Sunday, June 10, 2012

Suzanna Worthington Haney Hadley — 1935-2011

Life Drawing ~1996


Mrs. Hadley, my art teacher for all 4 years of high school, passed away over a year ago. As soon as I heard the news, I knew I had to record something to acknowledge her dedication, but my own life seemed to get in the way. Better late than never.

I met Mrs. Hadley for the first time on the baked-white asphalt of the Mainland High School parking lot. While the institution survives, her classroom was, along with the rest of the school, demolished to make way for a new, admittedly nicer, campus. I remember it being hot, which does nothing to pinpoint the time of year in Florida, but it was probably the summer after eighth grade. My mom brought me and an armful of my artwork—mostly meticulously rendered copies of Venom and The Tick—to prove, in a sense, that my skills (if not my tastes) were advanced for my age, and that I was serious enough to pursue it of my own accord. She took a good look through my "portfolio," the culmination of my 14 years on this planet and, as it turned out, the apex of my aesthetic taste. I'll never forget what she said: "Oh, we'll cure him of that."


The Tick and Venom (after Ben Edlund and Mark Bagley, respectively).
1995. Expresso Pen and Sharpie on copy paper, 8.5 x 11".


The comment stuck in my mind. She wasn't just undermining my skills—I was never satisfied with my own work and was capable of accepting the occasional criticism—she was dismissing my taste, the very goal to which I aspired. But despite that initial meeting, we got along well enough once the school year began. Having Drawing I, first period, every day probably helped.  I am not a "morning person" by nature, so while my body was present for roll call at 7:25 am, my mind was not always in it. I would eventually come to enjoy those 50 minutes as a "warm-up" for the day, but I felt like we didn't really connect until I attended her after-school sessions, organized in part for the upperclassmen who were art-school-bound.

Mrs. Hadley's emphasis was on life drawing, as mine would soon become. Looking back, she must have known what she was doing: using her own money, she would hire girls from Mainland's esteemed dance team, the Lady Bucs, to pose for us (we were the Buccaneers). If one thing can outstrip my love of superheroes, lithe ladies are it (again, little has changed since my fourteenth year). The girls—previously aloof juniors and seniors—would hover above my freshman eyes while I recorded every seam: royal blue satin shorts atop black spandex leggings atop black laminate table—the very table upon which my drawing rested. Not the most ideal of angles, for sure, but there was limited space, I was nearsighted, and I didn't exactly mind the distortions in perspective. This made the "optional" sessions quite mandatory.

Time passed. I got glasses. I dated a Lady Buc; we broke up. I got braces, learned to drive. Got my braces off, tried to grow a goatee. I was rarely absent, nor was Mrs. Hadley, so I'm guessing we must've spent pretty close to the state-mandated 720 days together over the course of 4 years—1,440 hours, probably, as most years I had her for 2 periods, if not more. After reading her obituary, I realized that I never really knew much about her. She studied in Paris? Her father was a brigadier general? She shared a surname with Archangel? Every hour we ever spent together was focused on one thing: creating a portfolio worthy of acceptance to a prestigious art school (RISD, as it turned out) with a scholarship to match (a damn-near full ride). She knew how the system worked and what they looked for, and was determined to put me on the right track.

The "right track," in this case meant no superheroes in my AP portfolio, but she came to understand what I saw in it, and I came to understand that we really wanted the same thing: the substance beneath the style. My goals were still valid, but they would be achieved on the longer journey to the goals she had set for me. In essence, she taught me how to see through things, whether a single hand or an entire genre. I still had much to learn after high school, but it's tough to say where  my studies would have taken me without her guidance.

We kept in contact over the years, so she saw the full scope of my career, and my inevitable return to comics. "Oh, happiness is," she would say whenever I gave her a newly-published comic, followed quickly by a "thank you." She flipped through them excitedly, lamenting the ads, the CGC grade falling with every page turn. I've never been so happy to see my art crushed.

Thanks for being a fan, Mrs. Hadley.

9 comments:

  1. Wow, what a wonderful tribute; very touching, and superbly written. Thank you for sharing, Paolo. You're blessed to have had such a great teacher/mentor.

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  2. That was a beautiful post, Paolo. Very touching.

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  3. Absolutely beautifully written! I think many of us can remember at least one teacher who made a real difference in our lives. My best friend who is now a cancer researcher credits much of her career decision to her wonderful middle school chemistry teacher. We need more teachers like that and more mentors and role models who can inspire us to do our best in whatever field it happens to be. It was very nice of you to share her story, and your own, and with such eloquence! Bravo!

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  4. Amber Mason RyanMonday, June 11, 2012

    Very beautiful tribute.

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  5. Very moving, Paolo. As her co-worker for more than 10 years, I learned a great deal from her, too. She is surely missed. Miss Bobbitt

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  6. I often repeat her advice: draw from life. And the drawing at the top - one of my favorites.

    A pitch-perfect post.

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  7. She was an amazing Lady. Thank you for bringing a memory back.

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