Art is for everyone

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Greenville High teacher inspires students

Priscilla Solomons Davis is a woman of many interests.

This Greenville native is an animal lover whose compassion has saved more than a few stray's lives over the years.

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She is a supporter of restoration projects in the Camellia City and has put many hours of labor into the renovation of the Ritz Theatre downtown.

Davis is also an award-winning artist and photographer whose poignant and amusing black and white photos graced a critically acclaimed book entitled "Southern Dogs and Their People".

But most of all, Davis is a teacher who loves to share the subject that has captured her heart and soul: art.

Since 1975 she's been teaching high school art classes at her alma mater, Greenville High School.

"We started the program on a shoestring budget . . . we used a regular classroom the first few years, then moved down to the ROTC building where we at least had more space," Davis recalls.

26 years later, the budget's still tight.

But, oh, how the environment has changed.

For this dedicated teacher, her specially equipped "digs" in the new high school are like a "dream come true."

"I love this new art room . . . honestly sometimes I feel as if I've died and gone to Mountain Brook," Davis quips, referring to the upscale Birmingham suburb known for the outstanding quality of its school system.

Davis enjoys showing off the spacious, well-lit room that features a plentiful number of individual storage cubby holes for students' artwork along with display boards showing off their latest creations. The classroom also now has a large screen television with computer hook-up allowing students to utilize paint shop programs and to view informative videos on the arts.

Currently, there are approximately 40 students taking art.

Since the high school is on the block system, many of Davis' current advanced students have only been back in art class since January 5th--a drawback, in Davis' opinion, to the current scheduling system.

"I would love to have my advanced students coming to me earlier in the year

because I really hate having them away from class for eight months at a time . . . I don't want the art skills they've worked so hard to develop to get rusty," she explains.

Some of her last period Advanced Art students, however, express their appreciation for the extra time the block schedule allows them to spend with Davis.

"It really gives you more time to concentrate your work," say both Keyon Martin and Beth Stephenson.

Angie Reaves comments that she finds it easy to get back into the 'swing' of her art even after an extended break from the class.

All the students agree the day goes much faster when their classes are interesting.

But being bored in art class does not seem a problem for Davis' students. While they are allowed some free time during the term to work on their individual projects, each student spends considerable time working on projects specifically assigned to them by Davis.

Jameson Van Cor comments, "I've learned to do whatever she [Davis] assigns me without argument, even when I don't really think I'll like the assignment . . . I know it'll make me a better artist in the long run."

Davis enjoys constantly surprising-and challenging--her students with subject matter that ranges from a traditional still life to someone's prized motorcycle. Terrell Coleman explains, "Most of the assignments we receive are something tougher than I'd choose for myself.

I know that's good for me."

Davis starts her beginning art students out with a strong emphasis on the basics.

"We largely stick with working in pencil-first, in black and white, then in color.

We work at developing skills in drawing shapes, textures, using the 'lights' and 'darks'," she explains.

Her goal is for these beginning students to achieve that "measure of success" all young people need.

Advanced art is, on the other hand, "very serious stuff," emphasizes Davis.

"Their assignments are certainly not impossible, but they will be challenging," she explains, adding, "I always tell them, 'The schedule puts you in Art I. But God puts you in Advanced Art-so be prepared to STRETCH.'"

"Stretching" for these students means working in the difficult-to-control medium of watercolors before moving on to acrylics.

"They don't realize it at first, but watercolors are tougher, so they are definitely getting the really hard stuff out of the way first," Davis remarks with a smile, saying, "When you start with the hard techniques first, it's so much easier to move to the next step."

The art instructor largely concentrates class time on traditional studio art.

When the school switches back to the 7 period day in the 2001-2002 school year, Davis plans to put more art appreciation and art history lessons back into the curriculum.

Davis' skilled classroom instruction has paid off for many students over the years.

"We've had many award-winning students on county, district and state levels and many who've received art scholarships," says a proud Davis. She is also very enthusiastic about the support she and her fellow faculty members receive from GHS principal John Black.

"Mr. Black has done a wonderful job here . . . he maintains good discipline and he creates an environment which makes it easy to teach and easy to learn."

She also praises the local artistic community for its support of the school's art program.

"The Greenville Fine Arts League provided us with the Paint Shop Program and they've helped us with materials and supplies many times over the years . . . Greenville area artists are very, very good to us," Davis says. Davis adds she is "very excited" about the possibilities the widespread use of computers has brought to her art students.

"Computers open so many more doors to those with creative minds who also develop skills with the computer programs available . . . and that means greater employment opportunities for our young people.

They no longer have to go to major cities like New York or L.A. or Atlanta for jobs tied to the arts," Davis asserts.

Davis never fails to give credit for the establishment of the GHS art program to one person in particular: former Butler County School Superintendent Shelby Searcy.

"Mr. Searcy believed in striving for excellence in ALL areas and he was instrumental in starting this art program . . . he really believed in it and supported it whole-heartedly.

Art benefits us in many ways.

It isn't a "no-brainer" subject--- you have to THINK to create good art," Davis comments before adding wistfully, " I just wish all schools could offer art to their students."

Butler County can be proud of the reality of its own thriving, successful art program at GHS---thanks in large part to a creative and caring "homegrown" teacher named Priscilla Davis.