“They give me so much life — so much energy,” Richard Anderson, an Edna Louise Spear Elementary School art teacher said of his students. “It is so much fun.”
Anderson, who has been a fixture at the elementary school for the past 34 years, will retire at the end of the school year. He will be leaving behind a lasting impact on his current and former students over the years.
“It has gone by so quickly, but I’ve had a blast teaching something I love,” he said, reflecting on his career. “I’ve been a part of the school community for so long and that’s coming to an end. I’ve been getting all these letters from the kids and it’s really nice but it’s sad at the same time. But it tells me that I have done a good job.”
Anderson’s love for art began when he was young. He fondly remembers a trip to The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan when he was 7 years old and laying eyes on the work of famed artist Chuck Close.
“My art teacher took me down to The Museum of Modern Art, and they had huge airbrush paintings of Chuck Close and some of his friends,” he said. “At 7 I was like, ‘I want to be an artist just like him.’”
This began a lifelong passion for the Port Jeff art teacher. From there, he would go on to State University College at Buffalo to get his art degree. During that time, he started experimenting with chainsaw wood carvings. He mentioned one of his inspirations was Wendell Castle, a renowned art furniture artist.
“I had experience with a chainsaw working in the woods, cutting down trees with my father,” he said.
Anderson would compete in wood carving competitions in upstate New York and found success, winning some events. He said the wood carving scene has really grown over the years and has gotten more refined from carving bears and eagles into more complex designs, such as his rendition of a mermaid carved in wood.
The elementary art teacher said he enjoys wood carving because it is challenging and pushes his personal abilities further. Anderson hopes to continue to do wood carvings for the village’s harvest festival as well as coming back to the school to do wood carvings for the students.
Meghan McCarthy, a fellow art teacher at the elementary school, has worked with Anderson for the past two years and says he sets a great example.
“He’s has been an excellent mentor,” she said. “He’s taught me to approach elementary art as a fine-arts program. He sets the bar high and it shows in the kids’ artwork and shows what they are capable of doing.”
“He laid down a solid foundation for me.”
— Meghan McCarthy
McCarthy said she really lucked out having someone like Rich who has immense amount of experience teaching.
“He laid down a solid foundation for me,” she said.
Anderson admits it will be hard for him to retire, but he is looking forward to spending more time with family, getting back into his artistic furniture business and enjoying motorcycling and hunting.
“I’ve been really blessed to have had a great career and leave a good impact,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some former students of mine and be able to teach some of my former students’ children.”
The Wading River resident said the students motivate him to push himself and in turn he pushes them.
“It works together, these kids have so much ability and we need to support them,” he said. “I have been given his great gift and it has meant so much to me.”