Saturday, January 19, 2002

Art show

Collection rekindles connection

        John Michael never forgot a student. How could he? They threw their lives at him, as he likes to say, and he became their champion.

        For 50 years, Dr. Michael saved 500 pieces of art by his students at Cincinnati public schools.

        Now that collection has led to a wonderful discovery: His students never forgot him, either.

        They remember his enthusiasm, his experiments, his gentle exclamations.

        “How did you do that?” he would say. “I love it!”

        Even students who couldn't draw felt important in his classes.

        “He pointed out this whole world that I wasn't really aware of,” says Lola Gabel, who remembers field trips to art museums in the early '60s.

        “He just liberated something in me,” says Patsy Clippard Dudsic, a student in 1957.

Lessons learned well

        Dr. Michael is amazed. At the age of 81, he has been reunited with many of the students he loved. And in their lives, he has seen the echo of his teaching.

        “I can't believe this is happening to me,” he says.

        Between 1942 and 1961, Dr. Michael taught at Fairview and Hoffman elementary schools and Hughes and Finneytown high schools. Then he spent 25 years at Miami University.

        His collecting began at Hughes. His “kids” left pieces of themselves in their artwork, and he couldn't bear to throw it away.

        One girl, he recalls, painted a clown's head without drawing the head — just the hair and facial features.

        “It absolutely floored me,” Dr. Michael says. “She had this fantastic, aggressive, wild-like thing inside her that came out in the clown. But on the outside, she was quiet and sweet. So you never can tell.”

        For many years, he stored the art in his garage, then under a twin bed and a coffee table in his Cincinnati home. Finally, in 2000, he donated the collection to Miami.

Valuable memories

        Krista Ramsey, then an Enquirer columnist, wrote about Dr. Michael's desire to find his old students.

        The calls began pouring in. Miami had a show featuring the collection, and two weeks ago, a similar display went up at the Public Library, downtown. The exhibit runs until Feb. 8.

        Through his collection, Dr. Michael has reconnected with such students as Jim Gabel, a graphics designer at Libby Perszyk Kathman Inc. in Cincinnati, and David Day, an industrial designer in Cincinnati.

        About 20 other students — some with kids and grandkids in tow — have visited Dr. Michael's home. He loves to show them photographs of their work from long ago.

        “You have no idea the expressions on some of their faces when they see what they did,” he says.

        Some students had more aptitude than others. But all got the same message: Everyone can be creative in life.

        It's a message that Dr. Michael still spreads.

        Toward the end of his opening show at the library, two boys wandered up looking for free food.

        Dr. Michael playfully grabbed one of them by the hand.

        “Be careful,” he said. “I'll have you drawing in no time.”

        “I already know how to draw,” the boy said proudly. Then he told Dr. Michael about his picture of a one-eyed caveman.

        “Isn't that wonderful!” the teacher said.

        His student beamed.

       Contact Karen Samples by phone: (859) 578-5584; e-mail:


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