The Spirit of Teaching (A Journey)

by Carlene Harwick
This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in fall 2002. 

Breath, soul, life, distinguished as apart from the body. The motivating, the thinking, conscious thought. Enthusiasm, mind, intelligence, a divine animating influence or inspiration. These are the definitions found when trying to define ‘spirit’.

A spirit within us stirs when we pick up a needle, various wonderful threads, and colors of canvas or linen. We begin to ‘paint’ with our threads and determine textures through our choice of stitches to interpret either a painted canvas, a chart or our own designs.

Some would probably call what we do a ‘passion’. The definition of this word has its positives and negatives, but we are discussing only the ‘positives’ — joy, love, excitement, enthusiasm and also fondness for an object. In general, passion usually implies a strong emotion that has an overpowering or compelling effect. Our object is, of course, needlework.

Several decades ago, a spirit grabbed me and a passion for needlework took over. When I began teaching, another slightly more insidious spirit invaded my mind and soul. I wouldn’t want to say ‘possessed’ as I wish to think I have some control over such spiritual matters. A few decades ago, I ventured down to Richmond, Virginia to an Assembly for Embroiderers then known to be a part of the Valentine Museum — and entered teaching certification. That began a challenging and wonderful journey!

I learned so much from so many teachers. Learning ‘processes’ is a given — do this, do that, do it this way, do it that way. I am referring to feeding the creative soul AND feeding the spiritual soul.

Betsy Robb was the first NAN Director I knew. There was a happy, classy spirit there… a love of the ‘art’. She was one of the first teachers to teach the laying of silk threads and really enjoyed sharing her love of needlework. Watching Jody Adams in the classroom was delightful — interesting, creative use of stitches, threads and embellishments — and it was guaranteed that you were going to enjoy being there while you learned. Then, Joyce Lukomski. She has a special sensitive ability to determine where each student is at any given time and what they need from her as their teacher, mentor, or friend. That was an important lesson for me — pay attention to the ‘individual’ spirit(s) in your class.

Others came along from which I learned lessons — Fay Andrews and her fabulous sense of humor and her love of ‘lacey’ things; Peg Laflam, and her special way with color as well as her dry wit that often had me doubled over in laughter; Dolores Andrew and her art-full intelligence and gentle spirit; Gail Sirna and her ability to stitch beautiful pieces and to handle just about any job given to her (you know – okaaaaaay, here’s another challenge, so let’s see how we handle this one); Jean Taggart and her special, unique ability to create an exquisite piece of needlework and her gentle nature of presenting it to you; Judy Lehman and her charismatic enthusiasm and special sense of art and color; and, Anita Spitzhoff and her ability to gently organize and keep things on track. There are many special ‘spirits’ that are all an important part of NAN as well as other needlework organizations, a spiritual connection of teachers who share a special passion about the art of the needle.

As you can see, there is a recurring theme here – the spirit. Betsy Robb used to call it a ‘sisterhood’. When I first heard it, although I understood the concept, I didn’t buy into it as a spiritual connection. I hadn’t matured that far in the whole process of teaching. I feel that now. I have heard the ‘spirit’ expressed as a ‘light’ and this is appropriate. Everyone holds a spiritual ‘light’. Some bum brightly, some bum lightly, but all add to the ‘glow’.

There is a passion for WHAT we are teaching — followed by the special ‘electricity’ flowing through your veins as you share that passion with others. It feeds your soul!