Friday, September 6, 2013
I hope you'll spend 10 minutes to take a look at this video of an acceptance speech for a teacher of the year honor presented to Ben Owens. He is a teacher in Cherokee County in Western North Carolina. Cherokee County is just across the state line from the rural north Georgia county where I grew up. I and my fellow students would have been pretty much the same as the students he's now teaching--only we were passing through our small school system forty years ago. Fortunately, my fellow students and I also had a few passionate and inspired teachers like Ben who pointed the way forward to the young people of a remote mountain county that didn't have many employment opportunities at the time (still doesn't have many, in fact). I'm thrilled to learn that Ben has been chosen for this honor. I've known him since he was a very young child because his father, Bob Owens, was my first art teacher.
My first encounter with an art class was when I was in college. Yes... in that rural mountain area there were no art teachers in the public schools forty years ago. But from elementary through high school I was always encouraged by various teachers to draw. Because of that, it seems I got it in my head that being an artist was what I wanted to be in life. When the opportunity to study art was available as I got to college I was so excited. Little did I know what a gifted and inspiring teacher I had found.
To say that Bob became a mentor for me understates how important he was in my life. He was the sole art teacher at the college and I believe I took all of the classes he offered. He listened when I talked about my desire to "do art for a living." With his advice I transferred to another school, one that had art degrees since the college where he worked didn't have degree programs in art.
I completed a degree in art education at my new school in the spring of 1969 and was hired to teach art in a high school in the fall of the same year. I'd stayed in touch with Bob through my final two years at the university and when I began teaching I invited him to my class to talk to my students. He not only came to talk but he also brought his potter's wheel, threw pots and allowed students to give it a try. He did that each year I was teaching in the high school--his visits were always eagerly anticipated.
In the meantime, Bob was working hard at his college to initiate a department of fine arts so that students like me, who wanted to major in art, wouldn't have to transfer to another school to do so. He achieved that in 1971. In 1972 I was hired to become a third faculty member in the new department, with primary responsibilities of teaching art education classes to both art ed. majors and for elementary education students. He also wanted me to teach fiber art classes and so began my journey of learning about surface design and weaving, one that has been a life-long joy.
I worked with Bob Owens at North Georgia College until his retirement in 1997. He was in his mid 60s when he retired and he continued to teach for a few more years at a couple of other small colleges in north Georgia. He also worked in his studio creating exceptional works in clay, both functional pottery and sculptural forms.
All through the years, in addition to his teaching and his studio work, Bob was very actively involved in his family, community, church, and local school system. He worked for decades with regional arts and crafts organizations and received many honors for his tireless activities in the arts. Bob Owens inspired and encouraged countless students for years. It was a great loss to his family and the community of teachers, artists and craftspeople to whom he was so important when he died suddenly in 2004.
There is a endowment in Bob Owens' honor that was established before his death at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, Georgia. It has been growing slowly but surely, and the hope is that it will ensure the continuation of ceramics and sculpture classes in the visual art program at the school.
I still miss Bob Owens. My life's path would have been very different without his early guidance. The path he pointed me to has been challenging and so very rewarding. Thank you, Bob. And thank you, Ben Owens, for continuing your father's good work. I wish you many more years of teaching.
Posted by Tommye McClure Scanlin at 12:20 PM