PUNXSUTAWNEY — There's a saying, "art for art's sake," which would aptly describe Nancy Jones, who retired Friday as an art teacher at Punxsutawney Area High School (PAHS) after 38-and-a-half years of teaching students not just art, but also digital photography.
"Actually this year, it's 111 days that I've taught art, and the reason that is interesting is my classroom number is 111," Jones said, adding that this is the only school district she has taught art in throughout her career.
Jones said she also has taught dance, which she began when she was in high school.
"I taught dance just as Joan Van Dyke has students teach dance at her studio in Punxsutawney," she said. "Those girls who teach for Joan are some of the most disciplined students here.”
When Jones went off to college to study art at IUP in Indiana, she was not going with the idea of being a teacher.
"I really wanted to be an illustrator in the art world," she said, adding that there were other professions that she was also interested in.
"I felt most comfortable at that point with drawing and painting, and there was a whole range of courses I had to take that were required," she said.
"Every time I took a new class with a new media, I was always a little fearful of it because I always wanted to have things look good, and I don't like to make mistakes," Jones said. "We all make mistakes, and thank goodness we do, because that is how we learn the most.”
Jones said areas that she didn't feel comfortable in included courses such as metalwork and woodwork, which were required as part of her education.
"When I ventured into an area I wasn't comfortable with, I would
eventually discover that I did like these unexplored medias, and they were a lot cooler than I thought," she said.
According to Jones, it is good to expand your horizons and work in areas that you never anticipated in your life.
"When you have an opportunity to explore uncharted areas, you never know where it's going to take you," she said.
For example, art helped Jones appreciate jewelry as a means of self-expression.
"I never wore jewelry, rings or anything like that until I took a jewelry class," she said. "It totally changed my view, which became an extension of who I am and who I want people to see me as, which becomes a whole new world.”
Though she has never done anything professionally with jewelry and does not intend to, "the richness that art has brought to my life is something that I've been able to share with many others," she said.
Jones said there are many levels of art — for example, that she now wears jewelry because she appreciates it, which she did not when she was young.
As Jones reflected on her career, she spoke about the generations of art students who have graced her classroom.
"The one thing that many of my students will remember from having been in my class are the portraits that I have done of them over the years at the Art II level," Jones said.
She said she was cleaning out some of the things she had collected over the years the other day when she came across a painting she completed of a former student whose daughter is now in her class.
"So I came into the room, and I put the painting right in front of my face, and the student saw it and said, 'that's my dad.' Indeed it is, and now it belongs to her," Jones said.
Those are the sort of moments that Jones will now miss.
"I love teaching art. This has been as much my home as the physical home that I've lived in," she said.
Jones said it's not easy leaving and not seeing many of her students again.
"When I came in this morning (Friday) and I was walking down the hall, I was thinking, this is my last day, and these faces are the faces that I have been assigned to be a guide to,” Jones said, adding that she had samples of art from over the years, and she is returning them to the rightful owners.
"They also serve as an example of people who did not necessarily want to be an artist, but found a little piece of themselves in art," she said.
"They may become an appreciator instead of a producer, and that's fine, because we need both," Jones said.
She said if one is not on the side of producer or creator of art, then one needs to be an appreciator of it.
Jones showed several pieces of art from over the years, one of which is a drawing by Joe Young Jr., who is now an art teacher at the high school.
"There's a sculpture that I found that was created by someone when they were in high school and is well-known by the student body: Dave London, the principal at PAHS," she said.
"Mr. London is not an artist, but he has shared with me many times how much he loved the class," Jones said.
London created his sculpture of a clay heart in Art I, when he was in ninth grade in the 1970s.
"I didn't save it knowing that he would be my principal someday,” Jones said. “I saved it because it was an excellent example of a texture composition in clay.”
Jones showed a pastel created in Art II by Kelly Skarbeck-Porada, who is well known as an artist throughout the area.
"I can pull out tons of work from over the years. I have four big, thick folders of these works that were created by the art students at PAHS," Jones said.
"All of these students developed who they are as a result of taking art at the high school. It has been a privilege to be a part of that."