By the 9th grade I had taken every Art class that was offered at La Colina Junior High, except a drawing class that was taught by Mrs. Dragg. One class with her was enough, she actually made me dread going to art class! An evil art teacher sounds like and oxymoron but it was true. By contrast the other art teacher, Ditte Golomb, had made art come alive for me. I had never met anyone like Ditte. She said rather than no art, she would create a class just for me, give me projects that would not only challenge me but would push my boundaries, which she said needed expanding. I also had to wedge clay for her adult ed class occasionally but the trade-off was well worth it. The first day of the class, Ditte brought in some clay whistles she found in Mexico and said, “figure out how they did it”.
It took me a week, getting the angle of the windway just right, the lip edge sharp and clean enough to trap the air, then get the hollow of the bowl big enough to make a wind chamber. The whistles were less than two inches long and resembled a gourd. I figured out how each whistle could make two tones, so each one had it’s own unique two tones and pitch. Each one was decorated with a different embossed pattern and they were kind of irresistible. At first some of my friends wanted them and I gave them away. If I didn’t do any other homework I could make about 25 whistles a night, which was fine because making whistles was all I wanted to do. When kids I didn’t even know wanted them I started to sell them for a quarter. After a while I started to make some money but what really felt good was that soon you could hear my two-toned whistles all over the school. One day, when Ditte was on lunch duty we walked out onto the playground and everyone was whistling! Even kids who didn’t have whistles were whistling. It was like a thousand birds had landed at La Colina Jr. High and were whooping it up. Ditte was as delighted as I was and she said, “Ah, you see the effect of art!”. And it didn’t stop on the playground. At the next assembly where we were supposed to be quiet as the Vice Principal was telling the boys that we had to keep our hair cut above our ears and the girls had to keep their skirts below their knees. And then the whistling started up. It sounded beautiful as it drown out the drone of the Vice Principle but it was disrupting his message. And it didn’t stop there.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, the students at the University in Santa Barbara had burned down the Bank of America in Isla Vista about 5 miles from La Colina, and now the junior high school students were whistling out of control! Soon word got out that I had been making these whistles and I had to be stopped.
The next day Mrs. Dragg came into the class which Ditte had created for me. Alone, I was working on a new assignment Ditte had given me which was to illustrate one of the songs from the Sgt. Peppers album by the Beatles. My choice, “Fixing a Hole."
Dragg: “What are you doing in here?!”
Me: “You’ll have to talk to Ditte.”
When Ditte finally showed up, she and Mrs. Dragg went at it in the supply room. The conversation was so heated I’m surprised the construction paper didn’t catch on fire. I wanted to go in and say how Ditte had in fact saved me from having to take Home Ec. and that she had inspired me in ways Mrs. Dragg could never know. That I had been working on something that truly gave me joy and brought joy to others as well. But I knew that this was Ditte’s battle and that she needed to express a lot more than just defending why she had created a class for me. She was defending the essence and the necessity of art.
I left that day with a feeling that art was something worth fighting for. That it changes people in ways that are essential to our development, springs from a place that is at the heart of creativity, and expresses who we are at our core. Mrs. Dragg stormed back into Ditte’s art room where I was working and told me I was to give back all the money I had made selling the whistles, it was school property after all!
When she left, Ditte said “new assignment, make a piggy bank. then make it sing!”