The Because Project: Katharine Montstream
"I became an artist because of my elementary school art teacher."BY KATHARINE MONTSTREAM
Elementary school in the '60s was hard for me. I was painfully shy, lacked confidence and dressed like a ragtag tomboy. My mom even made me wear a top with "My name is Katharine" hand-embroidered across the front so teachers wouldn't call me "Kathy" — she hated that nickname. To make matters worse, I was terrible at kickball and was among the last ones picked for every team.
As a kid, I mostly wanted to be running through backyards, catching frogs at Beaver Brook and making mud pies with my neighborhood friends. The only thing I loved more than playing outside was painting and drawing. And that was because of Ms. Pescatello, my elementary school art instructor and hero.
Ms. Pescatello was the coolest. She was young and had flipped-up blonde hair with long bangs. She wore the latest platform shoes and drove the most amazing Volkswagen Beetle. She was a free-spirited, bell-bottom-wearing hippie artist, and I would listen and hang on her every word.
While I found algebra, chemistry and classes with long book assignments difficult, I loved my art classes. They were a place of solace and calm. In a world where kids could be mean and exclusive, everyone was respected in Ms. Pescatello's art room. She would assign a project, and I would start in with gusto. When other students struggled, they would get up and slowly walk by to see what I was working on. It was the only time I felt cool in school.
Ms. Pescatello worked hard. In the summertime, she offered art classes from her home. I was lucky; my parents saw that I had some natural ability for painting, and signed me up for every one of them.
In one class, we focused on contour drawing. With a random cereal box in front of us, we would take a marker and draw it. The rule was, you couldn't look down, and there had to be a small dot of marker every inch or so, proving you didn't just run the marker without studying the cereal box in a slow, methodical way. There was no guessing the way Tony the Tiger's whiskers were shaped. You had to look hard and draw.
I sometimes think art saved me. Ms. Pescatello's lessons gave me hope and purpose, in and outside of school. I kept taking art classes and, soon after college, I was showing and selling paintings. I never thought I would become an artist and make a living, but it happened. For this, I am so grateful to my parents for their support and, of course, to my favorite art teacher.