PAUL (BUDDY) TERRELL
This interview was conducted on October 18, 2018 by David Burton, at Buddy Terrell’s home and studio in Chesterfield County, VA.. This interview is part of the Virginia Art Education Association Distinguished Fellows’ Legends and Legacies project which is intended to preserve the personal and professional histories of prominent Virginia art teachers and educators for posterity.
Buddy Terrell taught at all levels for 44 years in the public schools of Powhatan, Henrico and Chesterfield counties in Virginia.
David Burton (DB): Could you tell me something about your family, your early upbringing, and perhaps, what brought you to art and art education?
Buddy Terrell (BT): My first memory of making art was from watching Captain Kangaroo. He introduced me to Crayola crayons. I was probably three or four at the time. I don’t remember how old I was but I remember I was excited enough that my mom went out and got those crayons. She went to the butcher and got butcher paper instead of getting coloring books. To me, art was all connected with that.
Dad could draw and his mother could draw as well. I also remember my grandparents. My dad’s parents were sharecroppers—tobacco farmers—in North Carolina. We would go down (to North Carolina). My grandfather loved to sit out on the porch, chew tobacco and whittle. I was drawn to that. Dad talked to me about how poor they were during the depression. My grandfather showed me how he made toys out of corn stalks with a pocket knife. So, I was whittling with my grandfather’s pocket knife and I have this scar to prove it. (Buddy shows a long scar on back of his hand.) I was probably about five but I was determined I was going to carve with that. I thought I was going to die (when I cut myself). I would ask dad some things. He would do some drawing with me and show me things. That was great experience.
When I began school, you know how some kids in the class will become the class artists. You get some notoriety. You become somewhat famous within a small group because you can do things like that.
My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, had Elzie Gray and myself do this whole history series, these huge murals. I don’t know what we missed in order to do the murals about Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Magellan, and so on. We essentially did her bulletin boards, drawings and paintings. She rolled them up and evidently used them until she retired. It was cool to get that opportunity to do that sort of thing.
I grew up in the Richmond area, Chesterfield and Henrico counties. We had a music teacher that came once a week but not an art teacher. The first art classes I had was in middle school. That was ninth grade which was actually junior high school at Falling Creek Middle School. Before that I had taken chorus and band. Suzanne Brille, the art teacher at Falling Creek Middle School, had a great impact on me. I can tell you when I started to teach, some of the lessons that we had done at Falling Creek) I did with my own students. I remember we did a project on advertising. I ended up doing something on Superman and deodorant—super smell.
I loved mythology. That came from elementary school. My third grade teacher read to us after lunch. I would do illustrations from the stories. That began to give me the notoriety as the class artist. I loved the Iliad and the Odyssey. I had a cousin who loaned me a book, America’s Old World Background. It had these wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and other illustrators’ interpretations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I loved those stories going along with those great visual images. Those are also a part of my background that led me to going into art education. I remember doing a project with a Viking ship, and I put dimes for shields on the side of the ship. I remember making a mask with papier mache. We made “nugs”, name bugs where you write your name in cursive along the fold in a piece of paper. When you unfold it, you get a symmetrical design that looks like a bug. I used that project which was a design project, with my students.
I had a blast in high school. I went to Meadowbrook High School. Cen (Inocencia) Waters was my art teacher there. (She just passed recently; she was 99 years old.) She was a force of nature, truly a force. I don’t remember how this happened but when I was a sophomore, I was placed in the Advanced Art class. I ended up with a lot of juniors and seniors. They were mostly girls who loved horses. Cen had a really strong art history background and a strong sculpture background. She carved stone. With her Spanish background, she wrote her masters thesis on the connection between Mayan and Aztec Art and Christian symbols. The imagery was particularly interesting to her. She introduced me to painting in acrylics during that sophomore year, and that was pretty darn cool. She taught art history with that.
As a junior in high school, I was in the art room three periods a day. The math and science were really difficult. That was the other thing that made majoring in art education so great—you didn’t have to have the prerequisite in language for art school that you might have to have for other majors. That’s why I was able to drop my foreign language and chemistry classes and end up in the art room all the time.
It was about this time of the year (October), Cen (Waters) would have us submit drawings for the large project we wanted to do. I did this drawing of a totem pole. So, she said, “Okay, you’re going to carve that.” I came in with this chunk of wood about six inches long. She shook her head and said, “No, no, no, this needs to be big. Here’s your log.” So that Christmas when I came down in the morning there were 2’x12’s under the tree. I learned to laminate. Cen took me down to Hooper’s Hardware and she helped me pick out some chisels. I started carving; it was fun. I got to the point where I could control the chips. I could hit cleavage from about ten or twelve feet away. (The totem pole is prominently displayed on Buddy’s front porch.)
I had been in chorus and I loved singing, and I played trombone in elementary school and middle school. I took chorus in my junior year and because I was planning on going to college, I was told I needed to take foreign language. I did not know it at the time but I’m ADD. I failed the third grade. All my report cards said, “Buddy daydreams too much.” It was my second third grade teacher who read mythology to us and inspired me. A good teacher can inspire anyone, even a kid with ADD.
My wrestling coach in high school was a big influence on me. He was a real renaissance man. He taught English and humanities. I have carried a lot of his philosophy throughout my career. I grew up in southside Richmond, with the racism and stuff you experience even from people you admire, this guy didn’t have that. I was always being silly. I was doing a takeoff on Amos and Andy one time. He stopped me dead in my tracks and said, “There’s Reggie over there. How do you think he feels listening to that?” He called me on it and I have not forgotten that. You never forget those things. He was a person I admired a lot. He taught wrestling but there was a lot of philosophy he shared with us. He was very interested in people. Helping humanity and helping the mind to see that we’re all people and we all have something to contribute, instead of us versus them, was just essential. It was really important for me to experience that.
The other thing that happened in high school is I started dating Linda (Buddy’s wife); she was fifteen and I was seventeen. We met in church choir. We went to different high schools. She wanted to go into education. I had been heavily involved with the Boy Scouts from eight to eighteen, and very interested in nature and the woods. I thought I was going to go into the Forestry Service. The nearest university forestry program was in West Virginia. But Linda was interested in education. I was falling in love and I thought, “I can’t go to West Virginia.” I sat down with a legal pad and started making lists about what my interests were—What do you really like? What do you want to do? I wondered, “Should I go into music education or art education?” I started thinking about it, I like drawing, I like painting, I like sculpture, I like clay, I like all these things. I really think I should go into art education.
I remember the evening of graduation of going into the bathroom and crying because I had so much fun. All the things that had taken me to that point in life, I knew that would change. I realized eventually that I wanted to teach high school because I had so much fun there.
I would say Linda’s love of education and carving that totem pole are truly the reasons I became an art educator.
DB: That brought you to college. What was your college experience?
BT: I entered Virginia Commonwealth University in 1970. When I got my class schedule, I was thrilled. During freshman year, I had Basic Design with Glenn Hamm. I had Novum Mason for Basic Drawing, and Intro to Art, taught by Maurice Bonds and the people from Art History doing this film series.
That first day, that very first day, here’s Buddy Baptist going into class and Glenn Hamm says, “Today we’re going to do flat shapes from the model.” The model was Miss Henshaw. All you had to do was draw circles and you had Miss Henshaw. I had never seen a live, naked lady. I was too embarrassed to look at the model or my paper. The shock factor was just amazing.
I was accepted into the Art Education Department. During the sophomore year, we had Sophomore Seminar which were Saturday morning classes where we taught children who were mostly professors’ children. It was an opportunity to prepare lessons and then to teach them with immediate feedback from peers and faculty . When you’re dealing with little people who don’t think as you do, it’s great; it’s eye-opening. That was a lot of fun!
During junior year we went out to Clark Springs Elementary School for elementary practicum with Al Lewis. Priscilla Hynson had a secondary practicum at Albert Hill Middle School. She was actually given a classroom of her own. She kept us rotating through there, teaching different classes. It was an amazing experience! I remember the feeling of when you get it right. I also appreciated observing other students teach. I saw things I didn’t want to do because I thought they were condescending to the kids. Discipline and behavior were important. Learning how to handle that was important to us. Teaching an art lesson was one thing but managing kids is another.
We read a lot of good books—Gordon (P.E.T.), Kellogg, Lowenfeld, Beittel and others. Howard Gardner was big at that time. I loved what he was doing with the different intelligences. It was good to learn about the developmental philosophy. It was really cool to realize that there were patterns (in children’s growth and development). Even when those books went out of fashion, I would share them with my student teachers (especially when I was teaching in elementary school), and it was like scales fell from their eyes.
Al Lewis (VCU Art Education Department) was adamant about people showing up late to class. He would say, “You’re at the dock and the ship has left. You’ve got to be punctual.” There were people who could not do that. That does not work in public school. We were developing that sense of responsibility. When you’re an educator you can incorporate “I’m an artist” into your teaching but the other disciplined part has to be there too.
My senior year I was scheduled for student teaching in the fall. Cen Waters knew I was student teaching. She had moved from Meadowbrook H.S. to Cloverhill H.S. She wanted me to student teach with her. When I walked in, she knew me from high school. I had been president of her Art Club for two years. She literally turned all her classes over to me. Priscilla Hynson was my university supervisor. One of the first lessons Dr. Hynson observed I had Gregorian chants playing. I was lying on the table with a candle. I had stained glass windows projecting all over the walls. The kids doing charcoal drawings of me. She walked in the door and one of the students said, “Mr. Terrell, your professor is here.” And she said, “It appears I am a little late.” She had me do that lesson again for the juniors in the Art Education Department.
DB: Do you remember when you were teaching at Providence Middle School? I arrived a little late myself. All the tables were pulled together in the center of the room with the students sitting around the edge. The room was completely dark except for one of those fake cellophane fires in the center of the table. You bounded out of the closet dressed in just a bear skin and a gray fright wig. You jumped on the table and began to point and gesture and make grunts and other sounds. This was all a surprise to the kids but they finally figured out that you were a caveman who couldn’t speak any language but you were trying to teach them to draw the fire in charcoal. I have used that example many times (without the bear skin) as a creative way to teach a lesson. Not every lesson needs to be a formal presentation.
BT: I’m glad we now have the sequence in student teaching from elementary (first) and secondary school (after that). The growth is amazing because of the practicum foundation that they have had.
There was a mixup in my student teaching assignments. Somebody had assigned me to both elementary and secondary student teaching in two different school districts. (Students frequently do elementary student teaching in one school district and secondary student teaching in another school district.) I ended up doing elementary student teaching with Anne Graham in Henrico County School District and Cen Waters in Chesterfield County School District.
While I was student teaching an art teacher quit unexpectedly. Randy Cheatham, the Henrico Art Supervisor, has just observed me teaching and wanted to hire me before I had even completed student teaching. That was not possible because I needed to complete the Virginia requirements to be licensed as a teacher. However, as soon as I finished my student teaching in December, I was hired and I started teaching at two elementary schools, Fair Oaks and Adams, on January 2. I hadn’t finished my degree yet; I was under a Letter of Agreement. I still had to take my remaining classes at night. I didn’t finish up until the following August.
Then Randy (Cheatham) said, “I want you to teach in our summer program for gifted middle and high school kids. I said, “Sure.” Bucky Wise, Randy Cheatham, and myself taught that program. It really was a continuation of my education to be with these two really super-powered, super personality art educators and to work with the cream of the crop, all the while learning from Bucky and Randy all this (art) philosophy. We went on some wonderful field trips. We would do plein aire drawings and paintings. I was exposed to an amazing amount of terminology, artistic processes; it was just great.
Before the summer program began, Randy called me and said, “I’m going to be taking a group of the gifted students up to Andrew Wyeth’s studio. Would you like to go?” We went to Wyeth’s home in Pennsylvania. Randy took a Virginia ham and a bottle of Jack Daniels to him. So, I drank Jack Daniels with Andrew Wyeth.
We went over to the barn where Howard Pyle’s school was. Wyeth showed us his first paintings which were nudes which he was sending to a show in Japan. None of them had been shown in public before. That was the Spring of 1974.
At that time, Randy had it set up where he met with all the Henrico County School District elementary art teachers each Monday morning. We would go to the Central Office, share lessons and ideas and get feedback; it was amazing! You could do that with specialist teachers because their teaching schedules at their respective schools could be organized to allow it. I was getting all of this educational philosophy while being immersed with these wonderful teachers. It countered the isolation many art teachers experience. It was an ongoing professional development program. We would also have these great professional development workshops.
I learned a lot teaching elementary school and I had some great experiences and some great student teachers but I really wanted to teach high school.
Being an art education major in studio classes, I encountered some fine arts majors who looked down on art education majors. Being a competitive person that I was (from wrestling and the Boy Scouts), I did my best to compete. Learning how to throw on the wheel is a discipline. It’s like learning how to play a musical instrument.
DB: Many of our art education majors at VCU are either minoring in a studio area or are simply double majors with a studio area. Consequently, their art education is much more than just a four-year degree.
BT: That competitive trying-to-be-the-best in all those studio areas, that was really important to me. Going to NAEA conferences and presenting there was just amazing. Dot (Dorothy) Simpson was my advisor at one point. She recommended I take a course in African American Studies. (This was in the early 1970’s, in the midst of segregation and integration.) Where I grew up in Southside Richmond, we were dealing with all those racial tensions. That course really paid off over the years. I was so glad I did that.
I really wanted to teach high school. There was an opening in Powhatan County that I applied for. It was a rude awakening. I taught at Powhatan High School and it was not going well. There was no discipline at all. I had Dr. Hynson come out and observe me. She told me, “You need to get out of here.”
The next year I applied in Chesterfield County. I was hired on the day the teachers show up, that week before school begins in the fall. I taught at Providence Middle School for six years. The faculty at Providence was amazing! It was a close faculty. I loved being part of that faculty. For me, the interesting thing about teaching middle school is that you can only take the kids so far and then you know they are going on to something higher, bigger and better in high school. I could only go so far with the kids.
I was at the county fine arts festival one year. The Clover Hill Jazz Band was playing in the auditorium. The teacher, Mr. Minick, was performing with the kids. (His daughter taught special education at Providence Middle School.) Watching that teacher with these kids, doing jazz together, I saw a whole other level of thinking and interacting going on with those students. I said to myself, “I need to teach high school.”
The new Midlothian High School was being built. I applied for a position there and was hired. That was 1984. It was referred to as the “University of Midlothian” for a lot of reasons. The quality of education that was going on there was just amazing! I just fell in love with the faculty there. How we pushed each other to go further!
I was in a regular artroom to begin with. After five years, I moved over into an enormous open space that had been built for vocational education. (The space was about 50’x50’ with a 20’ ceiling. There were extensive storage areas.) It was like I had died and gone to heaven. I liked to structure my classroom space so I can circle around and keep an eye on what was going on without hovering too close. The vocational classroom was a wonderful space where that could happen. We had room to do large sculptures and large paintings. We could turn it into a gallery. There was direct access to outside. It had a foundry in it. There were two arc welders that we took out and put two kilns in. (The heavy duty electrical circuits were already there for the arc welders.) It was amazing!
I recall once we were doing a work-in-progress critique. Allen Balink put his painting up. It was a nude but it was far short from where it should have been. I asked, “Allen, what’s going on with the painting?” He said, “I was painting my girlfriend and I had to stop because her parents came home.” That’s when you learn to make rules. I made a rule: You can’t paint it if I can’t show it. And I can’t show it if you can’t wear it on a T-shirt.
Sometimes you have those perfect groups that become gestalts—something that is so much more than the mere sum of its parts. It’s like a jazz performance, so much better together than any solos. I’d go to bed at night thinking, “Okay, what can I do to challenge them?” Then, usually in the shower the next morning, it would come to me, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I can do!” You’re constantly engaged mentally with the process with these kids. They draw you out. That happened so many times, it truly did.
One of the projects I like to do was to have each student select an object of their own choosing, Then we would do six studies of that object using a different medium each day. Then they would do a final work of art based of the object and their studies. I remember Amy Barr focused on some barbed wire and Matt Lively found a baseball that was torn. Tommy van Auken chose a trash can.
There were two things that were always goals with my lessons: I was looking for good figure-ground relationships, and I was looking for contrast. (Some of this goes to Priscilla Hynson; she loved figure-ground relationships.) If you had those two things, I didn’t care what you did with it. It was great doing concept teaching. Everything didn’t look the same. You could let the kids make it personal. It would always go further than I could imagine.
I would see something at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and ask myself, “Okay, what is the concept behind this?” Then you could work in the art history. The concept may not be new but how you’re using these materials with the concept is new because no one else has ever done that before. I love doing that kind of things. A lot of it became performance.
I was always trying to challenge myself, and trying to make sure I was making an impact on my students. One of my favorite lessons was a Dada lesson. I got the kids involved. I was being observed that day and I just wanted to wow the assistant principal and the kids too. I had a step ladder and all kinds of audio-visual equipment. I’d start one thing and then have a student read a piece of John Lennon poetry. I was walking up and down on a ladder, doing things. Then another kid would start something else. I was explaining Dada in the process of doing Dada. It was just so much fun. It’s such a pleasure to see them sparkle and tingle and say, “I know what I want to do.”
I also worked with the Boy Scouts for 21 years. I had a math teacher come in my room one time and ask, “Where did you learn to teach?”, and I said, “The Boy Scout Handbook.” They used the patrol method (of small, cohesive task-oriented groups). Most art classes are set up so you have groups sitting at tables together. They learn to function as a team. That goes back to when I was eleven years old doing that in Boy Scouts.
DB: What changes have you seen in your own life time as a teacher?
BT: I think politics has unfortunately gotten way too involved in the educational process. There are all sorts of things where politics plays a part. There’s a good way to do it, a bad way to do it, and the school’s way to do it. My wife is an elementary teacher and we constantly have conversations about what is going on in education.
I always felt like I had autonomy in my classroom that a lot of other teachers did not have, particularly after the Virginia Standards of Learning (SoLs) came in. Students were trained to stop thinking. They were trained to simply regurgitate facts. I began to have students come to me and say, “Tell me exactly what you want me to do.” I saw my job change as I felt more responsibility to help students think outside the box because they were definitely being packed into a box.
Another thing is computerization, the digital world. That changed things. It used to be you would get the day’s information in your mailbox in the morning and you were good for the day. Now, with the computer, you are expected to be available and in connection with everybody all the time. Coming up with lessons that use smart phones and the internet has been a good thing. The distraction that often occurs with texting use is a problem. I see that as being the major challenge right now.
I liked to get Art in America and Craft in America magazines to keep in my art room. I thought it was important for my students and myself to have access to current writings and trends. I could not have taught art the way I taught art if I hadn’t had wonderful librarians in the library. I had more books checked out than any other faculty member. I like to give kids options. I didn’t want it to be one way. I wanted to give them more information.
My advice to future art teachers: I go back to Joseph Campbell’s thought: “Follow your bliss”. Where you are most excited is going to take you places. If you are enthusiastic about something, they are going to figure out a connection. All cultures have this commonality, this connection. When you start connecting the art, the philosophy, the religion, the symbols of those cultures, then you start seeing something similar in the culture of Korea or of Africa.