Mrs. Laura Nicholls was my favorite teacher at Nanuet Senior High School. Yesterday she retired, after 40 years of service.
High school was not the best time of my life. I was awkward, shy, and it was hard to make friends. Despite that, I was blessed to meet people who made a real difference. Laura was one of them. Some of my friends and I referred to her as “Art Mommy.” She let us sit in the art room at lunchtime. I felt safe there, and un-judged.
I always felt encouraged in her class. She always made me feel like there was so much more out there for me to see, and it was all within my reach. Laura was also there to listen, and was at the ready with sage advice and a galvanizing kick in the proverbial rear. Keep on going. Don’t let anything (or anyone) stop you.
No, I was not her butler. This is a pic of Mrs. Nicholls and me at my senior prom.
Late in my senior year, my guidance counselor gave me a schedule with no art classes on it. Colleges want a well-rounded student, you know. (Yeah, art schools really look at those science grades!) Naturally I went right to Laura, who snatched the schedule and went straight to his office. Within minutes, I was enrolled in AP art and art appreciation. Smell ya later, physics!
Mrs. Nicholls’ art appreciation class was the most important class I took during high school. For the first class, she showed us a slide of Christina’s World by NC Wyeth. I liked it. It was pretty. Then she started asking us questions. How did it make us feel? What was happening in the scene? What time period was it? We all stared blankly. She gently revealed the painter’s history, and the purpose behind the portrait. Slowly, this painting blossomed into layers of meaning. Mind = blown.
Up to that year, I made art that I thought looked beautiful. After that moment, I have strived to make art that means something. But this post is not about me, it is about this woman who inspired me and many others. To commemorate her years of service, I made Elliot’s World. It’s a little bit of her, and a little bit of me. I’ll leave you to analyze it on your own.
I want to send a heartfelt thanks to Laura Nicholls. Thanks for 40 years of sharing your love and knowledge with thousands of young people. Thanks for reaching out to talented youth and emboldening them to pursue their artistic dreams in a world where art is seen as frivolous and unnecessary. Thank you for for taking time to listen to a clueless kid who was trying to learn his ass from his elbow, and for telling him he was going to make it.
In her last year of teaching, she once said “I’m not counting the days, I make everyday count.” Words to live by.