a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Mosaic of Patty"

The Patty Mosaic , originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

By Scott Beveridge

The “Mosaic of Patty” portrait was the result of my brief stint as public schoolteacher in the spring of 1983.

It was produced when the Bethlehem-Center School District hired me for one term to fill in for its high school/middle school art teacher who was absent on a sabbatical.

The poor, rural school district in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania’s then-dying coal industry had just about run out of art supplies. The unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, a bit higher than it climbed in today’s recession, but we didn’t then have 24-hour television news to constantly remind us how soured the job market had become.

Beth-Center paid substitute teachers $33 a day that year, and the sum barely paid for the gasoline to get my car over the hilly terrain to the schools each day. But, it was a job, something that filled in the banks on the résumé, even though it turned out to be a dead-end career opportunity.

Yet the experience was one I wouldn’t trade in a heartbeat. Many of the kids were poor, living in single-parent home and eager for attention. They discovered art as we bonded over the five months were share in the classrooms, despite the challenges.

The Intermediate Unit that was supposed to offer better supplies to teachers than their respective districts could afford was of little help. It had just one badly outdated movie about art to motivate student about the famous mosaics of Rio de Janeiro. The jerking, scratchy film would work miracles.

The students learned a fancy new word. Later they broke to pieces stained glass that we ripped off from another teacher and glued the shards in various designs onto plywood, filling in the spaces with plaster of Paris. Meanwhile, to keep the motivation going, I stuck tiny pieces of cut-up magazine pages on paper to create a portrait of Patty, a beautiful cocktail waitress at Four Points by Sheraton in Greensburg, Pa.

We had worked together the two previous years, sharing good times while I poured the vodka, gin and whiskey and she mixed the drinks at the fancy pick-up joint with live music. To this day, she doesn’t know her likeness appears in paper mosaic.

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