Part Two of Coming to Grips with the “A” Word: Mrs. Huggard changes my life forever….

Part Two of Coming to Grips with the “A” Word: Mrs. Huggard changes my life forever….

My high school had a very exotic art teacher by the name of Mrs. Huggard – I can’t remember where she was from but she wasn’t born in the United States and to me, a young Catholic girl from a small city in the midwest, she was exotic.


The year is different but the uniforms are the same.

The year is different but the uniforms are the same.


Under Mrs. Huggard’s tutelage I fared somewhat better than in elementary school.  She taught me that I was better  than I thought I was, and she was the person who first introduced me to the fact that there are far more colors in things than what you think. I’ve told this story to my students many, many times: drawing with colored pencils outside one day I had done what I thought was a fairly decent picture of an old oak tree – brown trunk, green leaves. Mrs. Huggard came over to look, and she said, “LOOK! LOOK at that tree until you see the reds, the purples, the yellows, the blues!” I thought she was crazy. But I did look, and look, and look some more until I DID see the colors.

She also taught me that I wasn’t the only person with talent. And that in order to be really good I had to reach far beyond the gift that I was given and hone it – work at it – suffer during the time I was working, to really be considered “good.”

I did a lot of hard work in her art class during those four years. And we had a lot of fun, too. One of my high school friends recently reminded me (in a comment to the first part of this post) that Mrs. Huggard actually threw an art history book at us!





We painted sets for our musicals and plays, decorated the gym as a roman ruin, and painted a huge rendition of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” that hung over the entrance to the auditorium. It was my favorite class, naturally.

I really didn’t think much about whether or not I was a real “artist” during my high school years. I was too busy being boy crazy, discovering weed, cigarettes and beer, and getting through the trauma caused by the death of my mother during freshman year, and my father’s subsequent remarriage the next.

At the end of my fourth year, though, it was time for senior awards; a big deal to us. I knew I wouldn’t win any of the academic awards — I barely took a book home for four years. But I harbored a secret hope that I would win the art award.

The art award was for “Outstanding Artist,” and was determined by none other than Mrs. Huggard herself. There was stiff competition, especially from one of my good friends. When Mrs. Huggard stood to walk to the podium, I held my breath, and looked at my friend. She was staring straight ahead. I barely heard Mrs. Huggard announce the award. “For Outstanding Technical Ability in Art….”

What????!?!?!?!? She changed the name of the award! Why did she do that?

I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder the question because the next thing I knew she was saying my name. “….goes to Gini Galvin.”

I’d like to say I was thrilled. I was pleased, definitely, but thrilled? Nope. Why had she changed the name of the award? Why?

I was sure it was because she couldn’t quite call me an artist. Not with a capital “A.” She couldn’t ignore my technical ability, no, but everyone knows that technical ability does not an artist make. Even I knew that at the tender age of eighteen.

That change followed me throughout my life. I thought about it in college where I majored in drawing and painting. Thought about it again in 1994 when I quit my full-time job (the first time) to paint, andyet again when I quit my day job for the last time, in 2003.

The best advice I got to counteract the affect that little change had on me was from my sister, Marilyn (the real artist), when I sent her a photo of a painting I had done when I first moved to Seattle. It was a painting done from a magazine cover of a little boy holding a pie. She told me it was good, yes, but it would be much better if I painted something or someone that had personal meaning for me.

She gave me equally good advice in 1994 when I told her I was going to paint full-time. She told me NOT to sit down and try to paint a masterpiece. Instead, get a sketchbook, and use it as a journal. “Just write,” she said, “and you’ll soon begin to draw, and then you’ll begin to generate ideas from what you’ve drawn and written.”

She was right. And it was the key to my “Are You My Mother?” series, which, I believe, included the first paintings I had done that went beyond good technique.

I now consider myself an artist, or Artist. I’ve learned that “artists” are simply people who make art, and making “good” art isn’t worth talking about. I tell my students to paint what they want to paint, and paint it as well as they can. Give it their all. Make it personal. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Now, if I could just ask Mrs. Huggard why she made that change…..?

3 thoughts on “Part Two of Coming to Grips with the “A” Word: Mrs. Huggard changes my life forever….

  1. Maureen


    I see that question has haunted you all these years.

    I met Mrs. Huggard one day out somewhere years after we left SU. She was the same exotic version of herself (she was born in Ireland – remember those beautiful (and exciting) clothes she wore!) and she had remarried (after a divorce) and was living somewhere (as I recall) in Hyde Park (again, as I recall not far from where you lived on Madison Rd.) and seemed to be happy. I think she was still teaching art somewhere (I don’t know how long she stayed at SU after we graduated – for some reason I think not too terribly long) and for some other reason I seem to think it was grade school she was teaching.

    That (teaching those younger than we were) in itself is wonderful I think because of the ability she had to make us “see” what we didn’t, at first. I remember that wonderful ‘kitchen” in the back of the art building where we’d pour our paints out of those plastic jars and set off to swish and swirl them into the juxtapositions of color that existed in nature that she insisted we look for – that she made us aware of – that she forced us to see.

    I think she reached us JUST IN TIME before that possibility of vision left us as we grew into adulthood. Maybe teaching those younger than ourselves allowed her to impress the importance of that wonder of color into their consciousnesses before it began to fade as they grew older and I would not be surprised if we two weren’t the only two that were seriously affected by her influence as a teacher.

    I know the gift she gave me was to look deeply – intently at things and cipher out what the casual glance misses.

    I remember her telling you (and all of us but as I recall the directive was at you) to draw from the subject rather than to draw from a resemblance – I think maybe your sister was echoing that sentiment.

    I think the reason Marsha Huggard insisted on this is that when you attempt to paint the subject (rather than a rendition of a subject) you’re afforded all the might and majesty of nature (rather than nature’s copy.)

    Everything is different in the nature of a thing vs a resemblance (can’t judge a book by its cover!); I think that’s true of the human spirit especially.

    I don’t know if you remember (and I don’t think we ever did it in class) but for some reason I have the impression it was MH who told us (me) to practice copying the paintings of the Masters.

    It seemed odd to me at the time because it seemed to fly in the face of the originality she demanded from us.

    I remember her devotion to all things VanGogh (remember how she said his name?) and I recall copying out his fishing boats on the seashore and being struck by (and given a glimpse into) his genius just by trying to emulate his brushstroke!

    It was one of the first times I was able to recognize genius and appreciate it.

    I know what you mean when you said you cried looking at the brushstroke at the hem of that dress.

    MH would be proud of you Ginnie. Maybe she’s alive today – maybe she isn’t – but looking at that portrait of those young boys I see her in your brushstrokes and colors – I see the genius she saw in you way back then.

    I see the gift she gave us.

    P.S. Let’s tell them why she threw the book at us. We were sitting at those long tables chattering away. She swept in the front door behind us telling us to quiet down. We didn’t. She may have (probably) told us a second time and we didn’t. That’s when she threw the book.

    I don’t blame her.

  2. Maureen

    It just struck me why she changed the name of the award and it’s partly because of the story you told earlier about that “other”bart award in grade school you so coveted.

    MH was all about deciphering, Gini and I don’t think she saw any of her students as better (overall) than another. (Well, maybe not “any.”) She saw excellence in what each of us did best and I think that was part of HER discerning nature.

    She saw INTO our natures.

    I have many regrets in life and one of them is the fact that I wasn’t in school that day to receive one of the art awards she gave out. She gave me a book on oriental rugs along with the award and on the front page she wrote, “To Maureen – For Art.”

    I don’t remember what category I fell into on that awards day but I do remember the book and her words. That’s what’s important to me.


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