Norris School art teacher ends 33-year career

SOUTHAMPTON – When Leslie di Curcio Marra arrived at William E. Norris School 33 years ago, the only sign that elementary school had ever had an art program was a box of dried paint.

“They hadn’t had an art program for eight years,” said di Curcio Marra. The hardened paints were “all there was… and I was able to create the artistic program”.

Di Curcio Marra quickly got to work writing a program, ordering supplies and generally building the program from scratch. For eight years, the longtime teacher didn’t have a dedicated art class and instead carried supplies from room to room between two school buildings. After the school was renovated in the 1990s, Di Curcio Marra also designed the space for his new classroom.

More than three decades after starting with the only can of dried paint, di Curcio Marra began his retirement on Tuesday. As the school fired students for the last time this school year, di Curcio Marra stood outside to say goodbye to the departing students.

Di Curcio Marra embarked on his career as an art teacher to share her love of creation with other people, she said, and one of the most meaningful aspects of the job was helping students to discover their own talents and learn to appreciate art.

“It’s very gratifying to give a child an experience and to see them so thrilled and delighted with their accomplishment,” said di Curcio Marra. “I’ve seen kids say, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done,’ ‘I love it’ or ‘I didn’t know I could draw like this. ”

Not all students will develop a love for artistic creation, said di Curcio Marra, and that’s okay – but she hopes that through art classes, even students who don’t want to create their own art will be able to learn to appreciate the works of art they come across for its value and the effort that has gone into its creation.

“I’m not trying to make everyone an artist,” said di Curcio Marra. “It’s more like people become advocates of art, because they understand and have done something similar.”

That’s not to say that there was no way to involve even students who weren’t so naturally drawn to the topic – one solution, for example, was to bring in the school therapy dog, Seamus, for a drawing session from nature.

“The kids loved it, because of course they love Seamus,” said di Curcio Marra, “and they were very happy to see him.”

Di Curcio Marra, meanwhile, took the opportunity to teach her students how to research basic shapes and how to use lines to capture the texture of fur.

“I can make it really fun and original, and get all the kids involved – because maybe some kids would come up and say, ‘I’m not that good a cartoonist,'” she added, “but when Seamus came in, they wanted to draw it.

When planning such lessons, said di Curcio Marra, she asks herself, “How can I make the artistic experience something that is accessible to all children, regardless of their level of development or even their interest? ? ”

This creative thinking for designing engaging classes became all the more relevant when the pandemic closed schools in March 2020. With art classes being held remotely, di Curcio Marra had to not only keep students’ attention on virtual lessons, but also create projects that students could complete using only materials they already had around their homes, which usually did not include traditional art supplies such as paint or clay.

For a distance project, di Curcio Marra sent students to their classes to collect natural objects to make a sculpture. In other cases, she has asked them to find objects of different colors at home to make a color wheel or to create a still life to draw using stuffed animals.

Over the years, di Curcio Marra developed relationships with local artists, such as woodcarver Elton Braithwaite and mosaic artist Cynthia Fisher, who would serve as artists in residence and, over time, would teach students their craft. . Braithwaite has held this position for over 20 years.

Di Curcio Marra has also made efforts to extend his teaching to the community at large, she said. With optional art classes known to be among the first types of classes to be cut when school budgets are tight, di Curcio Marra wanted to show the school administration, school committee and parents that art lessons were not essential.

“I wanted people to understand that this is a valuable learning mode,” she said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at [email protected]

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