RAYMOND (RAY) YODER
“ART IS SOMETHING IN WHICH YOU CAN ALWAYS BE RIGHT”
This Legend is based on an autobiographical sketch written by Ray Yoder. The Introduction was written by Lynn Hilton Conyers, who worked with Ray for many years.
Ray Yoder taught art for over 30 years in Waynesboro, Virginia, and other places. He developed the first art education programs in several school systems. He believed deeply in the inherent creativity of children and the power of art education to develop their own ideas and their own sense of self-worth. He was well-known for his watercolors and jewelry.
Ray Yoder was remarkable in many ways but his desire to free children from the traditional coloring book and copied materials inspired him to challenge conventional norms. When he began his career as an art educator in 1934, only 25% of American schools had an art program in their high schools, and elementary art taught by art teachers was practically nonexistent. He stated in his autobiography:
In order to stimulate growth and development with the curriculum and in the child’s future, … the child needs an opportunity to do his own creative work, his own original work, not to make use of copying other people’s ideas, of putting things together that adults have planned. They need an opportunity to work at their own level, with their own ideas, so they can realize that it’s theirs, they have created it, they have accomplished it, and through it, have developed their personal self-worth. Too often children’s creative instincts are throttled by parents, teachers, or friends who fail to see and appreciate their creative efforts. I believe all children are born artists. Their creative efforts need to be recognized and encouraged. … Failure to have an opportunity in creative expression may have drastic and devastating effects for the child’s entire life as an adult.
To this end, Yoder spent a major portion of his teaching career developing bonds with elementary classroom teachers. He taught classes about creativity and methods to bring art into their curriculum. His beliefs and work with elementary teachers became widely known and he was recruited by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges (SASSC) to serve as an art consultant to 33 schools in 11 southern states. He traveled to these schools and taught summer workshops at universities where the participating schools sent their teachers for training. The National Art Education Association (NAEA) tapped into his experience to begin promoting elementary art education. He participated in the District “G” Art Section of the NAEA Southeast Region and served as president of the District G art section in Virginia.
The teaching methods he developed in the Waynesboro Public Schools gained the attention of the NAEA board and in the early 1970’s the NAEA, which at that time was focused entirely on secondary art education, made a decision to form a new division in elementary art education. Yoder was elected to serve as chairman of the newly-formed Elementary Art Education Division of the Southeastern region. He and other district chairs planned programs, formulated ideas and presented a position paper on ideas for elementary art programs. These ideas stimulated interest in helping classroom teachers promote creative activity in art within the elementary schools. The primary purpose of NAEA at that time was to get an art educator in every school, including every elementary school. As art supervisor for Waynesboro Public Schools, Yoder hired the first elementary art educator in 1973. For many years Waynesboro was the only school district in the area that had an elementary art program. Now it is an accepted fact that elementary art is important in every child’s development.
Ray Yoder was an art educator with a mission. He brought art into the lives of many, ranging from young children to adults. He teamed up with university continuing-education programs to present an array of art experiences to his students. He was an art advocate and a ground-breaking founder for art education as we know it today. He was a man of faith and honor.
Ray Yoder was born in Nappanee, Indiana, on March 9, 1909, to Moses and Amanda Yoder. He was the second eldest of six children, including an older sister, Bertha, and four brothers, Elmer, Lloyd, Kenneth and Victor. He grew up during the Depression in a working family that faced many financial struggles. His attitudes and values were shaped by his parents’ faith, perseverance and fortitude.
Soon after his birth, his family moved to Wakarusa, Indiana, where he attended elementary and high school, graduating in 1927. His history teacher, Malinda Warntz, allowed him to create posters, charts and drawings, in which he excelled. Yoder credited her with igniting his interest in art. He served as Art Editor for his High School Annual. He indicated that “I felt that my work was inadequate—in fact, it wasn’t completely original. At that time, I was still doing some copying, which I felt intuitively to be wrong., but I did not yet have enough experience to understand that I should develop all of my art as original expression rather than copy others’ work.”
Yoder put himself through college (Goshen College) doing a variety of jobs. He majored in science and minored in mathematics, to assure better prospects for employment. In addition, he completed a second major in Art. Yoder was deeply inspired by his art instructor, Art Sprunger, who introduced him to watercolor landscape painting. They would go on location to paint. On one of these occasions, Yoder asked Sprunger what he thought he could do with his art ability. Sprunger replied, “Ray, it all depends on you.” This statement affected him profoundly and helped him to realize that you can do anything you wanted to do if you set your mind to it and devoted your time and energy to its accomplishment. Talent has a role, Yoder reflected, but determination and persistence are the hallmarks of success in any effort, including Art.
Over the years, Yoder continued to study painting with many prominent artists, including William Forsythe, John Pike, Edgar Whitney, Theodore Turner, Bill Gerhold, Charles Smith and Edmond J. Fitzgerald.
In 1933, Yoder married Veryl Hostetler, whom he had met in high school. They had four sons, Edward, Ronald, Donald and Lanny. Donald died 13 hours after his birth of respiratory problems.
Ray Yoder began his teaching career in 1934 at the Methodist Missionary School of Pittman Center near Sevierville, Tennessee. After two years, he transferred to the Park Junior High School in Knoxville. After another year, he again transferred to the Tennessee Valley Authority School in Norris, Tennessee. There he started night school classes in art and metal forming in wood molds which he had made in the shop. Although he was hired to teach in the high school, he started helping elementary school teachers because they wanted and needed help, and he felt that it was important for them to recognize Art as a possible mode for children to do creative activities in connection with their curriculum, and to develop and express their character, personality and individuality.
Yoder especially respected and relied on his wife’s ideas and values. She had always challenged their own children to be themselves and to do their own thing, dealing with them as important individuals with ideas, skills and abilities in their own right and giving them an opportunity to express themselves creatively. Her experiences affected him deeply because it helped him realize that children of all ages had skills and that every child possesses instinctive creativity. Yoder understood that “This is an instinct that needs to be developed and needs opportunity for expression. Art is something in which you can always be right. It does not have to be a set plan or organized system or have predictable results.”
In order to stimulate growth and development within the curriculum and in the child’s future, we gave the children at Norris an opportunity to do creative work of all kinds— drama, writing, music, art, etc—in order to develop in them a feeling of self-worth, a feeling of the ability to accomplish something, to do something worthwhile, to establish a sense of personal value, which we realized is one of the most important factors in developing a wholesome individual—one who can cope well with all the problems that life presents. We also stressed, and I still maintain, that activities need to be creative and original, not copied, as against the great trend of many years of coloring in coloring books, of coloring dittoed materials, of putting together kits, of doing assemblages of various kinds which have been planned and organized by adults. The child needs an opportunity to do his own creative work, his own creative work, not to make use of copying other people’s ideas, of putting together things that adults have planned. They need an opportunity to work at their own level, with their own ideas, so they realize that it’s theirs, they have created it, they have accomplished it, and through it, have developed personal self-worth. Too often children’s creative instincts are throttled by parents, teachers, or friends who fail to see and appreciate their creative efforts. I believe all children are born artists. Their creative efforts need to be recognized and encouraged. The expression may be music, art, drama, etc. Failure to have an opportunity in creative expression may have drastic and devastating effects for the child’s life as an adult.
In the late 1930s, Frank Jenkins, the Director of Southern Study, an experimental school improvement program sponsored by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges (SASSC), visited Norris High School and was impressed with Yoder’s work. In 1939, Jenkins recruited Yoder to serve as an arts consultant in 33 schools in 11 states—Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia. He served for five years, from 1939 to 1944. For six months each year, he traveled with the Southern Study staff and visited his assigned schools as a consultant. He also taught summer workshops at colleges and universities where participating schools sent their teachers for training. These experiences were of tremendous value to him and served as a enormous broadening experience for him. When a problem with which he was unfamiliar arose, he made it his business to learn about it and familiarize himself with it.
In 1939, Yoder and his family moved to Wetumpka, Alabama, and he taught in the Holtville School, a progressive school interested in experimental education, in Deatsville, Alabama, from 1939 to 1940, on a half-time basis. During the summers, he taught workshops.
In 1942, the Yoder family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he taught math and art at North Fulton High School from 1942 to 1944. He continued to teach summer workshops during that time.
Waynesboro Public Schools
Yoder was drafted into the Navy in 1943 and served as a Specialist X3c, first in Bainbridge, Maryland, and later at Newport, Rhode Island. He worked as an audiovisual specialist, producing visual aids and showing films. He received a dependency discharge in 1945 and moved his family to Waynesboro, Virginia. He had visited Waynesboro during his work for Southern Study and liked the area. He began teaching art at the Waynesboro High School and continued until 1963.
While teaching in the Waynesboro Public Schools, Yoder soon realized that there was very little if any attention given to the arts in the public school curriculum. Everything was copy work or teacher manipulated—so much so that some of the activities were more the result of the teacher’s interests than that of the student. He decided to take on the task of developing creative activities rather than continuing copying and imitative work.
Yoder worked for many years at the Waynesboro High School. Eventually more and more of his time was engaged with elementary art teachers, developing the ideas (particularly the notion that art experiences related to subject matter help children learn, and that success in art bolsters a child’s sense of self-worth) which had blossomed in his mind years before at Norris High School. He helped the teachers, made demonstrations for their benefit, and conducted seminars for teachers only. During his tenure in Waynesboro, he taught in all the public schools, including Winonah Elementary School, the segregated black school.
While teaching art and visual arts at the high school, Yoder began work in offset printing. He and his students produced teaching materials for all the schools. Later, the offset program became a fulltime job which was managed by one of his former students, Mary Reese. The visual aids program also became a fulltime job.
Eventually, the needs of the elementary schools became so great that Yoder spent all of his time working with those teachers. Three new programs, including fulltime positions in art, crafts and photography, were added to the curriculum. He hired Lynn Hilton (Conyers, see introduction) as the first fulltime high school crafts teacher. She notes, “One of my principals, Tom Muncy, once told me, ‘Lynn, you are an expert in art. I will clear the way for you and make sure you have funding. Now, go do your thing.’ How could you not want to work hard when you had support like that?”
In 1973, he hired Erin Girdler as the first fulltime elementary art teacher. Girdler taught 10 classes a day in 5 elementary schools each week.
Yoder considered his photography program at Waynesboro High School as an art and as part of the school curriculum. He eventually became the Supervisor of Art for the Waynesboro public schools.
In 1946, Yoder began to teach part-time night classes and extension courses for the University of Virginia Division of Continuing Education during the school year and summers. These included graduate and undergraduate courses in painting, photography, jewelry, and elementary art education for classroom teachers.
In the classes, he taught to preservice elementary classroom teachers, he emphasized to them the need to have hands-on experiences and to give children an opportunity to make art in relation to their school curriculum. He pointed out that children need an opportunity to develop self-worth and to express themselves creatively. If they don’t get this positive feeling through creative art, or through other creative activities, they will find other ways of expressing themselves and getting attention. His plea throughout his career is for teachers at every level to give children opportunities for creative expression.
In 1964 Ray Yoder received a Masters degree in education from the University of Virginia.
While teaching in Waynesboro, Yoder published many articles related to art and art education in School Arts, Ceramics Monthly, Arts and Activities, Design, Everyday Art and Gem and Minerals journals. In 1976, he published a book, Sculpture and Modeling for the Elementary School, which sold out.
VAEA and NAEA
Yoder was one of the original group who started the Waynesboro chapter of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1971. Together with his work in the Waynesboro public schools, he began to participate in the District “G” Art Section of the Southeastern Region of the Virginia Art Education Association (VAEA). (District “G” consisted of the cities of Waynesboro, Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Augusta County and Rockingham County.) As chairman of the Art District, he collected art work from the local public schools and developed a traveling art exhibition of elementary children’s art which circulated throughout the district. This proved to be a very stimulating experience that led to his participation in the Virginia Art Education Association (VAEA) and summer workshops that they conducted. In 1960, Yoder was elected President of the VAEA. That year he also received the NAEA Medal of Honor in Recognition and Appreciation of Support in Art Education.
In the early 1970s, NAEA (which up to that time was focused entirely on secondary art education) made the decision to open a new division of elementary art education. In April 1970, Yoder was elected chairman of the new Elementary School Art Division of the NAEA Southeastern Region. Thereafter, he met with three other district chairpersons and planned programs, formulated ideas, and presented a position paper on the ideas, beliefs and values were of the elementary art program.
The regional officers presented programs at NAEA conventions and tried to stimulate interest in helping classroom teachers promote creative activity in art in the teaching curricula. They advocated NAEA’s primary goal of getting an art education teacher into every school, including elementary schools as well as high schools. NAEA’s position at that time was that ART teachers should be teaching art in every elementary school.
Lynn Conyers notes,
When Ray started teaching in Waynesboro, elementary art teachers did not exist and the state only paid to support the art curriculum in middle and high school. Ray worked with the superintendent, Berkley Green, to get the school system to provide the funding for an elementary art program and the art teacher’s salary. (At that time, Waynesboro was home to a Dupont polyester factory and we had all those engineers living there who expected a top notch education for their children.) Yoder felt that children should be exposed to creative thinking and art at an early age.
Ray realized that the only way he could get an elementary art program was to teach each classroom teacher to teach the art curriculum. Mr. Glenn backed him all the way and those teachers were required to take workshops with Ray. He made it a rewarding experience by using their children’s art pieces in permanent displays that stayed in the schools and the school board offices for years. He was very charismatic and charming. His determination to get things done was contagious. Faculty, administrators, kids and parents regarded the art program with great pride.
Yoder and his colleagues tried their best to influence the national organization but the elementary division was unable to gain the respect and emphasis that they felt was needed to promote art through the elementary classroom teachers, and, in frustration, Yoder resigned after two years with the program. He continued to work toward inspiring art teachers and classroom teachers to instill art experiences and creative expression in their students throughout his career.
Ray Yoder retired from the Waynesboro Public Schools in 1975, though he continued to teach painting workshops for the University of Virginia for 11 more years. Between 1983 and 1986, he produced a series of video tapes to teach watercolor painting. He developed an innovative approach to landscape painting that utilized perspective techniques other than linear perspective and vanishing points, which he considered impossible when painting outdoors.
Yoder summed up, “I developed skills in teaching as I figured out how to approach problems in order to help people. That has been the key to my ability to do an effective job of teaching, and it has been most rewarding.”