Follow me

barry nametag

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.

follow me

explorers door

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.

jim and barry handshake


  1. Caryn says:

    I love this story!

  2. Susan Flynn says:

    What a beautiful tribute to teachers everywhere. This happy-ending story should also make the person who burnt his or her toast feel better. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Michelle Moon says:

    This choked me up! For real! Wow, what a story.

  4. Emily Larsen says:

    Lovely story!

  5. Allison W says:

    Awesome story Jim!

  6. Janice H. says:

    Mr. Barry Poretsky was a fabulous Art Teacher for the children of Chelsea. He taught art to my students at the Prattville School. He created dynamic projects and always provided Art History with the lessons. He even did the calligraphy on my wedding invitations 27 years ago! it’s nice to hear that he is still going strong! Loved the article! C:

  7. Jim Olson says:

    Thanks for the comment Janet. So true and cool that he did your wedding invites!

  8. Jim Olson says:

    Yes Susan! Thank goodness for that burnt toast.

  9. Kathy T says:

    A very sweet tale of small world connections. And now I know a little more about what goes on behind that door! Thanks, Jim.

  10. Marie Meegn says:

    How very special this story about you and your former student is, Barry. It is on a rare occasion that a teacher, you, in this case, finds out how he influenced those in one’s care. And that is the point. You have always been a caring teacher and I am certain this was not the only student who remembers your influence. Congratulations, Barry! Marie Meegan P.S. Judy Komarow forwarded this story to NSATA members. Where have you been? Dec. 8 – next meeting.

  11. Nancy Corrigan Wilbert says:

    Thank you for sharing Carolyn. It was a truly wonderful tribute to Barry. It is nice that you have such a fond memory of him, as you began your career teaching art to the children of Chelsea so many years ago.
    As a former student of mine, I’d like to share with you, that after thirty years at Seekonk High School, I’ll be retiring this June 2015. I enjoy receiving your e-mails and hearing about all the wonderful endeavors you undertake with your students.

  12. Connie Scanlon says:

    What a wonderful story! I am sure that it meant the world to Mr. Poretsky to hear Jim’s story. I certainly enjoyed it. As a teacher, it is easy to sometimes feel overwhelmed, and to wonder when and where we might be making a difference. Thanks Jim for your uplifting account!

  13. Bob Mullaney says:

    Very cool story. Almost always enjoy serendipity stories Thanks for sharing.

  14. Marci Fabris says:

    Fab story Jim! My elementary school art teacher was also best friends with my parents, so I got to do lots of extra art with her on the weekends. She also had a huge impact on my path. So nice that you got to tell your art teacher this.

  15. Vickie Riley says:

    Great story! I love that you had the opportunity to tell Mr. Poretsky that he made a difference in your life. And now – you are doing the same for so many folks who experience your work at PEM.

  16. Paula Richter says:

    Thanks for sharing this tale of a serendipitous reunion caused by burnt toast. It is terrific to recognize and thank teachers and mentors who made a difference in life. We don’t often have the chance to reconnect years later so I am glad that you made the most of the opportunity!

  17. Jane says:

    wow this is sooo inspiring!! I hope I make a difference in someone’s life like this art teacher did! I teacher k-4 art in Chelmsford MA

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