I am the ceramics and painting teacher at Nauset Regional High School. Normally, each day, 125 students come to my classroom studio, where I try to create a vibrant and rich environment. Every day, we stick our hands into materials and make art.
When Covid-19 hit and the building closed, I did not know how to slow down. I began making one oil painting a day from observation. Rainy days, still life; sunny days, landscape; each painting with a time-lapse video, which I posted daily to my Instagram (@GreenthumbCeramics).
When the Provincetown Independent asked me to work on an illustration for this special section about the Class of 2020, I returned to an early passion for portrait painting in hopes of finding an image that would suit this strange circumstance of a graduation in quarantine.
I asked a few students if they would sit for me and booked one session a day for five days. Each portrait was done in three hours, sitting outside in my yard with the student present the whole time.
To be safe, we wore masks. Each student took the opportunity to write something on their mask that they wanted to express.
For three hours we listened to the birds and talked while I painted.
We started talking about why they chose the words on their masks. We talked about disappointments and silver linings. We talked about getting in touch with ourselves through solitude.
We talked about our love of nature and our deep appreciation for this beautiful place that we live in. We talked about college and gap years and online learning. We talked about social distancing and its awkwardness.
We talked about how much we enjoyed making art and how well it was going before Covid hit. We talked about making art with the resources we did have at hand. We talked about how Mother Nature was thriving while we stayed inside.
We talked about sustainability and how little we really needed to buy. We talked about their new love of surfing and long boarding and long, long walks. We talked about our pets and how they helped us feel grounded during this time.
We talked about relationships and the pluses and minuses of being stuck together. We talked about how to deal with uncertainty and what it meant to have trust.
When the portrait was finished, I let them know that the painting belonged to them as a graduation gift. And they expressed their surprise and appreciation — from afar. We talked about how strange it was to not give each other a hug.
The whole experience was profound. It provided us with a closure that would have been stolen by this truncated school year. We talked about how lucky we were to steal it back.
Class of 2020, I’m proud of you.
More Stories to Come
This is the Independent’s first special edition honoring our towns’ high school graduates. As with most first tries, there were challenges. We learned how hard it can be to get in touch with high school seniors on the verge of summer — even when they’re stuck at home. We were able to talk with only about half of them. (Click here for their pictures and words.) To those we missed: our invitation still stands. Send us a photo and 100 words about your memories, passions, or hopes. We’ll keep telling your stories.
We are indebted to Amy Kandall for the portrait of Evelyn Rose on the cover and for her dedication to her students and to the art of teaching. The time-lapse videos of her portrait work are linked on our website: provincetownindependent.org. —Edward Miller