At ninety-seven years of age, when most have retired thirty years before, Temima Gezari, art educator, artist, author, a writer for SchoolArts, and an art advocate, continues to embark on new endeavors. In 2001, she completed her latest publication, Now That I'm Ninety-Five: Thoughts on Art and the Child, in celebration of her seventy-year career in art education.
That Temima Gezari should, at this stage, involve herself in activities that would be daunting to a thirty year old is no surprise. She has never lived her life by conventional definitions. In the 1920s when there were few women artists and art educators, Temima Gezari began her career as an artist studying at Parsons New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, studying with Raphael Soyer, and in the 1930s painting with Diego Rivera and studying at Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and Hunter College. She was invited to join the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and in 1940 she joined the Board of Jewish Education in New York City and was invited to found its Department of Art Education; a position she continues to hold today.
In the 1950s while continuing her work as an artist and art educator, she added the words "distinguished author" to her resume with her book, Footprints and New Worlds, now in its fourth edition. It deals with her philosophy on education and child development through her experiences in art with children and adults.
I met Temima Gezari in the 1960s when I was a young art teacher in my twenties. The philosophy she imparted coupled with practical classroom strategies guided my work and practice. Her influence had a profound effect on my growth as an art educator and contributed greatly towards my career development.
Recently I talked with her about her past, present, and the boundaries she still pushes so that children and adults recognize their great innate creativity. Following are excerpts from that conversation.
Carol Sterling: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Temima Gezari: I was born with a brush in one hand and a handful of clay in the other! And I have gone through life like that! I am a painter, a sculptor, and above all, I am an art teacher!
As a very young child, I was always drawing. I would pick up a bag or newspaper and just draw on the margins. After a while, my father, who would read the Yiddish newspaper, as soon as he would finish reading it, would hand it over to me. It had white margins. I visualize myself as a kid sit ting on the floor and drawing in the white margins.
CS: Let's talk about your career!
TG: I loved the teaching experience! With children, with adults, with old people--nobody escaped me! Because I said, "Art is in every body. And all you need is to find the right tool to bring it out."
CS: What about your work with the elderly?
TG: I read that old people were doing arts and crafts. So I went to visit. And I will never forget what happened. I come into one room and there is a round table. And in the middle there is a bowl with seashells and here are these elderly people and they are gluing the little shells on a little card. Oh Gad!
I knew my job right away. I said to the teacher, "Did you arrange this? Don't you respect elderly people? Do you know that these people once had education, many of them had gone to college, many of them got married, had children, joined the PTA, joined protest marches, have been active in Hadassah. So why don't you respect them now?" They are retired now. They have free time now. I'd like to make a suggestion. Next September, I would like to have an exhibition of the work of these people. But, on a theme. They can't find a theme for themselves. The first theme was, "When I Was a Child." That belonged to each individual--childhood. You never saw such paintings in your life. …