Sara Joyner’s Background
The life of an art educator is filled with many small triumphs, usually counted in the success of our students. Occasionally, an individual with vision and determination stands out and advances art education far beyond the strictures of her times.
Rury (2014) has observed,
One of the great values in studying history, in that case, is to better appreciate the dynamic quality of our own time, by examining the challenges faced in earlier periods. There is much to learn from seeing how people responded to a rapidly changing world, and appreciating how their experiences have shaped our own (p. 3).
Sara Joyner was such a woman. She was an innovative art educator who became Virginia’s first state Supervisor of Art in an era when very few women held administrative positions, let alone positions of influence. She possessed a charismatic personality and was able to advance art education through her insight, determination, and a profound sense of purpose. Sara Joyner, white and privileged, was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, during a period when racism and segregation were the norm. She rose above the social conventions of her time to become a woman of formidable moral principle and prescient vision who contributed greatly to the profession of art education in Virginia as well as to the causes of racial equality and social justice. She saw herself essentially as a creative person, creative as an artist, as an educator, as an advocate for the arts, and as a person who could get things done.
Joyner’s character was a product of her upbringing and early experience. She (1963) reflected on her youth,
Throughout childhood and early adulthood, I was given parental stimulus and encouragement as well as diverse opportunities for active participation in the arts. Creativity for me, therefore, early in my formative years became synonymous with optimum and satisfying growth; and the aesthetic expression of one’s creativity was understood as the most perceptive and essential means of interpreting and clarifying one’s ideas and emotions (p. 1).
Sara Cross Joyner was born July 20, 1900. She grew up in Richmond, VA, where she lived with her parents, brother and sister. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of William and Mary in 1926, she began her career as an art teacher in the elementary schools of Norfolk, Virginia. She received her Masters of Arts degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York in 19321, and returned to teaching art at Norfolk’s Maury High School. Four years later she moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, to become the Director of Art Education for the Poughkeepsie Public Schools, her first administrative position. In 1938, she returned to Richmond where she served as the Director of Art Education of the Richmond Public Schools until 1944, when she moved back to New York to teach art in the junior and senior high school division of the Bronxville, NY, public schools, while pursuing research in the new field of television (Quick, 1968, p. 11). Joyner taught in elementary and secondary high schools for a total of 11 years, and served as an art supervisor for 8 years in the public schools of Virginia and New York.
Joyner returned to Teachers College Columbia University to earn her doctoral degree late in life. Her dissertation is titled, “Creativity in Education: A View of Its Importance and Nurture.” It is not surprising that she selected creativity as her theme. It was her ideal throughout her life, as an educator, as an administrator, and as an agent of professional and social change. Written just four years before her death at the age of 67 in 1967, her dissertation has the retrospective advantage of considering creativity from the perspective of a lifetime of innovative challenge and successful experience, rather than as an imagined speculation of a younger person of what creativity might be.
She wrote in the introduction of her dissertation,
It was, therefore, perhaps an intrinsic and natural inclination which projected my entire career in art education, toward a devotion of the creative process. For I believe, from extensive personal and educational experience, that the continuous use of this process is the most logical as well as the most aesthetic means of arriving at the best and most essentially “right” solutions to varied problems, whether for the individual or for the group; and whether in the arts, in education or in the societal milieu (p. 1-2).
Art Education in Virginia
During the first half of the 20th century segregation was the prevailing policy and practice in Virginia’s schools, as it was in the rest of the South. In 1896, the Plessy decision of the U.S. Supreme Court institutionalized segregation, including segregation in schools (Spring, p. 191). This policy of “separate but equal” created two school systems—one for white students, the other for African American students. However, the two systems were anything but equal. The African American schools were systematically underfunded, under-resourced, and undercut in every way possible. There was very little support of any kind.
Even in white schools, art education in Virginia was a piecemeal affair as in most of the other states. Trained art teachers were rare. In elementary schools, art and music were often taught by classroom teachers. Only a few secondary schools, mostly in cities, had art classes. Professional art education organizations, if they existed, were embedded in larger educational entities, such as the National Education Association (NEA), and in Virginia, in the Virginia Education Association (VEA).
The Virginia Education Association, a professional organization composed of teachers and other school personnel, was an influential force that could (and did) very effectively lobby the Virginia Department of Education. By creating a distinct Art Section of the VEA, it, along with other organizations, influenced the Virginia Department of Education to recognize art education as a viable “Service”. Sara Joyner was a moving force in the VEA (Nichols, 1979, p. 9).
Another influential lobbying organization was the Virginia Art Alliance. The Art Alliance (not be confused with the present-day Arts Alliance) was established in 1934. It was composed of organizations joined together in an effort to promote art and art education in Virginia. Many influential art educators, including Joyner and Viktor Lowenfeld, were among its members (Nichols, 1979, p. 10).
Virginia’s First Art Supervisor
In the early 1940s, the Virginia Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and the Virginia Art Commission (VAC) began petitioning the State Board of Education requesting the formation of an Art Education Service by the State Board. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Art Alliance, and the Art Section of the Virginia Education Association sent similar requests (Nichols, 1979, p. 9). From this expression of need, the position of Supervisor of Art Education was established by the State Department of Education on July 1, 19452, and Sara Joyner was appointed as Virginia’s first state art supervisor. Her appointment was predictable and fortuitous. She had been a prominent force in the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Art Alliance for several years, working to strengthen the stature of art education and lobbying for an art education service in the Virginia Department of Education. Virginia was only the fifth state, after Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, to create a position of state art supervisor.
Joyner was admired and respected by those who met and worked with her. Her personality and complete dedication to art education helped her to elevate the status of art in the public schools of Virginia almost immediately after her appointment. Baylor Nichols (personal communication, cited in Quick3, 1986, p. 10), who succeeded Joyner as State Art Supervisor, explained, “Principals in those days were often hostile toward art, but Sara could make friends with them … I’ve never seen anyone work so professionally with people” (p. 10). He later recalled, “She is remembered for her wonderful human kindness and her dedication to the support and improvement of Art Education” (p.10).
Merle Davis (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986), an Assistant Supervisor of Education until 1952 and colleague of Joyner, described her as “… a beautiful person in every sense of the word …. (She was beautiful) in her character; she was pretty to look at; she had beautiful taste for everything, and she was wonderful with people. She was an outstanding person and had great respect for people’s ideas.” Davis described Joyner’s leadership as subtle but very effective: “She could arrange for you to do things that would help you come out with your own ideas and you could say, ‘I did it myself’” (p. 10).
Helen Rose (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986), a Supervisor of Art Education in the Richmond Public Schools, prominent in the founding of NAEA, and a close friend of Joyner’s described her as, “… a very, very intelligent, deep thinking person. … She was very wise and very deliberate. … She saw problems, and she went right at them but in a very indirect way” (p. 10). Her ability to circumvent obstacles and work with people allowed her to make great strides by circuitous means. Her charisma and ability to build consensus, together with her vision for art education and her determination to advance toward her goals, made her a subtle but powerful force.
In 1945, her first year as state art supervisor, Joyner described art education in Virginia as being in various stages of evolution. Some of the art programs in the cities had been strong for several years, with all except three of the 24 larger towns and cities having art personnel in the public schools. “Virginia, however,” according to Joyner (1948), “(was) largely rural, having 100 counties; and at the inception of the Art Education Service (the name given to Joyner’s office in the Department of Education), the schools of 96 of these were still without art teachers or supervisors” (p. 4). Four months after beginning her job as Art Supervisor, Joyner (1945b) described the task before her as she saw it: “(There is) much pioneering work to be done all over the state … while striving for the goal of adequate creative art experiences for every student in every school in Virginia” (p. 1).
In the fall of 1945, two important statewide conferences about art education were held for art educators from public and private schools and colleges. The purpose of these conferences, according to Joyner (1945b), was “ … to consolidate state thinking on art education and to strengthen the work of the Art Section of the Virginia Education Association” (p. 2). At the first conference, held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond, the new state art supervisor presented an abstract of five general aims and objectives which had been approved by members of the State Department of Education for her first year’s work. The five objectives included 1. establishment of relationships with school personnel and art organizations around the state, 2. activities concerned with in-service training, 3. activities concerned with teacher training, 4. making instructional and visual art materials available to the schools, and finally, 5. personal professional growth (Joyner, 1945b, p. 4). These objectives might be taken as the ambitious, albeit polite, goals of a new administrator, but hardly a literal working agenda. However, by the end of her first year as Virginia art supervisor, Joyner had answered requests for services from 49 school divisions in the state, visited schools in 27 districts, made 29 visits to colleges in the state, participated in 5 pre-school and afterschool conferences, formulated statewide objectives with art educators at two statewide conferences, and made approximately 25 visits to museums in and outside the state. She had attended workshops on music and on a proposed five-year high school plan that resulted in the beginning of a written curriculum for art in the eighth grade. She worked with the Virginia Museum of Fine Art to review and select several hundred art slides to be purchased by Virginia schools (Rex, 194, p, 122).
In addition, during her first year as state art supervisor, she had presented her objectives for the schools to a wide variety of public school and college administrators, elementary and secondary principals, supervisors of other subjects, classroom teachers and art personnel, and lay groups. Joyner’s ability to reach and work with people propelled the credibility of art education in Virginia. She advocated art education to school superintendents at their annual conferences, including the Cooperative Education Association, the Annual Conference of General Supervisors, large district meetings, and other venues (Joyner, 1948, p. 6).
Virginia’s First African American Assistant Art Supervisor
During much of the 20th century, Virginia, like the rest of the south, was deeply entrenched in racism. Inequity was the pervasive norm, segregation was the declared policy and practice, and Jim Crow was the law. As Rury (2005) points out,
Large segments of the American population were left untouched by pedagogical change, and administrative reforms—guided by the dictates of efficiency and differentiation—probably served to delimit the educational prospects of students from certain social groups. Even though there was a growing national debate about these questions, ideologies of racism and sexism were still widely propagated at the time, even by educators. It was an era of sharp differences in social status, and this was reflected in the nation’s schools. Put simply, equity was not a major focus of reform (p. 170).
Public schools were segregated by race. African American schools received far fewer funds and resources than white schools. Like all other branches of government, racism and prejudice were institutionalized in the Department of Education both overtly in terms of policy and law, and less obviously, through decades of racist intolerance and tradition.
Joyner’s most significant and far-reaching accomplishment during those early years was the creation of the position of a Negro Assistant Supervisor of Art Education, for the purpose of bringing equal opportunity to all of Virginia’s schools. A few weeks after the meeting at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a second conference was held at Virginia State College, in Petersburg. (Virginia State College was a historically black college). With Joyner’s support, a Negro Art Section was organized to work through and with the Virginia Education Association (VEA) Again, by creating a Negro Art Section within itself, the VEA laid the groundwork for a Negro Art Service in the Virginia Department of Education (Nichols, 1979, p. 9).
“At the second annual meeting of the art section of the Virginia Education Association a recommendation was presented for consideration to the Virginia Department of Education for the employment of a Negro Assistant Supervisor of Art Education” (Joyner, 1946-47, p. 2). The proposal was approved by the State Department of Education and “after a vigorous search for a suitable person, Miss Mary Godfrey was appointed to that position on June 10, 1947” (Nichols, 1979, p. 10). Mary Godfrey, an African American, had earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from Pratt Institute and, like Joyner, had received her master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia. She worked both as a high school art teacher and later as an art supervisor in Norfolk, VA. Joyner wrote in her Superintendent’s Annual Report (1947, p. 3), “We are grateful for this appointment which will make possible a more equitable distribution of guidance in Art Education for the state as a whole.”
Virginia was still deeply buried in racism and segregation. It required courage and determination to create a Negro Art Section and hire an African-American Assistant Art Supervisor. Joyner, a white woman, mustered her charm and savvy to deal with the Department of Education bureaucracy that was white, male-dominated, and racist as a matter of policy and practice at the time. She worked and traveled with Mary Godfrey, visiting African-American schools and promoting equality for all. Both African-American and white superiors disapproved of her ideas and actions (Quick, 1986, p. 22).
Baylor Nichols worked with Joyner and Godfrey during his early days in the State Department of Education where he was also as an Assistant Art Supervisor. Nichols recalls,
Sara Joyner was very unprejudiced and helped Mary Godfrey out as much as possible … (Sara) was a forerunner because she felt education was not doing enough for the blacks. She was ahead of her time in being able to work with and for the blacks. She helped get the black section of the VEA started, and she and Mary made it a viable, working organization” (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986, p. 15).
Advancing Art Education in Virginia
From her years as an art teacher and art supervisor in Norfolk’s public schools, Joyner understood how educational bureaucracies work and she put her knowledge to good use. As Virginia’s first art supervisor, she was able to initiate new policies and practices where none had previously existed and to hire key personnel who could and would change the character of art education in Virginia (Quick, 1986, p. 15-16). She understood the tremendous advantages of creating a groundswell of popular support among teachers, principals, and parents, and she worked through the Virginia Art Alliance, the Virginia Education Association, and other social and educational groups from the bottom up to persuade legislators and the Virginia Department of Education to adopt her proposals. But she also understood the advantages of working from the top down by creating policies that raised the professional requirements of art teachers, forged credible art curricula that clearly articulated the purposes and benefits of art education for students and society, and made fine arts credits a requirement for high school graduation. She made good use of the authority and flexibility afforded her as the first state supervisor to initiate change and authorize new policies to strengthen the profession of art education in Virginia. Soon after becoming state art supervisor, she joined with college personnel in preparing recommendations for the certification in art of classroom and art teachers. This cooperation resulted in revised and improved certification requirements for art personnel. (Joyner, 1950-1951, p. 6).
Minimum credit requirements for fine arts were also incorporated into the accreditation standards for high schools, as well as minimum requirements for art facilities in the structural building standards for schools in Virginia. (Joyner, 1950-1951, p. 8-11). All of these served to elevate the professionalism of art teachers, promote the credibility of art education as a course of study, and solidify the position of art education beside other academic subjects in Virginia’s public schools. During her tenure as state art supervisor, the number of art personnel in Virginia public schools more than doubled to 293 positions (Nichols, 1956-57, p. 5).
A major accomplishment of the Art Education Service was the development of the first art education curriculum guide by the Department of Education. During the summer of 1947, Joyner and Godfrey met with general educators and art educators in two workshops held at Virginia State College and the Richmond Professional Institute (which became Virginia Commonwealth University in 1968). The participants deliberated over material that would eventually be compiled into an art handbook titled Art and the Child4 that was meant to complement the Virginia Course of Study: The 1934 Tentative Course of Study for the Core Curriculum for Virginia Elementary Schools (Commonwealth, 1948). Joyner and Godfrey went on to produce an additional curriculum guide for secondary schools in 1955. Its purpose and objectives were similar to those outlined in the elementary guide, but extended to secondary art education.
Merle Davis (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986), an Assistant Supervisor of Education, sums up Art and the Child: “Its philosophy was beautifully expressed and written, and it was so sound” (p. 17). Nichols (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986) believed that “what Sara (Joyner) wrote in the early guide on (her) philosophy (of art education) was superior to anything written (by others) in later years” (p. 17). In the Introduction to Art and the Child, Joyner (1948) wrote,
The ideal in art education for our American schools is that our students shall go out with the idea of art as a basic approach to life—an approach which will be individual and creative but also cooperative; independent and self-reliant, but also organized and disciplined. I think the way ahead for the arts lies in a broader conception on the part of art and general educators on this idea, and its great implications for the development of an ordered, stable and cultured society
Joyner (1948) continued,
The fundamental function of education is the development of the individual to this highest capacity in order to enhance his own personal worth and also increase his contribution to society. Art education is an integral and significant part of this process (p. 29). … Understanding the significance of art in child development, it should be among the important goals of our school program to reach all children through creative art expression, art appreciation, and integration of art with all school experience (p. 40).
Joyner (1953-54) believed “the major purpose of the Art Education Services is to assist administrators and teachers in developing the quality of leadership which will afford all children opportunities for art educative experiences” (p. 1). She developed inservice training to provide that art experience necessary for teaching art activities in the classroom. The art experience was offered in the form of discussion, interpretation of the creative process through written and visual material, college extension courses and art workshops.
The Founding of the National Art Education Association
When Sara Joyner became Virginia’s first art supervisor in 1945, the National Art Education Association (NAEA) did not yet exist. At that time, there were four regional art sections within the National Education Association (NEA). Virginia was part of the Southeastern Arts Association. In 1946-47, Joyner served as the vice president and program chairperson of the Southeastern Arts Association. The idea of a national art education organization had been fomenting for some time.
In February, 1947, Joyner, along with representatives from each of the four regional art sections of the National Education Association (NEA), met in Atlantic City, to discuss and plan reorganization. The proposal to reorganize as a separate professional art education organization was presented to members at the NEA meeting held in Cincinnati, in July, 1947, and “Articles of Confederation” were proposed and drafted. The four regional organizations quickly ratified the Articles and NAEA became a reality. Sara Joyner became NAEA’s first vice-president from 1947 to 1951, serving with Edwin Ziegfeld, NAEA’s first president. She played a prominent role in NAEA’s founding (DeFrancesco, 1949, p. 13, 25, 119, 122). The skills and savvy she developed as a state art supervisor were undoubtedly of great use to the fledgling organization.
Edwin Ziegfeld (1948) wrote in the first issue of Art Education, The Journal of the NAEA,
… For the first time in art education a national group supported by strong regional organizations is an actuality. Probably few other events in the development of our field are as significant. For the first time art education can function as a strong national body … In matters of policy, in dealings with other areas of education, we have now the strength and maturity to take our place along with the other school subjects (p. 1)
In the late 1940s and 1950s the time was ripening for the desegregation battles of the 1960s. In 1957, after 12 years of devoted service, Joyner left the Virginia Department of Education. Helen Rose (personal communication, cited in Quick, 1986) said of Joyner’s decision to leave, “She was thinking things that nobody else had thought of. That was probably why she got upset about things not moving faster” (p. 22). Baylor Nichols (personal communication in Quick, 1986), who succeeded Joyner as Virginia Art Supervisor, also believed her decision to leave was the result of being ahead of her time in her ideals.
Within months, Mary Godfrey also left to join Viktor Lowenfeld in the Art Education Department at the Pennsylvania State University (Quick, 1986). (Godfrey had taught in Norfolk and undoubtedly knew Lowenfeld when he taught nearby at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia). She later earned her doctorate in art education (Nichols, 1979, p. 10). She was the first full-time African-American faculty member at Penn State where she taught for 22 years until she retired in 1979.
Joyner joined Lamar Dodd in forming an art education department at the University of Georgia. She later left the University of Georgia to teach at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge).
In 1963, near the end of her life, Joyner received her Doctor of Education degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation advisor and committee chair was Edwin Ziegfeld with whom she had served as the first Vice-President of NAEA. Her dissertation, Creativity in Education: A View of Its Importance and Nurture, expresses her philosophy,
directed toward greater consistence of creative action in education generally and art education specifically … (and clarifies) the idea of creativity, in all its multifaceted aspects, for all who teach” (Joyner, 1963, abstract).
Returning to Rury’s (2014) observation cited at the beginning of this article that we can better appreciate our own time by examining the challenges from earlier periods,
how can the career of Sara Joyner serve to guide us today? Joyner provides an inspiring role model of what can be accomplished through a career endowed with prescient ideals coupled with dedicated determination. Her goals were lofty, particularly in the face of intractable social inequities and racism, but she was able to combine her charismatic personality and appetite for challenges with a multifaceted agenda for art education. As varied and wide-ranging as her accomplishments were, they all stem from two fundamental ideals: she believed in creativity as a way of life, and she believed that all children deserved an excellent art education. She was able to rally support and build consensus among all manner of groups, including teachers, administrators, colleagues, parents, politicians, and organizations. She also used her executive power as art supervisor whenever she could to raise professional standards (and expectations) for art education in Virginia. She was always a ready and articulate advocate for the ideals of art education.
Sara Joyner was an art educator ahead of her time. She was a dynamic personality known for her intellect and charisma. For all her ability to charm, she often had to work in indirect and subtle ways to carry out her goals in an era when racism and segregation were the pervasive rule. Perhaps her most seminal accomplishments were creating a position for an African-American assistant supervisor, and working behind the scenes to better art education for minority students.
Her dissertation on Creativity in Education reads as a valedictory to her career and her untiring devotion to creativity both in making art, teaching art and promoting art education. It ends with an invocation, “In its hour of need, the world calls out for men and women of such creative stature, endowed with aesthetic, moral and spiritual vision” (Joyner, 1963, p. 288). Surely, this epitomizes Sara Joyner.
Commonwealth of Virginia. (1948). Art and the child: A handbook for elementary schools, State Board of Education, Richmond, VA.
DeFrancesco, I. L. (1949). Art education organizes: The 1949 (NAEA) yearbook. Kutztown PA: Kutztown Publishing.
Joyner, S. (1945a). “Virginia Art Alliance (AAE) Report. Virginia Art Alliance. Richmond, VA.
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Nichols, B. (1979). “Forward Through 50 Years.” Emphasis: The Journal of the Virginia Art Education Association, Vol. 1, #1, (May)
Nichols, B. (1956). “Superintendent’s annual report.” Art Education Service, State Department of Education. Richmond, VA.
Quick, P. (1986). Sara Joyner: The first Virginia state art supervisor. Unpublished Masters Thesis. Virginia Commonwealth University.
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Spring, J. (2005, 6th ed.). The American school. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Ziegfeld, E. (1948). “Our progress—Our job.” Art Education: The Journal of the National Art Education Association. Vol 1, # 1, (Jan-Feb).
1 John Dewey was a Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and Teachers College, Columbia from 1904 to 1930. Although he had left by the time Joyner arrived at Teachers College, his influence was still pervasive.
2In 1945, the United States had already been engaged in WWII for four years. Although men continued to occupy most positions in government, including the Virginia Department of Education, women found new opportunities to “step up” and exercise their strengths and initiatives in many areas, including education.
3 One of the authors, XXXXXXXX, served for 3½ years as Art Supervisor for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the position first held by Sara Joyner from 1945 to 1957. She had direct access to Virginia Department of Education documents authored by or related to Sara Joyner. She was also able to interview colleagues and friends who knew Joyner personally.
4 Not to be confused with Marion Richardson’s 1948 book of the same title.