“If you work hard enough at it, you can make your life a work of art” Mr. West, Art teacher
One teacher profoundly influenced the life of Roy Henry Vickers, an accomplished Tsimshian artist. Mr. West, Roy’s art teacher was a major influence in his life. As a teenager, Roy was alone and far from home in a big city. The way of life in Victoria was vastly different from his home community and Mr. West recognized that and was able to see the potential in Roy and became determined to inspire him to develop his talent.
This put Roy on a path that allowed him to explore his Tsimshian heritage and rise to fame as an international artist. Mr. West helped Roy to gain insight and an ability to find meaning through art and that passion has carried Roy through the many challenges that he faced in his life. Roy fondly recalled that his teacher came to every show and event and stood beside him throughout his career.
“Find yourself” was an important quest his teacher gave to Roy. Not everyone had the kind of teacher that Roy had. Mr. West allowed him to develop his passion and to demonstrate it through a medium and for Roy, it was art. For students in classrooms everywhere, teachers create opportunities for students to find meaning by engaging deeply with text, with art forms, and other diverse areas of interest so that they too, may engage with their hearts and minds.
In his troubled days, Roy searched for people who were “inspired” and he wondered if they were truly happy and not just pretending. One of the mantras that Mr. West left him with was this: If you work hard enough at life you can make it a work of art and achieve your dreams
At 65, Roy has time to reflect on what really matters in life. As a parent and role model, he recognizes the place that emotion has in teaching and learning. He believes it is imperative for classroom teacher to be able to recognize a range of seven emotions: joy, pain, guilt, shame, anger, fear, and loneliness. Teachers like Mr. West, can help children to process emotions and to be in touch with feelings. Science is recognizing the connection between of imparting knowledge with emotion. Roy believes when we experience learning in that way, it becomes part of us for the rest of our lives.
Listen to the North by Northwest recording to hear Roy do a great impersonation of Chief Dan George’s words of wisdom, “Always speak from your heart. Don’t speak from your head. If you speak from your head, only their heads will hear you. If you speak from your heart their hearts will hear you and when they get old like me, their heads will forget but the hearts never forget”
For Roy, the struggle to be better is a daily quest. And he believes a good teacher along the way can remind students that there is a story in all of us and there is beauty in all of us. He would also say, “Nothing comes without hard work” and “Learn with your eyes, ears, and heart”.