Carol Shutt and the Astor Incentive Awards

Carol Shutt and the Astor Incentive Awards

Group News posted in on 23 February 2018| comments
audience: Maine Community Foundation | last updated: 23 February 2018

Carol Shutt has been the K-8 art teacher at Mount Desert Elementary School in Northeast Harbor for the past 27 years. Over the years Shutt successfully applied for several Vincent Astor Incentive Awards from the Maine Community Foundation. In an interview in her classroom this past December, Shutt talked about her life in art and teaching and benefits of the Astor grants and art education. 

How did you end up in Maine?

I was born in California, in a small town outside of Los Angeles. I grew up there and then left for college. I started at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and ended up at Syracuse University, which is what brought me east. I graduated in fine arts. 

When I moved to Maine, I first was a self-employed craft person because after college I had worked for three years in a really nice craft gallery in Philadelphia, the Works Gallery, run by Rick and Ruth Snyderman. When I came to Downeast Maine in the mid-1970s, there were no galleries so I started making quilts, my own designs, many of them using Amish colors. I did that for about 12 years. And then I became a teacher. 

Although my father had been a teacher, I didn’t really think that was going to be my path. I took a temporary position in Steuben and started getting my courses together. After one year at Steuben, I got the job here [at Mount Desert Elementary School]. That was 1991. So this is my 27th year. I retire at the end of this school year.

I think being a K-8 art teacher requires a diverse skill set. Kids surprise you, they do amazing things. The art-making can be the pretext for socializing. This is the class where they can talk while they work. 

Can you say something about the importance of art education?

We’re lucky this school and this island are very supportive. And you see how much [art] enriches lives. It’s such a holistic way of learning. You’re maybe getting ideas for imagery from an experience or feeling, but you also get stuck and have to problem solve.

Learning to think critically and creatively is so important. You might just brainstorm ideas. Or you might say, like I did, consider putting two dissimilar images together because that could be more exciting than just one that you might expect. So I feel like in all the arts you’re putting ideas together in new ways and going “Hah! I just thought of this.” 

Art is a way to reach all students. I do some one-on-one work with students. It’s kind of amazing what you can do through the arts that you can’t do verbally, in other modalities. It’s powerful. Music is powerful. Dance is powerful. 

And it’s also so experiential. It’s amazing how if you just jump in and you’re doing it, it’s so authentic. 

In your 27 years at Mount Desert Elementary, you received 10 Astor Incentive Awards. What did they allow you to do?

It’s an amazing benefit for the staff at this school, at the Northeast Harbor Library and the Mount Desert Island High School. It’s amazing to me because the whole goal is to encourage teachers to do things that are self-enriching, with the premise that they will make you a better teacher. They really aren’t looking for people to apply and go take a methods course or go to a conference on curriculum. We already do that; it’s part of the professional development of the school. 

The first few Astor grants I received in the 1990s allowed me to study with artists I really like. I studied with Rebecca Cuming, a wonderful artist from Southwest Harbor who now lives in Colorado. I also did a weeklong workshop with painter Louise Bourne. I love her work. I drove down to her studio in Sedgwick every day. 

You have also traveled on Astor grants.

My first travel grant took me to Tuscany; there was a weeklong painting workshop there, two wonderful painters teaching it. Lunch was brought out to the fields and you painted outside. At night we’d critique. It was an enriching artistic experience. When the workshop was over, I traveled with my daughter Sarah to Florence and then to France. We visited Aix-en-Provence, where Cézanne painted, and then Arles and van Gogh. I did a lot of sketching in Provence.  

How do think the grants have affected you as an artist and teacher?

I think the grants have made me more of an artist. And they have changed how I work with kids. Being a teacher but being an artist too, I am setting an example. The Astor grants gave me more of an identity: this is who I am, this is the kind of art I like to make.

So I think learning to be an artist and then just deepening what I know and what I do. Most of the grants that I did were art retreats. I went by myself and had a routine of working early in the morning and then going out and walking all day, having experiences and sitting and sketching and then coming back and working. There’s nobody there, nothing to distract you—it’s an amazing way to travel. That kind of experience deepens the way I do things with the kids. 

Your last trip was to Cuba, in 2017. What was it like?

It was fascinating. I came home wanting to go back immediately. The people were so friendly. So much music, so much art. At the very end I discovered that they have an amazing ceramic museum in Havana. I had met a ceramic artist and he had a gallery and he told me about it. There are art schools in every province of Cuba and they’re very hard to get into, but if you do, you are really supported, you get all kinds of resources. 

 What do you plan to do in retirement?

I have an art practice so I look forward to having more time and traveling. My husband, Rocky Mann, is a clay artist so I’ve been preparing a part of our studio and I’ve been working on things that I might like to do in clay. I look forward to exploring. 

Look for more about Carol Shutt in the spring edition of Maine Ties, MaineCF’s newsletter.

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