Art teacher decides to call it a (heckuva) career
Growing up and advancing through middle and high school, students may be lucky enough to come across one teacher they remember the rest of their lives.
One who inspired and influenced their thinking in such a transcendental way the lessons learned during that period stay with them as they age, allowing many to pass those exhortations on to their own children.
Baker Prairie Middle School Art Teacher Jim Nosen, 63, is one such teacher. Loved and admired by students and faculty alike, he is retiring after 33 years instructing students on the beauty and importance of art, and why it's just as critical to develop the right side of the brain — the hemisphere associated with creativity — as it is to foster skills based in logic.
And it wasn't just Baker Prairie students and staff that recognized how much Nosen has meant to their lives as Canby School District's (CSD) art dignitary — Nosen recently was named OnPoint Community Credit Union's 2017 Educator of the Year. (As recipient of that award he and his wife, Baker Prairie teacher Kim McKie, who also is retiring this year, get their mortgage paid for one year.)
Mike Zagyva, chairman of the CSD Board of Directors, was principal at the Ackerman School when Nosen held his first art class nearly three decades ago. Zagyva said at that time the art program was in disarray and kids were no longer signing up for classes. He wanted to hire someone who would build and sustain that program for years to come and Zagyva was the administrator who approved Nosen's transfer from Knight Elementary to Ackerman.
"Jim had a reputation for being very creative and artsy," Zagyva said. "I gave him free reign when he came over and the art program just exploded. His personality, how he worked with students and parents — he was everything I'd hoped for and so much more."
Memories of 'The Studio'
On a recent Thursday afternoon, just after Baker Prairie students were heading home for the day, Nosen was in his classroom — friends, colleagues and students refer to it as his "studio" — packing up the artwork his students created throughout the years. Paintings and drawings adorned the walls from floor to ceiling, small sculptures made of different materials and other artistic do-hickeys covered just about every inch of available surface space, and even spilled out into and down the hallway.
Nosen doesn't appear boisterous in conversation, but his passion for art and teaching seems palpable when he speaks, and as he reminisced about how students created the many pieces that lined his classroom, he became sentimental, but the gleam in his eye still brightly twinkled.
"I would stack up many of these works against college art students any day," Nosen said. "It's an interesting beast, the middle-school creature. They're kind of stuck in no-man's land between being a little kid and wanting to be an adult, but they have so much imagination and creativity; if you can channel that you'll get some amazing pieces of artwork out of them, as you can see. And once they get that confidence they just run with it."
One of Nosen's Baker Prairie students, Zach Adams, previously nominated him for a Canby Area Recognition of Excellence (C.A.R.E.) Award, given to teachers, counselors, coaches or support staff who have had a significant impact on local youths and the community. In his nomination, Adams succinctly put into words how so many students have said they feel about Nosen and his impact on their lives.
"My first experiences as an incoming 7th grader were difficult. I was in a new school, alone and very sad," Adams wrote. "I had built a wall around myself, separating myself from the people I knew. Mr. Nosen was my art teacher and the first real artist I had ever met. I looked up to him and he soon became my mentor. He had me do things that pushed me as an artist, and I grew more in those two years under him than any other point in life. (sic)
"He has this brilliant philosophy, he believes that everyone is an artist, they just don't know it yet," Adams continued. "This idea says that someone doesn't have to be born talented. All they have to do is believe that they can be. I have to thank Mr. Nosen for saying this because it opened my eyes. When he told us on the first day of class what he thought made people artists, I realized something. I wasn't the only special one, anyone who decided that they are an artist is just that, an artist." (sic)
Kim McKie, Nosen's wife of four-and-a-half years, taught at Baker Prairie Middle School for 15 years before the two became a couple. She expressed admiration for all Nosen accomplished during his academic career, especially the way he relates to kids.
"He's definitely gifted in allowing people the opportunity to grow and experience things they would not," she said. "He offers kids and adults opportunities that many times they would not ever have had."
Three memories that stand out
McKie points to the Art Explorers program Nosen founded at Baker Prairie as a shining example. Students participate in fundraisers throughout the year to generate funds to travel overseas to experience historically significant art works and the different cultures of each country where they reside. Nosen also provides scholarships for students who couldn't afford to make the trip so that kids from all walks of life would be able to have a rich, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Nosen books the trips through a Swedish company headquartered in Boston, Mass., EF Educational Tours, and has taken students to Italy, Germany, France, and many other locations. In fact, before Nosen officially retires this summer he's leading one more Art Explorers excursion to Costa Rica. He said he has many distinct memories from throughout his career and travels with students, but there are three that he'll always hold dear.
The very first trip Nosen and his students took 26 years ago was to Florence, Italy, with the intention of seeing Michaelangelo's David sculpture and the Galleria dell'Accademia. Nosen never saw it in person until then, and he recalled that replicas of "The David" are all over Florence, but when he finally got to see the sculpture in person it took his breath away.
"You can imagine standing in long lines with a group of middle schoolers, waiting get in," he said. "Once we got in and saw it, the kids were ready to move on to see the rest of Florence. There as one student — her name was Katherine — who stayed by me and she was floored by it. I spent two hours there and she was taking pictures and at the end she tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Mr. Nosen, I can see him breathing.' This 7th grader was so caught up with this sculpture, and from that point on I knew the capabilities of middle schoolers to connect with art and what we were doing. She got it."
The second stand-out memory for Nosen comes from a trip to Munich, Germany. Some of the kids went on a sight-seeing excursion to see where the Sounds of Music was filmed while he and the remaining 20-or-so students stayed behind and visited The Plaza at the Glockenspiel. They all brought their sketch books and when they arrived there happened to be a mime in the middle of the plaza, performing once someone placed money in his bucket. No one was approaching the mime, so the students began to sketch the scene and the street performer remained still so they could draw him.
"The cool thing was there were tourists from all over the world, many who didn't speak English, but they could see the drawings the kids were making, which demonstrated the power of art — you could tell by the universal looks on their faces that they liked what they were seeing," he said. "Within an hour there were other kids and young adults sitting with our kids, and they couldn't speak to each other but they were all drawing the same thing. It was an art teacher's dream to see these kids who don't even speak the same language all connecting through art."
The last memory Nosen shared didn't occur overseas; it happened right here in Canby. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, visited Canby two times several years back. The first time he came, Arun talked about his grandfather and had the middle schoolers sitting still and quiet for two hours in the school auditorium's bleachers.
Nosen decided to create an art project to present Arun on his return trip — a 9x15-foot photo collage of Mahatma Gandhi pieced together in sections with each sector containing dozens of individual photos. From a distance it looks like a single piece but upon closer inspection the respective photos that create his eyes, mouth, ears, lips, et al, each become visible.
"He gave each classroom a square and he had him do this paint-by-numbers kind of thing by dark, medium and light, but no one knew exactly what they were making," McKie said. "The pictures were of people the kids considered to be heroes, and the pictures were cut out from magazines. When they put it all together and Arun walked into the gym, and he saw how it made an image of his grandfather, he had tears in his eyes."
Nosen said he remembered hearing a story Arun told about Mahatma putting him in charge at speaking engagements of collecting people's autograph books they wanted him to sign. Arun was supposed to charge each person $5 for an autograph and Gandhi later used the revenue generated to build schools. One time, Arun slipped his own autograph book in with the others.
"I want your autograph, too,'" Nosen recalled Arun saying. "His grandfather told him, 'Sure, but you've got to pay for it, too, and you can't get the money from your parents — you have to earn it.' He was teaching this lesson. Anyway, I met him later at a social lunch where you could get autographs. I waited my turn and when I got to the front of the line, I asked him if he would sign the collage. He walked with me to the gym, put his signature on it and said it was the most impressive piece he ever saw anyone do of his grandfather. Then, I reached over to shake his hand and slipped him a $5 bill and said to use it wherever it helps. He was visibly moved. It was a very powerful moment."
An icon steps down
Stories of Nosen's memories, anecdotes from his students and colleagues, and examples of the community service and events he's lead over the years could fill the pages of a book about his life as Canby School District's resident art guru, and there are many people still in Canby he taught that eagerly share their experiences with him when someone is curious.
But Nosen's story is too grand for a short newspaper article; it's also far from over. After officially retiring and after he and his students return from Costa Rica, Nosen plans to open his own art studio on the farm he and his wife own near Mt. Angel.
"He's never had the time to dedicate to his own art, and I would love to afford him the opportunity to paint," mcKie said
Nosen said he plans to begin selling his own pieces, and that hopefully he and McKie will be set during retirement. Certainly, he, his classroom/art studio and his energy will be missed by all at Baker Prairie Middle School.
"When you have an icon like that stepping down, no one's going to be able to fill his shoes, but somebody will come along and start their own program," Zagyza said. "It won't be the same and it will take a while before they become part of the community, but hopefully that's what will happen. I know that's what Jim wants."