August 16, 2010

Thank you Mr. Fricke for helping to mold my development

Long-time Division Avenue High School art teacher Harold Fricke

By Tom Paturzo Baker 1960
I can walk the halls of Division Avenue High School in my mind. The trips from one class to the other, not simply the floor plan, but also the teachers who taught the courses emerge in my memory. Occasionally, we encounter a teacher who literally sculptures our personality. This was case of my art teacher, a gentleman and scholar.

His class was a form of emotional therapy; he influenced my appreciation for the finer things in life. More importantly, he helped me understand myself. It was in his class that I formed a clay sculpture. Life is similar to sculpturing clay, as one peels off the layers to self and strives to declare a finished product.

At times, I would inflict my frustrations on the clay and later destroy my efforts. My art teacher would ask insightfully, “How are you feeling today.” On the day before wrestling matches, he would take away my project and lock it up securely. He would comment: “Tommy, just sit, otherwise, you’re are going to destroy your art project!”

He knew me better than I knew myself. Walking away to help other students, his words still echo in my mind. His understanding and compassion is the hallmark of a great teacher. I can remember him like it was yesterday, in his tailored suit, never a wrinkle, and a shade of Cary Grant in his walk and demeanor.

His class and that human sculpture helped me find the way that semester. The project was that of a muscular man; each deliberate touch peeled away the layers of my own feelings. I painted the sculpture black and posed him in a posture of shear desperation, head and eyes facing down.

Realizing later how people failed to achieve equality around the world, I understood how the clay sculpture not only reflected my struggle to become a person, but also the struggle of humanity.

Mr. Fricke was delighted with my final clay sculpture. I failed to appreciate the results and the artistic abstraction at the time. The prism of maturity and retrospective refection allows me to fully appreciate the essence of the meaning of the sculpture. Mr. Fricke molded my development and character, as I molded the clay. I am still in the process of creating my sculpture; however, today he would have his head up and eyes to the sky.

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