching art for 25 years and I can count the number of definitive students on two hands.

Me: And Mr. Weiss was a definitive teacher. My favorite. And I can count the number of those on one finger.

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