Category Archives: Teachers

Teachers and Art

April 18th, 2014

by Elam Stoltzfus

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

 

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.””

John Steinbeck – American Author

 

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

 

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein – Theoretical Physicist

 

 

My parents didn’t necessarily encourage me in the art world, but they didn’t discourage me. The first step that was really important for me in the arts was my first-grade teacher, Mr. Jere Brady. I still vividly remember sitting in a small wooden desk watching him take a blank piece of paper and pencil and sketch the schoolhouse building. I thought, “Man, how cool is that?! He made something out of nothing!” I wanted to be able to do that, one day I wanted to be able to fill space. At that point I said I want to be an artist and that really never left me since first grade. I knew one day I was going to be an artist. During that year Mr. Brady taught us primary colors, how to use crayons, how to paint, and how to do pencil sketching. He was my only art teacher for three years; first, second, and third grade. Mr. Brady was a mentor at a very early age.

Just as an aside, I still consider Jere a mentor, Jere and his family live in Morgantown, Pennsylvania where he has a art gallery, involved in the community and I still keep in touch with him—we e-mail back and forth at least three or four times a year, share Christmas cards, and EVERY time I finish a new film he gets one of the first copies.

Meeting with Jere Brady in Morgantown, PA
First Grade Art Teacher – Jere Brady

There are several simple comments of advice that I have about creating art and being an artist:

One thing is that practice makes perfect. You have to do it over and over again. It’s like learning to play music, how do you get good at music? You practice and practice. You sing it, you play it over and over and over and over again. Same thing with photography and film-making. How do you take good pictures? You take lots of them and then you do it over and over again. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in as an artist. There is not necessarily any right or wrong way of doing things. Photography, film-making, music are all interpretations of art. And so that connects into your own emotions. What are you feeling? What are you seeing? What are you trying to put together? What is the story you are trying to tell? These are your experiences and you are trying to put your emotions, your feelings, your insight, your understanding into this film and wrapping it, tying it into a story and putting it out there for the general public to experience. You hope in the end that it is something that this piece of art has been helpful to someone. It really starts from what you feel inside you. My advice is just do it! Like the Nike slogan, “Just do it”.  If you have a formal art education or if you are able to work under a mentor all that is great. Some people give you rules and laws and say do it this way, well that is great to work in that function, or in that structure for awhile, but eventually don’t be afraid to explore and break some of the rules. There really are no rules in art. But if some people want to call them rules or this is the only way to do it, then do it for a little bit, but eventually explore. You know, it is like the little kid with the coloring book: they are told to only draw inside the lines…no, no, no, no, no! Don’t be afraid to go outside the lines!

 

Elam and Clyde with Broward County art students in Big Cypress Swamp
Elam and Clyde Butcher with a group of Broward County students in Big Cypress National Preserve.

 

Elam with a kid teaching him camera skills
Putting the film camera in the hands of a young boy along the Apalachicola River while stopping at a local house boat.

There is always somebody that you can mentor, somebody that you can influence. And art can do that. So, when you have opportunities to point somebody in a direction or hold their hand for awhile, or give them an experience in the arts, or an opportunity in a career, be bold and invest in a student. These all become legacy moments because you take a little bit of your time to make a change in somebody else’s life. Or give them an opportunity that they never thought they would have. That is what happened to me. When there are opportunities to give back, I want to invest in students and will do this.

Author with a group of FSU students at Tall Timbers. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.
Author with a group of FSU students at Tall Timbers. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.
The author teaching a group of students how to film outdoors. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.
The author teaching a group of students about outdoor filming techniques. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.

Several weeks ago – April 12, 2014, my son Nic and I held an outdoor video workshop in partnership with the Florida State University College of Communication & Information at Tall Timbers Research Station.  We had 8 students from FSU attend along with 3 employees from Tall Timbers.  Most of the students had not experienced film-making outdoors.  We spend most of the two hours talking about storytelling. What are the pieces of the puzzle to tell an engaging story?  It begins with a plan, a concept of the objectives of the story, moves on to filming a series of interviews, collecting natural sound and footage of the environment, scoring music, preliminary editing, post-editing—all these steps until a final polished nature documentary is created. Most folks have not thought about all the elements of images, sounds, text, and information that need to be brought together to make an engaging media documentary story.

I’m grateful for the many hours that mentors have invested into my life and allowed me to succeed in my career as a film producer. I hope to share my experiences with others, to share with today’s young minds and enable them to succeed in their future careers.

Brad Henry
Brad Henry

 

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.

Brad Henry – Former Governor of Oklahoma

 

FSU Spring 2013 Commencement Address

Shaking Hands with President Barron By Elam Stoltzfus

Live an active life among people who are doing worthwhile things, keep eyes and ears and mind and heart open to absorb truth, and then tell of the things you know, as if you know them. The world will listen, for the world loves nothing so much as real life.   ― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

If you would have told me thirty years ago that I would have the opportunity to present a commencement speech for the Florida State University 2013 graduating class on a Saturday morning, I would have called you delusional. But, last year, on May 4th, 2013 I spoke to graduating students at one of FSU’s graduations in the Leon County Civic Center. This definitely was an once in a lifetime experience. Here is the speech I presented:

Good morning and congratulations to all of you! When you walk out of this building today, you will be a proud graduate of the great Florida State University.

You may be wondering what in the world a middle-aged guy with a funny last name can say this morning that is interesting or relevant. On the other hand, I am looking out at you —remembering— you’re young and ready to take on the whole world.

You took a step towards a better life by pursuing your college degree and I salute your accomplishment.

Never underestimate the power of one small step in a forward direction. Let me tell you a bit about the journey that brought me to FSU.

At the age of 30, I became a student here — Married and poor with a low paying job, a wife, and a son on the way. There were no Bright Futures Scholarships to help pay my way. You see, I was born Amish and the Amish Mafia was not interested in paying way to attend FSU. As a side note, Amish Mafia makes for great TV—fantasy TV, that is, there is no such thing as Amish Mafia.

In an Amish home in Pennsylvania, learning English only after learning German, one of 9 kids—our life was without electricity, can you imagine? No cars, no TV, no pictures or films of any kind; but we did have National Geographic magazines. It was a life of many rules and working dawn ’til dusk on our family farm.

At the age of 6, I was fortunate enough to enter a small public school— a bit unusual for an Amish kid. This was the first small, but vital step. I was introduced to art—color, Disney movies, and the Beatles. My teacher, and inspiration, Mr. Jere Brady, didn’t seem to mind that I smelled like cows. He taught me about primary colors and basic art designs.

After the completion of eighth grade and part of the ninth, my formal education was over. There was no negotiating—this was the rule— in my home and in my church. At the age of 15 I was working 10 hour days—long, tiring, tedious days—working on a potato and dairy farm. Somewhere in the back of my dreams, there were still memories of creating art — and a sense that there was this big grand world out there just beyond my reach. And so, I left the Amish community. I bought a car, bought a camera, and joined a traveling band; All big taboos in my former world. This was an even bigger step….

Along the way, I fell in love with a a sweet southern girl with a pretty accent, and ended up marrying her and moving to Florida, the place she called home. My wife was a constant source of encouragement as I considered the daunting task of going to college—years after my education was declared ‘finished’ by the Amish church.

Another important small step was when I enrolled at Chipola College in Marianna. There I learned to write english papers and understand Algebra. Through Humanities classes, I discovered the glorious art of Peter Paul Rubins and Picasso and the soul-stirring Eine Kleine Nachtmusik of Mozart.

Chipola was a beginning, but I had a dream of doing something that no one in my family had ever done –– graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. A diploma signed by the governor. I wanted to go to FSU—home of the the Seminoles. This was a BIG step! —and was probably one of the hardest steps of my life. I can vividly remember walking down the brick sidewalk of the Westcott building. Heart pounding, lump in my throat, this nervous ex-Amish man took this big step—and it changed my life. I didn’t know a soul and felt like I didn’t know a thing. But I wanted to learn about communication, about media and film. It was here, at FSU, that I learned how to produce media material, how to create compositions, and how to craft stories that add color to life, stories about nature, stories about people, stories that educate, inform and entertain.

I have worked in the communication world and media industry for almost three decades. The small and big steps necessary to get an education were the tools that helped me become an independent documentary filmmaker.

Last year was one of the highlights of my career—I was one of four individuals who embarked on a 1000 mile in 100 days expedition. From the southern tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia we hiked, kayaked, and rode horses throughout the vast state of Florida to create a documentary for PBS-TV. Plenty of small steps to trek across the vast state of Florida, I guess for some people this would be a huge step. The many small steps in my education and career prepared me to tell the stories about conservation issues, wildlife observations, and gave me the opportunity to interview many of the great conservation leaders across Florida.

By creating an in-depth collection of stories, the projects that I produced and worked on reached millions across the state and our country. These media stories are windows of education that can lead others to take steps in creating a better future.

The small steps that changed my life so many years ago lives on in the lives of my two children. My small steps toward getting an education allowed them to continue on to high school and college, an opportunity denied to me.

My son Nic graduated from FSU last spring, and is now teaching English in Japan. He studied Japanese here, and worked with international students to earn a TEFL certificate. My daughter Laura is pursuing a hybrid Bachelor’s to Masters program in Communication here, graduating with her BA a few months ago. Some of you may have had her as a TA for Public Speaking this semester.

My commitment to education provided my children with a future brighter than any I imagined. I would not be here now without the brave steps of those who taught and inspired me, and I hope my journey can teach others the importance of an education and inspire you to reach for your own dreams, even if they seem outside of your grasp.

As you step into a new world of new opportunities, remember, your efforts in taking small steps in a forward direction will continue to open doors and provide new paths for you, as well as those who follow after you. Be courageous. Take risks. Be bold. Take BIG steps. Leave today and go change your world!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqKCEgRNy48

Leon County Civic Center
Leon County Civic Center – 2013
Elam Stoltzfus FSU Commencement Speech 2013
Elam Stoltzfus FSU Commencement Speech 2013
Elam with his daughter, Laura
Elam with his daughter, Laura