Sunday, May 9, 2010

Retirement!?!?


This week colleagues, friends, and family will help Dr. Gaither celebrate her amazing career as an art educator before retiring to life as a full-time artist. Dr. Gaither has been teaching students in Baltimore County and Howard County in Maryland as well as at the Maryland Institute College of Art for 44 years, sharing her unique talents and energy with everyone she came into contact with. Throughout the week people will gather to pay tribute to her career and say thank you for her seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm which envelopes everyone around her.

Her retirement is not being phrased as a retirement from teaching so much as a retirement to art-making. This is a key point that she and I have had discussions about for the past few months. One evening while discussing different approaches to learning and teaching, I made the observation that many people, especially those in the fine arts, view themselves as something within a larger context. Specifically, I noted that many people in her field either view themselves as artists who also teach or teachers who are also artists with one title always taking precedence over another. I then went on to ask where she felt she fell within that spectrum. I have long felt that she is one of the very few people who is truly both of those viewpoints simultaneously. When she is making her art, she can't help but use it to teach, whether that is through public quilting sessions inviting those who have never picked up a needle and thread to try or through the content she places on her quilts. When she is teaching, she is speaking not only as someone who has studied art and knows the research behind what she is teaching, but as someone who has walked the walk and is now talking the talk. This conversation has been revisited several times since I initially brought it up. I think Dr. Gaither is still mulling this one over, but has started to say that she agrees with my assessment that she is both.

As I am writing this post, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps this dual role has played a greater role in why she has chosen quilting as her primary medium. The quilts allow her to actively indulge both sides of this equation. She is able to teach others how to quilt, educate them on topics they may have never learned about, tell stories and invite people to learn more and share their knowledge with others through her quilts and the workshops and events she leads. She is able to engage in artmaking by creating her quilts and encouraging others to study her work and the work of other fiber artists as well as artists whose work reminds them of hers. Quilting allows for a communal experience where people of all experience levels are able to come together and work on one piece while teaching each other through their efforts and backgrounds whether the teaching is about the artwork itself, the stories behind the artwork, or something completely different that generates storytelling and teaching opportunities.

While Dr. Gaither is retiring from teaching at MICA full time, this is most definitely not the end of her teaching. She already has several workshops and speaking engagements in the works, articles to write, and has even started alluding to using her "emeritus" status at MICA in the very near future. She will also have plenty of opportunities for teaching through active artmaking with her upcoming projects. Dr. Gaither is the textbook definition of a multi-tasker with at least 50 quilts in progress. She is currently working on a fantastic project tentatively entitled My Memory is Only as Good as Yours. For this project she will be asking members of her multiple communities to contribute quilted artworks depicting their relationship to her that will hang alongside her quilts. I will post more information about this project and how people can get involved in the coming weeks. An invitation to participate is currently being developed and will be shared soon.

Congratulations Dr. Gaither on your retirement. Actually, given what I have just written about the word "retirement" sounds entirely out of place. Let me try again.

Congratulations Dr. Gaither on your transition. May you enjoy this new phase in your career. We can't wait to see what happens next!

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