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  • Writer's pictureAmy Spitzer

What I Learned from My Best Teacher

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

At first, I wanted to be an art conservator so a year after graduating from college, I began additional courses in chemistry, art history and studio art at Wellesley College to qualify for a coveted position in an art conservation program. But once my studio classes began, I realized that I wanted to be an artist—a painter.

At Wellesley I discovered that every library book I looked at had been checked out by Richard Yarde, who had taught there the previous year. A friend of mine had taken classes with him and spoke highly of him. The next year I moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts and learned that Richard had a temporary studio nearby in the Springfield Art Museum. I called him, set up a meeting and requested that he accept me as his student and after some resistance, he agreed.

I studied with Richard for six months. My assignment was to paint self-portraits in gouache (opaque watercolor) with red and yellow, white and black. Every other week I would present my creations for Richard’s review. Painting with a restricted color palette helped me to recognize how much could be achieved with limited means and to identify value (the lightness or darkness of a color) more accurately.

We also examined his work and the work of other artists who he valued and who he thought would be instructive to me. He often assigned an artist for me to study until our next meeting. What I remember from our sessions was the care Richard took in looking at the work I brought to him and the intensity of our discussions about art and artists.

Everything Richard taught me was important to my creative development, but essential was his making me feel respected and appreciated as an artist. Richard taught me to trust my instincts and ideas. Over the years, this trust in myself has strengthened, and many times it has helped me to work through circumstances where I felt belittled and unacknowledged. Richard’s respect and admiration taught me to admire myself—an invaluable lesson.

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