Teaching Artist Gail Scuderi
Welcome to our monthly feature, Teaching Artist Profiles – Today, we’re highlighting teaching artist Gail Scuderi, recognizing the benefits of arts education, and celebrating the children we serve.
Gail Scuderi has been working with Appel Farm as a teaching artist with some regularity in 2008 but has worked sporadically with us since 1993. Gail’s teaching experience includes the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Allen’s Lane Art Center, as well as a classroom art teacher. She is currently a teaching artist for the NJ Council on the Arts. She has exhibited in NYC and the Philadelphia region. Her classes at Appel Farm include nature weaving, multidisciplinary, origami and 2D art.
“Learning to think like an artist is more important than creating beautiful artwork.” ~Gail Scuderi
You can see Gail’s work by visiting GailScuderi.blogspot.com.
What makes Appel Farm standout as a leader of arts education in South Jersey?
Appel Farm is a magical place. It’s where arts teaching, learning, and fun intersect. It is located within the heart of South Jersey farm country. It has a relaxing atmosphere that is conducive to unleashing one’s creativity. I always have loved working in this environment. I feel removed from everyday life and can focus on arts and always feel supported by like-minded people.
Why did you decide to become a teaching artist and what was your journey?
I became a teaching artist right out of art school. I was tired of waitressing and the opportunity to work in an afterschool art program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art became open to me. I worked at the Thomas Eakins House teaching ceramics to an ever-evolving cadre of local neighborhood kids. I developed a love for teaching in that environment. The kids loved coming to my classes and I felt accepted and welcomed by the community. I also met many other artists who were teaching there. It was a powerful launch into my teaching artist career. I also worked at several other community-based art centers, all on a part-time basis. Working part-time at several places afforded me the necessary time to develop my own art practice. I feel an essential part of being a teaching artist is to always keep your own art practice.
In 1993, I moved out of the city to Mullica Hill NJ. I wanted to raise my children in a rural environment. Although four kids kept me plenty busy, I always found time to teach in a residency or class here and there. I started teaching at Appel Farm back in the 1990’s in an afterschool art class. Through the years I have taught in many of the programs there and started an early childhood class for young children and their caregivers. I have also been an artist in residence in many schools throughout NJ, most of which resulted in a permanent public artwork. In 2005 I got a teaching certificate and started teaching art part-time in a public school. Teaching as an art teacher is very different than working as a teaching artist. Both jobs improve my teaching skills on a daily basis. Although someday I will retire from my art teacher position, I have no plans to ever retire from working as a teaching artist!
Why do you believe arts education is important?
I believe that the arts are what makes us human. Helping people to reach their full creative potential is necessary for society to thrive and remain humane. My favorite quote is by Picasso “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”
What are your influences and inspirations, as an artist and a teaching artist?
My early influences as both an artist and a teacher would be my ceramics teacher in college, Bill Daley. Bill was a teacher who possessed great compassion for his students along with a wonderful sense of humor. Although his work is very sophisticated, his personality retained a childlike wonder and playfulness that readily permeated the ceramic studio. Bill taught me to persevere and always stay true to your ideas. His work explored many facets of the same idea, something I do to this day when working in a series or on a theme.
After I graduated, I lived for 10 years in an artist’s community, which is now the Ellen Powell Tiberino Museum in West Philadelphia. Here I learned how to collaborate with other artists on projects both big and small. We created movies, special arts events, held art shows, and collaborated on a daily basis. Those 10 years really helped to establish my collaborative style of teaching. My mentor and fellow collaborator, sculptor Joe Brenman, taught me it was ok to glue tile permanently to a wall!
Today I would say that my students are a great source of both influence and inspiration. Working with young people requires me to stay current, constantly refine teaching strategies, and try new approaches.
How do you respond when a child says, “I’m not good at art”?
When one of my students says they are not good at art, I explain to them that to learn art or to think like an artist, like anything else, requires practice. Practice a new skill every day and eventually, you will get good at it. Learning to think like an artist is more important than creating beautiful artwork.
Tell us about a story about students or a specific student that reinforced or changed your opinion about arts education.
Some years ago I had the opportunity for a year-long artist in residence position at Salem County Special Services. This school was a special school for students with varying abilities. I found teaching in this setting to be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. The students had not had a visual arts class for several years! They were very eager to create, but my challenge was to find at least one art medium or process that every student could participate successfully in. At the end of my residency, I matted and hung at least one work of art from every student, and held a giant art show in the gymnasium. The look of pure joy on the faces of both the students and the teachers as they viewed the work was priceless. The power of art is the power to touch the heart of all who participate regardless of skill, age, or life challenges. This was a truly joyful experience for me, my students, and their teachers and aids. One that I will never forget.
If you are a passionate and experienced artist with a love for teaching, we want to hear from you! Appel Farm is always on the lookout for highly-qualified and talented teaching artists to join our roster. Click HERE for more information.