Sunday, May 31, 2009

For All of the Art Teachers Out There

This is a true story.

I was 20 years old and I had been working for Odell Pottery for a couple of years when a funeral home director came in and wanted to buy a cremation urn. Bruce had a contract with a casket company and we always had orders for high end hand thrown urns, so occasionally people from the community would come and see if we had any extras that had not been shipped out. The man came in and Bruce showed him around and showed him the choices that we had in stock. He happened to pick out a beautiful copper red urn that I had made a few weeks earlier. After he paid for the urn he called us to his car to show us something. Bruce and I walked outside and the man pulled out a small plastic bag with about half a pound of human ashes in it. He was giving us an example of the size of a bag of human ashes. The urns that we had been making were completely closed in at the top and the only way to insert the ashes was through a hole about 2 inches wide in the bottom of the urn. After the ashes were inside a plug was screwed in so that the piece would be completely sealed. The man began to show us that the hole was just a little too small for the ashes and bag to fit in together. The ashes would have to be removed from the bag. He handed the bag to Bruce then Bruce handed it to me. I held it for a second trying to register that this had actually been a person at one time then I handed it back to the man. As he was driving off we walked back to the building and I asked Bruce who had died. Whose ashes had we held? His response was, “Jackie Vaughn. She was an art teacher for a long time.”

I could not believe it. She was my art teacher from kindergarten to the fourth grade, my first art teacher. I went to a small private school and art soon became my favorite subject. Mrs. Vaughn was very strict and no one in my class liked her…except for me. I thought she was great and looked forward to her class everyday. She retired when I was in the fourth grade and I remember painting her a picture for a retirement gift and leaving it on her desk before school. Later that morning she came into my class and gave me a big hug and a kiss in front of my class and thanked me for my gift. I was a little embarrassed. I did not keep in touch with her after she left but she contacted me one more time about a year before she died. She had found out that I was making pottery and she wanted to buy one of my vases. While we were talking she told me that when I was in kindergarten I had told her that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up.

Fifteen years have now passed since the man came in to buy the urn. This year at Easter my eighth grade teacher called me and said that he had something to give me. I went to his house and he brought out a large painting of some flowers that had been painted by Mrs. Vaughn. They had been good friends and he told me some stories about her and said that she talked about me often and would have wanted me to have the painting. I now have the painting hanging in my pottery studio.

Mrs. Vaughn made a great impact on my life by passing on her love for art to me. I will forever be grateful. For all of the art teachers out there, teach your kids everything you can, one day you may be buried in something that they made.


  1. Wow! I am impressed...with both your pottery and your ponderings. Keep it up; I'll be reading.

  2. that story!!! Who knew? BTW, I liked Mrs. Vaughn, too, I just wasn't (and still not) much of an artist! Thanks for sharing.