I arrived at work the other day to the sound of fire engines and a chattering sea of people strewn about the sidewalk. As I approached the building, I quickly learned that burnt toast on the third floor was the culprit.
The first thing I noticed was a gentleman holding a sign that read “Follow me.” He had a group of older adults with him and I figured they were our downstairs neighbors, The Explorers Life Long Learning Institute of Salem State University. It’s a wonderful program that promotes peer learning among older adults. I pass by their space on the way up to my office every morning.
After a few minutes we were told we could go back into the building. As I was letting some of these folks pass by, I read the man’s nametag. It said BARRY PORETSKY. The name rang a bell and he looked vaguely familiar. It was something about his glasses and his smile. Just as he turned into the building, it hit me…is that Mr. Poretsky my grammar school art teacher?!
I followed him into the Explorers space and asked him “Excuse me, did you teach art in the Chelsea Public School System?” He gave me a strange look and said “Yes.” I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen or thought of this man for over 30 years.
Let me explain why this was a big deal for me. Mr. Poretsky was my only access to art. He was one of two teachers in Chelsea that taught art classes. He jumped from school to school and we got to see him maybe once a month at best for about an hour. I don’t recall ever having a trip to an art museum before the sixth grade, either with school or my family. As a kid, Mr. Poretsky equaled art for me. The irony is that my office for the last two years is directly above the space in which he teaches an art history class.
He was really surprised to hear that I ended up getting an M.A. in art history and that I am the director of integrated media at PEM. We had a brief conversation about my recent work, including the web app we just created for the Turner & the Sea exhibition and our plans for the upcoming exhibition American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood.
It turns out that he’s a member of PEM and he has seen many of the projects that I have worked on. He seemed impressed that a former student was doing this kind of work and then he said “Forgive me for asking, but did I have anything to do with this?!” I said “Of course you did. You were my only access to art and art history!”
Remember, I said he was holding a sign that said “Follow me.” That is just what I did. Thanks, Mr. Poretsky.