Professional Artist recently went in search of mentors who have impacted the art careers of our readers during our inaugural Mentor of the Year Search. We loved reading the stories of your mentors pushing you, inspiring you and helping you grow.
Out of about 200 entries, we selected Pat Witt as the 2014 Mentor of the Year, along with Jim Garrison and Philip Barlow as honorable mentions. Read their stories below. This will also appear in our February/March 2015 print issue.
Click here to read entries from the top 16 finalists on our Facebook page. Thanks to all who entered!
MENTOR OF THE YEAR: Pat Witt
Nominated by: William Ternay
I met Pat Witt, my longtime mentor, in 1963, when I was 17, and she was 28. She was the guest speaker at a local art center in Southern New Jersey and was known locally as “The Marsh Painter.” Her passion and enthusiasm for painting and leading a life of creativity inspired the naive young artist I was then. … After four years in the military, I sought out Pat, asking her to help me put together a portfolio for art school. In 1962, when I was a junior at the Philadelphia College of Art, Pat opened The Barn Studio of Art, in Millville, N.J. Her mission was to introduce children to the joys of creativity in a non-competitive environment and to study nature with direct observation. She has taught generations of students, many who went on to teach or become professional artists. Pat is now 86 years old. She was recently declared artist laureate of the city of Millville. She, her school and her paintings have been the subject of many documentaries over her long career, most recently The Art Spirit, on NJ Public Television.
Pat still teaches about 100 children a week. She continues to maintain an active career as a painter, creating from memory lush, loose and expressive paintings of her beloved Maurice River wetlands, in spite of having macular degeneration. She has continued to be my dear friend and mentor during my career as a courtroom artist for television, illustrator, painter and instructor at the Barn Studio. Thousands of “Barnies” like me have the pleasure of claiming Pat Witt as their mentor.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jim Garrison
Nominated by: Mary Burkhardt
Jim Garrison, who is currently retired from Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona, taught drawing, life drawing, painting and studio art at a time when a teacher who taught the fundamentals of representational drawing was hard to find. I remember him coming around to my easel and explaining what a core shadow was and how dark they had to be to make forms believable.
I had Garrison as a professor for several years when he was just out of his MFA program 40 years ago. Even though I’ve had many teachers since then, he’s the one that I count as the most influential and the most positive. He had a young family then and always wore a pair of pants that his 3-year-old son had decorated for him with fabric crayons. He valued art at any age and had total self-confidence. I wouldn’t have worn those pants for any amount of money!
However amusing his pants might have been, Garrison held us college students to a high standard and he was feisty — not someone to be trifled with. (In fact he could be a little terrifying, not unlike your dad, at times.) He had a reputation as a very tough professor. He expected you to work, and when you left his classes at the end of your time with him, you had a well-rounded education. You not only knew how to draw and paint, you also had learned about paper and materials as well as the artists who went before you.
He also had little sayings that I still recall to this day when I’m struggling to finish something, such as “At times nobody likes painting; but everybody likes having painted, so just take two aspirin and do it!”
HONORABLE MENTION: Philip Barlow
Nominated by: Elizabeth Barlow
I’ve had amazing teachers and mentors, but none more inspiring than my 81-year-old father, artist Philip Barlow. In his 80s, he shows up at the easel every day with an open mind and heart. As I write this, he is hard at work on an upcoming exhibition at one of the three galleries that represent him. Not bad for an octogenarian! Even though he paints exquisitely in watercolor, acrylic and oil, he refuses to be labeled and still strives to push his art to another level. Art has literally been his life — he supported our family with a graphic design business, but still painted and exhibited his work nationally. What better example could I have that art is a daily practice and needs to be nurtured? His professionalism with galleries and collectors taught me how to respect my own talent and hard work and how to develop meaningful relationships in my own art career. He has opened doors for me in the art world, but has always made it clear that I need to earn the respect of collectors and gallerists by painting as truthfully and beautifully as I can. I will spend the rest of my days striving to achieve the level of his talent, dedication, curiosity, and generosity of spirit and deed.