This week my theme is Teachers/School/Mentors so my freak of the week will actually be FREAKS of the Week and will feature my parents, who were teachers. They are both gone now. So I will improvise, sharing some fun with a little history in their memory.
John and Primm ffrench were The Art Teachers at the local regional high school, and I was The Art Teachers’ daughter for the first 18 years of life.
My mother started teaching in 1950 at the age of 20 in Virginia, where she grew up. She taught in all black schools and worked hard to keep things comfortable for her students and co-workers. There was a story of her bringing in her own chair so at lunchtime when everyone sat on benches that lined the hallways she could sit down without making everyone else stand-up. She loved her job and kept in touch with some of her first year students her whole life. Every Christmas she made (and we still make) Gingerbread Men from a recipe from someone named Dickie Vass, who was in that school her first year.
My dad began teaching after marrying my mother. They lived in Ireland where my father was raised, and my sisters and I were born. My family moved to Stockbridge MA when my older sister, Felicitas, was ready to start school. Irish schools were not known for their kudos at the time and there was a brand new regional high school looking for two art teachers. This shift began my fathers teaching career. His focus was Ceramics but also taught Creative Wood Shop, Introduction to Art, and Batik. So together they taught multiple generations of Berkshire County residents leaving a long legacy of students who went on to professions in the visual arts.
My parents were my high school art teachers.
At each of their funerals, we were hugged, for literally hours, by people from every walk of life who came to pay homage to their favorite teachers. To this day we continue to be reminded of what a difference they made in so many lives.
They encouraged, believed in, nurtured, and loved their students and kids alike. Primm and John were well-traveled, active artists in many media, and conjured up creative lives balancing adventure and stability.
If my mother could have had lunch with anyone, she might have chosen Paul Newman, or maybe Bill Clinton. She just loved Paul Newman for his acting, charitable giving, and good looks. Bill Clinton and Primm both had childhood homes in the south and worked toward racial equality. She called them both (and other foxy gentlemen) ‘Muums Filly Baba!’. Not sure from what language that phrase originates but it means something like ‘Wowsers That is One Beautiful Piece on Man!”
My father was a bit more of an activist. He would have had a really hard time choosing one person for lunch. The short list of possibilities might have included Nelson Mandela, Mohatma Ghandi, Hugo Chavez, Frida Khalo, Isadora Duncan, Alexander Calder, and Angela Davis. He would have loved to have shared tea in a Moroccan tea room with all of them.
My parents were proponents for racial justice, gender and class equality, and artist recognition. My mother was my father’s boss which I never realized was unusual until I was an adult. They were fair, honest, hard working, and creative. They were happily married for nearly 50 years and lived in the house where we were raised til they died.
My dad is the person who actually gave me the idea to create using shrunk wool sweaters for raw material back in 1987.
I was raised by geniuses. Blessed, for real.
Today, in addition to our regular jobs, my sister, Sofia Hughes and I run The Dolphin Studio, a hand silkscreen printing business that our parents founded in 1971.