Oral History with Theresa Pollak
The following interview with Theresa Pollak was conducted October 31, 1975 by Dr. Alden Bigelow at Dr. Pollak's studio on West Grace Street in Richmond. This interview is part of the VCU Oral History Collection housed in Special Collections and Archives.
AB: You can remember the school when you came here, which is some time ago isn't it?
AB: 1928? The school was founded about 1917. By the end of the 20's it had this big change and became a part of William and Mary?
TP: Well, I can't remember dates, but I know that the school was originally called the School of Social Work and Public Health. Now, I should know what it was called when I came here, but I think it had already become the Richmond division of the College of William and Mary.
AB: I think it did in the 20's some time.
TP: And then, it later became Richmond Professional Institute, then VCU.
AB: Dr. Hibbs employed you? He hired you?
AB: He hired many folks I remember so well.
TP: When did you come?
AB: I came here in '57.
AB: And Mrs. King was Dr. Hibbs' secretary. I'm going to meet her sometime. And I know that you'd been here some years then, and your reputation as being one of the finest painters, or maybe I should say, artists?
TP: Anything you want...
AB: Anything you want?
TP: Either one is good.
AB: Painter, artist, and teacher...was one of the things that impressed me when I first came here. What was your recollection of Dr. Hibbs when you first met him? Or maybe you met him before you were hired?
TP: No...Would you like to know the way I happened to be hired?
AB: I'd love to.
TP: I had come back from studying in New York, and against the advice of everyone, I went into an impractical field of studies, what they called Fine Art...and, didn't know how on earth I was going to make a living. And when I came back to Richmond, a friend of mine, Edmund Archer, who was also a good friend of Dr. Hibbs...and, well, Ned and I were childhood friends and when we were young first studied here in Richmond together, under Nora Houston and Adele Clark. And he arranged that we have a joint exhibition at the Woman's Club, which was the only place in Richmond then that you could see a work of art at all.
AB: Mr. Archer did this?
TP: Yes, they had a foyer there, where they had exhibits, also in the auditorium. So he and I had an exhibit; and, meanwhile, Dr. Hibbs had asked several people to recommend someone to teach painting, drawing and painting, to start an Art School.
AB: There was no Art then?
TP: There was an extension class on Saturday morning under Miss Antoinette Hollister...
AB: I never heard of her before.
TP: ...in the basement of 827, which was the only building at that time, and she was the only person, I think...also there was a Charles W. Smith, who later became the head of the Art Department at the University of Virginia. He was doing a class in the late afternoon (an extension class) in commercial art. But I taught the first daytime class. Well, anyway William Young, who ran Young's Art Shop, and Charles Smith - those two saw my exhibit at the woman's club - and recommended me to Dr. Hibbs. And so, he sent for me to come to see him; and I will never forget my first encounter. I didn't know what to expect; I'd never met him. I heard that he could be very difficult. And I went into his office, and there was Dr. Hibbs with this darling little child, Mary Sue (the daughter that died); she was about 3 years old - I don't think she could have been more than 3. And he had this notebook that he had pasted reproductions of paintings in, and she - when I came in, well, we exchanged greetings - and then, he and Mary Sue went through this book and she told us who had painted almost every painting in the book.
AB: How old was she then...quite young?
TP: Well, 3 or 4. I don't think...
AB: That's remarkable, isn't it?
TP: Yes, it was remarkable; and it was also remarkable in revealing Dr. Hibbs' love of art.
TP: And I think this is one of the outstanding things about Dr. Hibbs, that, for a layman, and a layman who had never had any training in art, to my knowledge at all, that he had this real and genuine and unorthodox love of art. And, of course, unorthodox goes for everything about Dr. Hibbs. It was one of the wonderful things about him, I think.
AB: He was one of a kind.
TP: Oh, yes.
AB: Mary Sue was what relation to Dr. Hibbs?
TP: His daughter; he had two daughters. And Jessie was the older one, and Mary Sue was the younger one. And, well, of course, he always favored both of them, but Mary Sue was his little chum, and was sort of, you might say, the apple of his eye. They just went everywhere together... walking, etc.; and they were very close.
AB: What happened to her?
TP: She died of leukemia after he retired from here. She had married and lived in Lexington and had three children, I think. And that's why the Hibbses moved to Lexington when he retired - Dr. and Mrs. Hibbs.
AB: To be with her?
TP: Well, to be, yes, in the same town. They had their own home there. But that's what drew them to Lexington. And then, I don't know what year it was, I guess it was maybe, well, you know time, as you get older, ten years seems such a short time. I suppose it was about ten years ago maybe that Mary Sue died of leukemia there in Lexington. And how did we get off on that? Her husband remarried...and I was in Lexington recently, did Dr. Hibbs tell you?
TP: Ah, just a while back, on the 8th of October. Su Hodges and I went up together. She, Su Hodges, went to see an in-law. She was here at VCU, taught English for a while. Well, she went to Covington to see a relative, and I went to Lexington. And I had a nice visit with the Hibbses. They said that Mary Sue's husband's second wife, had recently died. But, of course, the children are a great comfort to the Hibbses...and Jessie, their older daughter, they see quite often.
AB: And she doesn't live in the Lexington area?
TP: She doesn't, no. I forget where Jessie lives. And she has several boys, 2 boys I think. Well, we're getting short of time.
AB: Yes, I'm leading you astray.
TP: Well, my niece says it's one of my terrible habits, that when I go to tell something, I go all the way back...
AB: Well, that's a nice way of telling it. You were...we were talking about Dr. Hibbs, when...
TP: That first day...
AB: ...you walked in his...where was his office then?
TP: His office, the only building they had was 827, and his office was in the rear first floor. Just as you come in the Shafer Street entrance of 827, you would turn left as you came in, and his office was the first room there on the left of the Shafer Street entrance...a small office with a little outer office, and the library was also in the same building...and, of course, all the classrooms. It was the only building, and he was taking the brick building which had been a stable, I think, which is now called the Shafer Street Playhouse... He was just remodeling that to make studios, and that building as it stands now, is actually two buildings put together. The one that faces on Shafer Street was the original building, and that's where the first studio was built. There was another one down the alley a little - just almost adjoining. And later they joined the two, knocked down the walls, and that's why when you're on the second or third floor, I don't know which...when you go down the hall on the second floor, I think...there're a few steps you go down, three steps, because the levels of the two buildings were different.
AB: The two buildings.
TP: Yes...so we had this first studio, and, well, I know that you want this orally, but, have you, are you aware of this little book that they had me write. It'll clear it all up. It's on my 40 years at VCU; you can take it with you.
AB: May I have a copy?
TP: You may have that.
AB: I may? Thank you very much.
TP: And it covers the forty years that I was there and tells the history of the Art School, so you will clearly have what you don't get from our conversation.
AB: Indeed it will. That's very kind of you. This will help a good deal. Because what we're trying to do is to write an informal, tape an informal session with people, who, well, knew Dr. Hibbs when he was at RPI because he was almost the whole school in a way. He was the whole administration, as far as I can see.
TP: Well, Dr. Hibbs, Yes, Dr. Hibbs knew what was going on in every area of the school...everything, kept his fingers on everything, knew it all; I don't know how he did it. And, of course, he was just fascinated with the physical aspects of the building, too. The story went that the ceramics department needed a new kiln. Dr. Hibbs gave his permission, but what particularly interested him when it came, was that it wouldn't go through the doorway into the room; it was too large.
AB: So did he go around the doorway?
TP: They had to knock down the walls to get it in. And then Dr. Hibbs just became so interested in this kiln.
AB: I heard he was not too expert at handling all tools. Someone told me once that in one of the departments they bought him some tools, sharp tools, and he had gone in to try them and came out with bandaged fingers. Did you hear that one?
TP: I didn't hear that. I know that he has one thumb without a nail; you've noticed that?
AB: I had forgotten that.
TP: But I don't know when that happened. One of the thumbs was, well, evidently it'd been cut.
AB: Well, I think he was intensely interested in any equipment...
AB: That came in to the school, and he wanted to try it to see if it worked, if it was fulfilling the job it was supposed to, if he was getting his money's worth, and then he was just plain curious about it, wasn't he?
TP: Yeah, yeah. And I'm going this in a terrible confusion...I'm just saying things as they happen to flash into my mind. It's completely...
AB: And, I know you've got delightful memories...
TP: Speaking of tools, one thing that used to really frighten us...now I don't know if he was conscious of it and did it to sort of intimidate us, or whether he was aware of it at all, but he had this large pair of shears, scissors, on his desk...and I don't know if this happened when you went to see him, but, you know, when he'd do the catalog, he'd cut little sections and paste them, and, oh, he was always working with scissors and paste, and when you'd go in to see him, he'd take this pair of scissors, and put them on his thumb or put his first finger through it, and spin it around...
AB: Like a six-shooter?
TP: You were terrified that this thing would fly off his finger and come at you!
AB: Do you think he knew that?
TP: I don't know...when I was up there recently, (at Lexington), and we were, of course, talking about old times, which he loves to do...and he had a terrible time with his hearing aid when I was there. He kept putting in new batteries and nothing worked. I finally pulled out my little jot pad there and started writing things which was the easiest thing to do; so I don't know if he heard us, but I told Mrs. Hibbs about this business with scissors, and she had never known this.
AB: Well, when I met him, he had a reputation when young faculty like myself came in of occasionally turning his hearing aid off.
TP: Oh, yes.
AB: And then turning it back on when he thought an appropriate moment had arrived.
TP: That's right.
AB: It may or may not be true, but it's one of those stories.
TP: Well, I, we always suspected this. Another very interesting incident that I doubt that anyone but myself knows, because it happened when I was in the office...As I say, he loves art; and this is one of the reasons I loved him and could get along well with him. And he...I mean, there was no prudishness. Of course, at that university; there was nude art as well as any other kind, and, he had a reproduction under the glass so he could see it through, of a nude by Renoir...beautiful thing. Indeed, it was there all the time. And one day I was in there talking to him, and he was getting ready for a board meeting; and while we were talking, he was tidying up the room and his desk, and lifted up the glass (just dusting it like he was doing it mechanically) and just going on talking, and dusting it at the same time. And he lifted the glass up and turned the nude over on the other side before the people came in. And I thought that was wonderful.
TP: And Mary Sue, the little daughter...I taught a children's class soon after I was there.
AB: What classes were you teaching?
TP: Well, I taught a day drawing and painting class, one class, I think, in the morning.
AB: This was primarily for art students, or was it for any students?
TP: There weren't any art students then; when you read my book, you'll find out that my contract read that I could have a class if I could have 5 students, but I had to find the 5 students. And I got on the phone and worked on that thing. Of course, I'd lived in Richmond all my life, knew a lot of people, and there were actually 20 students there when we started.
AB: Were some of them from the school in other departments?
AB: They all came from the city or surroundings?
TP: Yes. I think they were all...I don't think anyone was from the school because I think at that time everybody at the school was in social work. No...well, I don't know. But...
AB: But these were people who were interested in painting and the fine arts primarily, weren't they?
AB: Painting and drawing, which I call fine arts.
AB: Not commercial.
TP: No. Well, I wouldn't say that either. When I started...I'll answer your question later. Then I started a night school, or a night class, we offered a night class. We got a big attendance.
AB: Mr. Fleet was there then?
TP: Oh, I don't remember...
AB: R. Hill Fleet.
TP: I don't know who was, but there've been several different people. There was a very slight young man running it at one time. I can't remember who he was...but I don't think anybody was running it...Dr. Hibbs was running it. There was no night school, I mean as a large unit. Dr. Hibbs was running the night school because I can remember he came around that first night that my class met to see how many students I had.
AB: Did you have a lot of funds?
TP: No...didn't have anything, I didn't...but all that's in the book. But, as you say, you want this to be an oral thing. Well, anyway, in the evening school a lot of commercial, a lot of commercial artists came, because they wanted to get more drawing experience. And well, of course, the more genuine art you know, basic art you know, the more helpful it is - whether you're in fine art or commercial art or any other branch of it. And there were school teachers, and commercial art people, and people in town who were interested in art who worked in the daytime; couldn't come then, who came at night. Pretty much the same kind of people you get now, except now, you get a lot of day school students, too. But in the day school...and the school at that time was only for girls...
AB: I didn't know that...
TP: ...only a women's school. You didn't know that? It was only around the time the GI's started coming back, I don't know when...
AB: After World War II?
TP: They probably started taking men - see I can't remember dates at all - but it probably was a little before the GI's started coming, but oh, we really...
AB: It was in the forties, then?
TP: We got a big enrollment when boys started coming. Now, I know Mr. Bonds came as a student long before the forties, because he was before the War. Then it was before then, because I remember that "Moe" Bonds had been a student here, and he had to leave to go to service. So they did open it to men before, uh...
AB: He was one of your students?
TP: Oh, yes. He and Charles Renick and, uh, the uh, you know...
AB: Mr. Renick and Mr. Bonds both...
TP: Yes, and Jim Bumgardner and "Dick" Carlyon and...
AB: I knew the Bumgardners pretty well because his wife and my wife used to teach at Collegiate.
TP: Yes. She was my student, too.
AB: She's got a little girl now.
TP: Yes, I know.
AB: She's not so little, she must be 5 or 6. So you knew all the people -- the present senior faculty in art were some of your students.
TP: A lot of them, yes. But then a lot of that group... Anyway, then we offered a children's class on Saturday morning, and Dr. Hibbs little girl Mary Sue was in the children's class and did some very nice drawings. They had some of these on the walls at Lexington. Well, I know one she painted 'specially and the thing that got me on the subject of Mary Sue and the children's class was speaking of Dr. Hibbs' office and the Renoir and all the pictures that he surrounded himself with. And there was a very lovely still life in colored chalks that Mary Sue had done in my class, and he had this in his office on the inside of his bookshelf glass; and he was very proud of that. Jessie, the other daughter, went into...I think...studied social work.
AB: The older daughter?
AB: Did she teach here for a little while?
TP: No, no. But you know, his sister, Ruth Hyland, now retired, taught in education, art education. And they were very much alike in some ways. But I think that Dr. Hibbs had a tremendous vision. It's really Dr. Hibbs' vision that created this school,and I think it's different from well, I don't know if there's any college or any university anywhere in the country that combines the various things that we teach; and, also, there's always been a spirit about VCU, I don't think you find anywhere else, or anywhere that I've been. There's a certain freedom, a certain aliveness... when I first came here, I had part-time work, of course; and the salary was just nothing. Why, Dr. Hibbs didn't have any money and the State, everybody, criticized him. We were looked upon as some step-child of the state.
AB: He said this was the only state-supported institution with no state funds.
AB: That's how he put it.
TP: Well, I know perfectly well it was no decent salary; it was nothing. Of course, I was only teaching part-time, but even so, it was terrible. So I kept asking for a raise, and he said it wasn't possible. So then, University of Richmond (where I had graduated) called me and said they wanted to start an Art Department over there -- just a department, not a school, just a department -- and they wondered if I would teach it. Well, I was only part-time here, so I was free to do what I wanted; and I went to Dr. Hibbs one more time and asked for more money, and he said no. So I went ahead and signed with the University of Richmond for part-time, and I was both places. Dr. Hibbs was furious with me for signing up out there because the two schools at that time were really very competitive. And I said, "Well, Dr. Hibbs, I just have to live you know. And you couldn't give me any more." And he didn't speak to me for, oh, a week or two; and I'd meet him in the hall and he'd just look the other way. So then I happened to get a painting in the big juried show at the Corcoran. And there was this big full-page spread in the Sunday "Dispatch" -- they used to have a section, well, called the Rotogravure (that brown section), and there were two or three ... Ned Archer got a painting in there ... I think there were two or three other artists also, and the paper had this big spread ...
AB: Is this the Corcoran in New York?
TP: In Washington.
AB: In Washington.
TP: And so, I think, Dr. Hibbs was so delighted that he called me in his office and he was most affable, you know, and congratulated me, and all this. It was after I'd been out there (at Westhampton) two or three years. This school here was growing. It had potential and other faculty members had been added, so he then ...
AB: You were the only ...
TP: At first ...
AB: Art instructor, was that your title?
TP: At first.
AB: At first. And you had twenty students?
TP: Well, I had twenty in my day class and more in my night class, and I had the children's class. Well, then, I tell in the book what teachers were added after this, but after I had been part-time in both colleges, then Dr. Hibbs offered me full-time here with enough salary to equal what I'd been getting from both places. And, of course, the potentiality here was much greater for growth than out there.
AB: So it would be ...
TP: Well, they wanted to start an Art Department, but it could never have grown to be an Art School as we have here. And I foresaw that, although, of course, I have loyalties in both places. So I came here full-time, and that's how...
AB: This would be in the 20's ... '28, '29, '30?
TP: It's in the book.
AB: Some year before the 30's probably.
TP: I guess. All the dates there, everything about me, are in here ... up to '69; that's when this book was published.
AB: What sort of studio did you have then?
TP: Well, I had this one big studio that he had built in this front building on Shafer Street.
AB: That's the original building?
TP: Yes. And the studio was on the third floor. And the first floor was then the gymnasium.
AB: That was the auditorium?
TP: Um ...
AB: Or was the auditorium the theater?
TP: Yes, yes.
AB: Anyway, you were on the top floor with you studio.
TP: Now I don't know if I was on the second floor or the third floor of where that old studio was. It was the third floor. This is another interesting story.
AB: You had to walk up, probably.
TP: Yes. This is another interesting story about Dr. Hibbs. You know, as I say, we operated "on a shoestring," as the trite saying goes; and the whole struggle was to get students, get students to finance the thing. So, he'd do anything to get students. Well, those steps are just as steep! I don't know if you've ever been up there.
AB: Yes, I have. Sort of a fire escape, isn't it?
TP: Oh, it's terrible. It really is. You have to stop on every landing. Good thing I was young then. But then he proposed this Franklin Street building with the studio that's on the third floor there also; and I wanted him to put in (of course, the studios were always on the top floor so that you get better light with a skylight) and I wanted him to put an elevator in the new building. There had never been...
AB: Seems reasonable ...
TP: They had never had an elevator in any building in this school. And, so I said, if the studios are going to be on the third floor of the new building, you should have an elevator. "Oh, no," was the reply, "the students would get in there and play in the elevator. They'd ride up and down for kicks." And all this foolish stuff, you know. Well, I finally said, "Well, you know, there are a lot of old ladies coming down to night school..."
AB: That did it?
TP: "And a few that come in the day classes even. And they just struggle with those steps." So he immediately punched his bell for the person (we did have a night school head then) to come in; and I didn't know what he was doing. He punched a bell, and this man appeared who was running the night school; and Dr. Hibbs asked, "In enrolling students in night school have you had any difficulty about elderly people climbing the steps?" And the man said, "I certainly have." Immediately that did it, and that was the first elevator that was ever in this whole school...
TP: Yes, yes.
AB: That certainly is interesting.
TP: So there are a lot of little things, you know, that happen. And that you can't ... I can't think to tell until as you go along ... one thing reminds you of another. Uh, then the business about the nude models. Of course, I'd just come from New York; and we had nude models there...
AB: What school did you attend in New York?
TP: ...I went to the Art Students League there which is solely a professional school, and, at that time, well, I don't think there were any art -- really art departments in colleges then -- and I didn't know much about art degrees either. And that's why I never got a degree above the Bachelor's because although I did the equivalent work of a Master's, they didn't give any credits. They didn't even keep attendance records, or anything. All you do is pay, and you could go to class or not as you wanted. Well, anyway, to come back to the nude model, I felt that you really could not teach properly without one. And, of course , I don't think Dr. Hibbs was against the idea of a nude model. He was more afraid, and I suppose rightly so, of attitudes of people. Already there was so much criticism against the school because it was so unorthodox, different from any other school, and other college. And it was looked down on terribly. So, of course, I couldn't have nude models. Well, we started out with models who wore adagio costumes ... Then we started to use two-piece bathing suits. Well, Dr. Hibbs said, "Now don't let anybody in that room except people that are registered in the class." And one day there was a knock at the door, and I went to the door, closing it carefully behind me so nobody could look in, and there was Dr. Hibbs with a visitor, somebody visiting the school. Dr. Hibbs introduced me, and said this man was visiting and was interested in the Art School. And I had the door shut behind me the whole time and never asked him in. Well, the next day, Dr. Hibbs called me in his office, and he was really upset. He said that I had been rude and that I had shut the door behind me, not asking them in, and so forth. And I said, "Well, Dr. Hibbs, you told me not to let anybody in that room when the model was posing." And he said, "Miss Pollak, when you came out of the door, I caught a glimpse of that model and there wasn't any more than you see on the beach all the time." I said, "Well, I know this, but I was following instructions." Well then (this is also in the book), Dr. Hibbs went to New York, and visited a burlesque show which, of course, is an interesting comment on Dr. Hibbs --- a burlesque show; he was such a very human, a wonderful person. And he said, "Miss Pollak, I went to a burlesque show and these people just had these little G-straps on, you know, and I don't see why we couldn't do this here." Well, I had a friend in New York who was, oh, she was a show girl or some kind of chorus girl, or something, and I got her to cut me out or draw me off a pattern for the G-strap.
AB: But you had to make these, huh?
TP: So, you don't have to put this in here, but ... you'll cut these things, won't you?
AB: I'll let you cut it out. I think this is really very interesting.
TP: Well, I won't say this now because it might hurt somebody, and it might not get cut. But anyway, I made the G-straps. Or maybe I had some student in the class make them up, but I gave her the pattern. And we had to have several and keep them washed for the models.
AB: These are all female models?
TP: Yes, well the men wore athletic straps. Or rather, the men models had to wear shorts.
AB: Oh, they wore shorts. They provided their own, then?
TP: Yes, yes.
AB: I see.
TP: With an athletic strap underneath.
AB: I see. Very proper.
TP: So then, we finally got to the nude model. We finally got so we left off the G-straps and the men wore just the athletic straps. And there was some lady that came in the night class, some elderly woman (middle-aged woman) who went to the governor and complained because we had nude models up there. Well, of course, she didn't have to take the class.
AB: Who was the governor? Do you remember who it was?
TP: I can't remember. I really didn't pay any attention to it. I just laughed it off.
AB: I hope you did, yeah.
TP: He probably talked to her soothingly, but I think he told Dr. Hibbs about it as a sort of a joke. So nothing was done about it. But that's the way we graduated to nude models.
AB: So different from now, isn't it?
TP: Oh, yes. But I, I had to find the models, too. And I'm sorry I didn't keep notes; that would have been, that could have made a book in itself. These strange characters we got and all the things that happened about them, the incidents, and uh, anybody that would pose nude. There were two classes of people: one would be very, very ignorant people and low-class, and the other would be a very highly intelligent type of young woman, for instance, who was sort of above all this, you see. And, so ...
AB: You avoided middle-class morality?
TP: We had to. I mean the middle-class morality just wasn't interested, and, uh, once we had quite a scene. A young woman was posing for us; there was a knock at the door. I went to the door and closed it behind me, and went into the hall. And this woman's husband had heard she'd been doing it without his knowing; he had gathered some inkling of it. And he was furious. And he came down there -- really made a scene. So after that, whenever I engaged anybody, I insisted that their mothers or their husbands, or whatever ...
AB: Knew about it ...
TP: Knew about it, yeah.
AB: Gosh, that sounds interesting.
TP: Oh, the things we went through!
AB: Those are fascinating things...
TP: The things we went through, it's really, and uh ...
AB: These things would be in the newspaper sometime? Or would they be in the newspaper?
TP: You say were they?
AB: Were they, yes.
TP: Not those kind.
AB: Well, you were lucky then, because occasionally old RPI got some bad publicity.
AB: I remember in the case, or I guess, it was a murder.
TP: Yes, there was a murder there at the time of Margaret Johnson, and she was ... in some way ... I know that ...
AB: She was dean, I think.
TP: Yeah, and they were afraid for her. And she went to live with somebody, went somewhere where nobody would know where nobody would know where she was ... I can't remember the details.
AB: Well, those are the things...
TP: These are little things that nobody knew about. Well, one thing that was not in the newspaper. One day, I took the students in the class down to Monroe Park. It was in the spring weather -- warm -- and that night a reporter called me and said was I going to take the class the next day and could he come and photograph them? He had passed by and seen them out there. And I said, "Yes, that would be very nice." And he said, "Well, he was interested in it because the girls were barefoot." I said, "No, if that's why you're interested, if that's why you want to do it ... I don't want you."
AB: Being barefoot way ...
TP: In those days ...
AB: ... attracted attention?
TP: Yeah, and in those days, I guess it was, nobody went around barefooted on the street.
AB: Like smoking on the sidewalk was the sign of bad morals for a lady. You didn't smoke in public. You could be arrested in some parts.
AB: I believe so. When I was quite young, I used to go to Atlantic City and men had to wear tops to their bathing suits or they were arrested. Things have changed a great deal.
TP: You just couldn't, and when you'd see people dressed the way youngsters dress today (or a lot of people dress that way), you'd say, well, that person's a "hick"; he came from the country. And now, that's the way they want to look.
AB: You approve of the changes then, don't you?
TP: Some of them. Some. Not everything. Since I have retired, I am really busy, almost as when I was teaching.
AB: You look as though you are very busy.
TP: Well, you see, I keep house. My brother lives with me, and he's 80; and I have all the marketing, cooking ... and I have a cleaning girl once a week.
AB: You long for the peace and quiet of the classroom?
TP: No, no. This (the studio) is my one reason why. This is my life here. I mean I don't get here but ever so often, but when I'm here, I'm really myself here. And I don't have to think about anything else. But I do keep awfully busy. And when you retire, you think you'll do so many more things than you even try to do or thought of doing when you were teaching. And if you don't have any work like this, it's fine, but trying to keep up this, which is everything to me, and fitting in all the other things ...
AB: As their home ...
TP: I don't get time to read which is a terrible thing. Well, anyway ...
AB: I think you're fortunate, though ...
TP: Oh, yes!
AB: ... in having life interest that doesn't stop like some bankers or people who when they step out of the bank for the last time, all of a sudden ...
TP: They go down.
AB: They do. To a big waiting room, as far as I can see, to Hollywood Cemetery.
AB: I think people should keep interested in things as far along as ...
(end of side 1)
AB: You were mentioning how much you had to do and how much it interests you to do these things, particularly in this room.
TP: I don't get to school as often as I would like. There are people I'd like to visit like "Herb" Burgart. I'm very fond of him and feel very close to him, and "Mo" Bonds, and other people over there. And I like to go to exhibits at the Anderson Gallery, but I just don't get time because I get here so little, and when I'm here, I work to the last minute. And then I have to go home. Well, yesterday, I did take a little time off to go to the Anderson Gallery. I knew it was the last day of the exhibits that they had there then. And I went up to see Bruce Koplin, who, by the way, was one of my students, and I'm very fond of him. While I was there two or three of the students that work under him came to get directions and so forth, and it was just something about these students ... these students. And well, of course, I'm partial to art, but I think that art students are very much alive and they have such a purpose in life, you know.
They know what they want to do from the beginning, and it seems to me that the faces of these students ... well, there's something very wonderful about them, something almost glowing. And it did me a lot of good to go over there again and see these students. And I think...
AB: Not unlike those that you originally had?
TP: I think it carries right through.
AB: Well, some of my students this year seem to be different, especially different from the students I had with VPI [Virginia Tech] extension, you know... the engineering students. Those young men are dedicated to the field of engineering, but sometimes now in freshmen and undergraduate classes you find young people who really are looking for something to do more than have something in mind that they're studying.
TP: Ah, you said the students, whether they're different or the same, they are different. They really are, and it was difficult for me teaching there the last few years. I got out at the right time; everything was changing so, even the whole concept of art had changed so.
AB: That's very interesting. What do you mean by that?
TP: Well, I mean, well... I don't know. Do you keep up with art?
AB: No, my wife is an artist, but I'm a mechanic. So I don't really ...
TP: Well, all this ... it's just a part of the whole social fabric of society that changes. For instance, this interest in Pop Art, you know, the comics and ...
AB: Andy Warhol type of thing.
TP: Yes, yes.
AB: He painted soup cans or something like that.
TP: Yes, yes, all of this. It really got to the point that a well-known New York artist just came down here to serve on a panel, and he said that if he took his shoe off and put his signature on it, it would thereby become a work of art. And, well, it's just ... it would take me forever to go into changes in art today, but the changes are just terrific. And so much of this ... there're such changes in teaching today, teaching art.
AB: You've got more teaching aids, is that it?
TP: No, no.
AB: That doesn't help.
TP: No, no.
AB: What is it?
TP: Well, the students today don't want to be told anything, really.
AB: I've noticed that, too. The faculty copies the students.
TP: The students really sometimes know more ... well, quite often ... know more than the faculty.
AB: Either they do, or they think they do.
TP: That's right. And, whereas, a student used to be just as eager to get what I had to give or tell, now the students (and I'm not saying this is bad ... I'm not being critical, I'm just stating facts), the students today want to work it out themselves and find out for themselves and experiment. And if you say, well, this is bad, they'll say, "But I like it." So what can you say? And I, I really got to the point that I don't know how to teach today. Because everything I'd ever believed in and wanted to be, if you know, in teaching, ... was not, well the whole method of teaching has just changed. I mean, I understand that in a lot ... I suppose you still lecture in history?
AB: I try.
TP: But I understand that in a lot of classes that used to be lecture classes, the students don't want anybody to stand up there before them...
AB: I think my students would be very happy if I didn't.
AB: But it's the only way I know how to present the thing.
TP: Exactly. Well, this is the only way I know how to teach. I don't mean I rammed things down their throats, and I was interested in developing and helping these students to develop themselves individually, but the whole culture ... the whole breakdown of discipline in the classes ... the students, they're just, ah, well, I tell in here (the little book), too.
AB: Well, we agree about that 100 per cent. I'm sort of on the dinosaur wing of your conservative school of teaching, which is that the instructor presumably knows something. And the students presumably want to hear about it, and that's my basic premise. It's not always correct, but I have had to give 25 per cent of the final grade for what I call class participation which can include everything. And I'm distressed when people come to school, well come to class, with their lunch which they expect to eat while you watch them dropping things on the floor, talking to their neighbor, this sort of thing ...
TP: ... It really got to be very difficult for me. I got out just at the right time.
AB: I like the concept of the Honor System, too, which we don't have anymore, which may be breaking down in lots of other places. I know that Dr. Brown and I both agree that it would be nice if the Honor System would come back and work. But it's not workable with the present group of students, I don't think, because they don't believe in informing.
TP: Yes, yes.
AB: It's a different thing.
TP: Yes, I say the whole thing is different, and yet, I, to come back to what I said previously, yesterday ... I do think that this love of art, I don't even know if you call it love of art, but call it ... well, the creative urge, this urge to create, to express something in the graphic, or in, what do you call it, ... visual form, is so strong in certain people that it sort of carries them and with all the other difficulties with life today, I think that this thing, this thread that sort of runs through and ran through students from the beginning and still runs through them, and these students, these faces yesterday ... I don't know, it was just something very wonderful.
Maybe if I were in your class and was next to these students, maybe I'd see the same thing there ... I don't know. So, maybe, it's just that, that ... I ... but what I'm really trying to say is that it isn't just art, that I think VCU has a certain aliveness about it and that the students do have a certain independence of interest and not just doing things the teacher tells them.
(break in tape)
TP: This thing is due to Dr. Hibbs, and I think that Dr. Hibbs had this kind of spirit.
AB: He wanted to see this school, a school for those students who knew how to do something that they could carry right into their life's work.
AB: Rather than be a background for something else after they graduate ...
TP: Well, of course, I think one of the things that caused the school to have so much criticism in the early days was really the wonderful thing about it. It started out as sort of a vocational school. That's why it was called a "professional" institute at one time, and he said that so many students who were not college material, not regular academic college material, and yet there was something they wanted to do and could do; and he felt that we needed a school that could take care of these people who would otherwise be considered misfits. And that was the whole basis on which he started the school ...
AB: Well, thank you very much, Miss Pollak.