PATRICIA (PATSY) PARKER
The following interview was conducted on February 18, 2018 by Jennifer Schero, a graduate student in the Department of Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Patsy Parker has been teaching art in Norfolk, Virginia, for over 40 years.
J. S.: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to interview you. I guess the first question would be to share a little bit about your childhood experiences with art ?
P.P: Oh my childhood experiences are so sad. I grew up in Norfolk at Wards Corner and went to Granby Elementary where the art teacher was Trixie Owens. Decades later, when I started teaching, she still taught art and I knew her from her brightly rouged cheeks. The way the art program was set up, the art teacher went to classes when the classroom teachers scheduled them. So, my art experience was she came once a year to do clay. We didn't see her any other time.
I remember in the upper grades there would be a painting corner set up and you got the big piece of manila paper and you could paint and you wanted to make it last all day because you didn't want to stop. Classes was still happening around you and you were by yourself in a corner painting. I remember doing we were studying monasteries or the middle east or medieval times and I had a wonderful time. I made a paper church and some stained glass windows and I forgot what else. And I kinda went, “Oh, this is really nice. I really like this.”
But my childhood experience with art wasn’t great. I didn't take art in middle school. I didn't take art until I was a senior in high school because I was so focused on doing all my academics to graduate in order to go to college.
J. S.: Speaking of college, did you go for art education?
P. P.: Yes, that was interesting because when I was reared in the Baptist Church and Lottie Moon was a missionary. We were always giving money to Lottie Moon’s missions and so I was smitten with the idea of being a missionary and doing good. But I also discovered art at the same time and I thought that was really great. So I couldn't figure out what to do and sort of somehow bumbled into teaching art which was kind of like missionary work. In elementary school, it’s a lot like missionary work because you hug a lot, and listen a lot, and love a lot. Yeah...that kind of stuff.
J.S. So where did you go to school or university?
P. P.: I went to Old Dominion University and got my Bachelor of Science in Art Education. I graduated with about 80 hours in studio because I was so enamored with the processes. Then I went back and got a Masters in Clay Sculpture. I didn't get the MFA--.that was a can of worms. I had taken every class that they offered at the time it was offered but when it came down to having the Masters plus about 24 credit hours, they told me I had to do my Master’s Thesis before I did the MFA Thesis show. Then they wanted me to sign a paper saying that I would quit school and go to school at Old Dominion for a year, which was not what the program was at the time. They advertised it as a program that you could go to school and still work. That is, you could get an MFA and work at the same time. I didn't have any contact with any teachers because you know the short straw. if you drew the short straw you taught after three o’clock. Everybody wanted to teach between 10 and 3. So, I got plenty of classes in plenty of hours,
I have about 70 hours in studio at the Bachelor’s level and then I had like another 54 hours for an MFA. So, I still have MA in Sculpture from Old Dominion and Norfolk State.
J. S.: Did you go directly into teaching after your MA?
P. P.: I didn’t. I couldn't get a job. The first semester after I graduated in September of 1970, there weren’t enough jobs. So I went back to school for a semester and then interviewed for an art teacher at Camp Young. I was out there for a year-and-a-half. Then I transferred into the city (Norfolk) and became an art teacher, not a camp art teacher, which curiously parallels Barbara Laws because she was out at Camp Young for about 5 years. (Laughs)
J. S.: You said you moved downtown. What school did you move to?
P. P. My first experience teaching was at Robert Gatewood Elementary School and Laura Titus Elementary School. Robert Gatewood doesn't exist anymore. It's a fire station in Berkeley. And Laura Titus, which was at the intersection of Chapel Street and Tidewater Drive, doesn't exist anymore either. That was 1971.
J. S.: Did you stay in elementary?
P. P.: Yes. That was my passion. I had a wonderful time student teaching in secondary. My student teaching experience was at Lake Taylor Senior High School, and it was lovely. I had a good time. But, I just loved working with the little people. I loved seeing the light bulb go on.
J. S.: Did you stay at Robert Gatewood and Laura Titus?
P. P.: I was at Robert Gatewood for six years. I've taught at about 30 elementary schools in Norfolk over the past forty years. I used to be able to tell you which ones they were. The reason why it's so many is because you'd have a 3-day school and a two-day school.
J. S.: So you would sort of move between the two?
P. P.: Yup. You would go to different schools on different days. I would be at Robert Gatewood Elementary on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and then on Tuesday and Thursday, I would be at another school, like Laura Titus.
J. S.: Did you have classrooms at those schools?
P. P.: I only had a classroom for about the last 10 years or so. That's the reason why my license plate was ArtCart. I was always on a cart.
J. S.: That’s why your licenses plate is ArtCart? Oh my gosh...I know your car! (Laughing) Tell me about when you got into VAEA and what positions you held with VAEA.
P. P.: When I started, it was part of something else about education. I think we were called District L and I. When I started at Camp Young, I had to go with the PE people and I wanted very much to go with the art people.
I think the first time I joined VAEA/NAEA was in 1972 but my membership lapsed a couple times and so I am officially listed as having been a member since 1978.
J. S.: Did you start off just with membership? When did you move into being more active on the board?
P. P.: I remember going to a Richmond conference. The Tidewater people got together but there wasn't a Tidewater president. So, we got together and said, okay, we’ll do a newsletter and I will send it to you and you will pony it out (circulate it by school mail) to all the Norfolk teachers, and you, another art teacher, will send it to Portsmouth, and they’ll pony it out to everyone.
That was my first involvement. Barbara Laws and I had done several presentations at VAEA. I can't remember how far back. When she became president, I became her membership chair. Sam Banks had me represent the Woman's Caucus on his board, and that was before Cyn Waters was VAEA president. (Barbara was VAEA president after Cyn Waters.) So, I think it was in 1982 that I first served on the VAEA board. And then Barbara had me do membership and I kind of hung on to membership.
Then I did treasurer for two terms. That was when it was not so complicated. If you had less than $75,000 going through your treasury you didn't have to do the long form with the IRS. That’s no longer possible; that doesn't exist anymore for us.
After that I was Vice President for a term. Then I ran for President and was defeated, and sort of hibernated for a couple of years.
We were at the Portsmouth conference and the woman who was the membership chair was fussing in front of God and everybody about how she didn't think it was fair because she couldn't go to anything because she had to sit at the table. I told her that I had done membership chair before and I would sit at the table for her to go to anything she wanted to as long as she wanted to. It would be fine I would be right there. And I’ve been membership for 15 years now.
J. S.: When you’re at the conference, is anyone there to relieve you at the membership desk?
P. P.: No. Oh, I’m good! You know, and everybody’s fine. I’ll do the, “I'm-going-to-the-potty –and-I'll-be-back-in-3-minutes-just-tell-him-to-wait-for-me!” Because, basically, what I do know is make sure that everybody has a valid membership. I check ot make sure that all the presenters are members. I make sure that all of the people attending the conference are members.
J.S: Ok...other than VAEA, are were there any other art professional organizations that you were a part of the or any groups?
P. P.: I would have loved to have been part of the Tidewater Artists, but they frowned on people who did crafts because cause it wasn't a “real art.” (Laughs) They don’t think that anymore. My Masters was in clay sculpture, I did these big hollow forms that were round fat women that kind of look like river boulders. That would qualify! But, by then I wasn't interested.
No, I’ve been… The National Art Education Association and the Virginia Art Education Association have been my home. It's where I've learned the most; it’s where I have grown the most, um...and, you know, serve the association.
J. S.: What memories or experiences stand out in your mind--your career or your students?
P. P.: Well, at this point in my life I have a couple of national hats. I was National Elementary Division Director in 2000-2001. You serve for six years by being Director Elect the two years before and the Past Director the two years after. I'm now a National Fellow
J. S.: Looking back on your career, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an art educator, or as an artist?
P. P.: Personally, as an artist, I'm doing this charity thing where I make these wrap-coil baskets and I cover them with buttons and I sell them for the Shriners Children Hospital Transportation Fund. I've been doing that for about four years. At this point I have been able to donate well over $5,000.
J. S.: The other thing I think is important is teaching children that nothing is impossible; It just takes a little longer. And having kids do things in an art classroom who don't think they could do anything. I've always said that I teach creative problem-solving. I've had children who I have cajoled and kind of dragged by the arm into doing a project. I recall one student in particular who told me he couldn't do art but I confronted him and said, “You lied to me. You told me you couldn't do this.”
That sort of takes me back to the missionary work. I try to help. I taught for the longest time in Ocean View and Ocean Air Elementary. They are “economically challenged” schools.. There are gangs in the neighborhood housing projects. You know, my hugs didn't cost anything. They didn't have to lose anything or pay anything for them. And hopefully, the students ended up with a portfolio that they could see that they could do things. I told you it was kind of convoluted with the missionary work
J. S.: It seems to me you are saying that your story sort of started with a desire to do missionary work, and you have brought it back to that. That has been the thread running through your entire life…
P. P.: I have absolutely no problem sitting at the registration desk helping people. Naomi Swyers was sitting at the board meeting and she is taking over awards for me. And she pointed out that one of the comments made to her was, “Coming to the conference was getting a hug from Patsy Parker.”
J. S.: I agree! I look forward to it.
P. P.: I'm one of the few consistent faces, other than Peggy Wood (VAEA Executive Secretary). I'm always there. And if you have a question I can't answer, I will find someone who can.
J. S.: I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. Thank you so much.
P. P.: Alright, that sounds great. Have a good weekend. Thanks. Bye-bye