Blog

Unlocking imaginations for 33 years

By Karen R Katanick
Upper School Art and Art History faculty

How have students changed since you began teaching?

Students have changed quite a bit in my 33 years at ULS. When I started teaching here the students were closer in age to me and I found them to be mature for their age. I think it had more to do with my perception of their sophistication than their real level of maturity. (I was and continue to be incredibly immature for my age) Students now-a-days seem more innocent to me. They are exposed to lots of worldly ideas via the internet and television but they maintain their sweetness through high school.

In the early days of my teaching, we had a very strict dress code and students were sent home if they somehow violated the dress code parameters. Now it’s much more relaxed. Having students dress well added to their air of sophistication, especially seeing boys in ties and collared shirts tucked in, and a suit jacket. I personally hated to have to wear dresses to school with dressy shoes and nylons, but I sure miss those days? It was impressive to see everyone so polished.

With so much social turbulence now — and through the years you’ve taught at Liggett — have you seen students using their art to express their feelings and views?

I do not seem to incite the fervor from students in regards to: social protest, political ideas, and climate change. Occasionally, someone will want to create something that has a viewpoint, however, based on the subjects that I teach and the levels of experience – personal cultural concepts, tend to be expressed by older students in our advanced level program. I encourage the students to explore topics that are connected to their high school experience and prior knowledge.

I used to see more angst when I taught the advanced studio art class and AP Art History. My students tend to respond to their immediate circumstances. Because the country is so divided politically at this time, I discourage students from expressing their personal preferences. Instead we focus on ways to be kind to one another in spite of our differences.

Tell us about notable students of yours who went on to make a career out of art, and do you stay in touch with them?

Making a career out of art is not an easy thing to do which is how I ended up teaching at University Liggett School. I have, however, had a number of students who have successfully navigated the art world. Case in point, our own Cybelle Codish, who has a thriving photography business and was recently awarded a Kresge Grant. In the early days of Cybelle’s business she did her film processing and printing in our darkroom. I still have photos of Thornetta Davis, and other music legends in the darkroom that Cybelle left behind. We have maintained a relationship that is warm and supportive throughout these many years. I consider her and her family an extension of my family. My husband, Mark “the PazMan,” played in many venues Cybelle photographed, and he often included her brother Chris Codish as his keyboard player in his band, PazMan’s Supersession.

Which brings me to ULS alumni Duncan McMillan. Back in the early 1990’s when Duncan was a junior in high school, he was part of the planning committee for the Prom. Duncan wanted to have a “Blues Music” themed prom. I mentioned to him that I knew the “PazMan” and could inquire whether his band would be available to be the live entertainment. The Motor City Blues Project played the Prom and we didn’t see Duncan the whole night because he was hanging out backstage and getting to know the band. Fast forward a few years, and Duncan, like Chris Codish, would be the keyboardist for Mark’s band when Chris wasn’t available. If it weren’t for Duncan, I probably wouldn’t be the “PazWoman.” Duncan plays more jazz then blues these days, and can be found around town tinkling the ivories. I often see Duncan’s name on the venue at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café on Mack. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Later in my career, I had the pleasure of teaching Cora Smith. Cora was a gifted photographer and I hoped when she went to college she would follow in Cybelle’s footsteps but instead she found her way to my first love, clay. Cora has been directly involved in the Little Traverse Tileworks in Petoskey for a number of years. She is their main productionist and designs tiles with Michigan themes. If it weren’t for the Covid virus, I had convinced Cora to travel South, and be our Hoag-Bickett Artist in Residence this fall. Since we can’t have outside visitors on campus, we will keep Cora lined up to visit with us as soon as it can be safely done.

Talking about alumni artists, I have to also include our Josh Moulton in the fold. Josh has a successful painting studio and gallery in Chicago. When Josh was our student he was already an accomplished painter. He went to college at Lake Forest and never left the Chicago area after graduating. Luckily we get to see Josh once in a while because his mom, and my friend, Amy, still lives in the area.

My biggest surprises happened when I learned that Autwan DeLaun Fuller, class of 1993, and William L. Watson, class of 1997, are both owners and operators of photography studios! They photograph weddings, events, and can be found on Facebook. I ran into both of them at an event Erica Denham, class of 1995, put together to honor the memory of her brother, alumni Kyle Denham.

Karen R Katanick is Upper School Art and Art History faculty at University Liggett School, inspiring young artists in her 33rd year of teaching at our school. We are proud to offer an educational experience, under Karen’s care and leadership, that inspires lives of creative passion and pursuit.