Thanking Our Arts Teachers

Saying Thanks to the Teachers
Who Helped You Become an Artist

. . .

As another school year winds down, we’re celebrating the amazing and creative teachers working hard to share their knowledge and inspire students of all ages.

Teaching is a path that people choose for love and caring, not for money. And just one special teacher you connect with can make a huge difference in your creative life.

We asked all kinds of artists to share the teachers who they want to thank, for helping them become the artists that they are today.

Keep St Pete Lit writing classes for children – photo by Sara Ries Dziekonski

I have to start by thanking H.B. Plant High English teacher Barbara Walker, a true lover of words who is insightful, fun and joyful. Her first year at Plant was my first year in 1983, so we began together and I was lucky to be in her class again my senior year. Mrs. Walker not just tolerated but enjoyed my Thoreau term paper written, I now realize, as a play with characters and dialogue amid the formal footnotes.

And my heartfelt thanks to the much-loved Fanni Green – amazing actor, playwright and educator at the USF School of Theatre and Dance. When I started a radio theatre troupe in 1998 and looked for actors, the studio was bursting with terrific USF grads who all told me Fanni was their favorite teacher.

I took Fanni’s one-semester playwriting class when I was in my 30s. When I shared a draft of my first full-length play with Fanni, she not only read it, she gave it to director Jim Rayfield, who gave me a staged reading at the Gorilla Theatre when I didn’t know what a staged reading was.

Airlift written by me for Creative Clay performing at the MFA with actor Lisa Tricomi, choreographer Paula Kramer and viola player A.J. Vaughan – photo by Tom Kramer

Fanni’s kind creative generosity is how I got started, and met wonderful creative people I still work with. And I’m so very grateful every chance I get to work with Fanni.

In this special feature, you’ll see I’m just one of many artists who are artists thanks to life-changing arts teachers.


If you have a teacher you want to thank, you can email and we’ll keep updating this feature.


Prof. Barton Gilmore, head of the photo dept. at SPC, was instrumental in turning my photography “hobby” into a passion and a way of life.

His enthusiasm for photography, his knowledge of its history and his critical eye were invaluable.

– Ric Savid 


My theatre professor Jacque Wheeler absolutely made me who I am today. She’s an actress, director, educator, playwright and choreographer.

Matt McGee and Eric Davis onstage at freeFall Theatre

She’s also kept up with me long after my graduation in 1998. A cheerleader, a sage, a dear friend.

– Matthew McGee


by Jake Troyli

My high school art teacher Sal Gulino at Pinellas Park High School made a huge impact on me. I would love for you to feature him!!

– Jake Troyli


Panther, by Marie Hammer

When I attended University of the Arts in Philadelphia many years ago, I was fortunate to have Martha Mayer Erlebacher as a teacher. She encouraged us to study artists we liked, but to find our own style.

We worked hard in her classes to develop the skills to draw and paint.  According to Wikipedia, Martha Erlebacher was “a leading American realistic artist.” Readers may wish to look online to see some of her artwork.

Here is one of my paintings.  I wonder how different it would be had she not been my teacher.

– Marie Hammer


While a student at The Cooper Union in the late 1970s I had the great privilege to study with some heavy-hitters in the art world, including Hans Haacke, Vito Acconci, Kenneth Snelson, Charles Simmonds, Jim Dine, Milton Glazer and Louise Bourgeois.

I had the most involvement with Louise Bourgeois, becoming her assistant after graduation – however I would like to thank them all for their contribution to my education as an artist.

In particular, I’d like to single out Jim Dine for his novel approach to teaching drawing. At the beginning of class each week he would set up an elaborate still-life of glass bottles. We then drew one drawing from the still-life for three hours and then completely erased our drawings to start over anew on the same sheet of high quality paper the next class.

Jim Dine ~ Still Life 1978

We repeated this drawing and erasing procedure for the entire semester, only retaining the drawing from the final session.

Through this practice we learned about impermanence, patience and the importance of working on a concept to a degree that we had not been exposed to up to that point. He taught us that the process was the essence of creating art, not just the final result.

Thank you Jim, I carry this experience in my toolbox to this day.

– Donald Gialanella


The Golden Tray by Steven Kenny, 2024, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches

As a teenager, art was something I did at home in my spare time for my own enjoyment. It wasn’t until sophomore year of high school that I began taking art classes and it changed my world.

The teacher’s name was Bert Glassberg and he was the only art teacher in the school. He recognized my talent and took me under his wing. He also encouraged me to join the stage crew and before long I was building and painting sets for the school’s theatrical productions. I even visited his home on a couple occasions.

He was very encouraging when it came to considering art school. He even arranged for me to take a day off from classes to tour a nearby art school during an open house. All of his enthusiasm gave me the courage to consider art school – and life as an artist – as a serious option. Without his support I may never have applied and been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to his retirement celebration about 12 years ago. I’ve seen him once or twice since then but have lost touch. Writing this has made me want to reach out once again and let him know how influential he’s been in shaping my life.

– Steven Kenny


My favorite teacher is Dennis Zuercher from Pinellas Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. You can find him there teaching AP US History, Human Geography, and cracking snarky jokes on equally snarky students.

It was really difficult when I moved here from Alaska in 2010. I felt pretty miserable all the time, but Mr. Zuercher gave me an example of how to be and to lead with my quirkiness. He was this real life model of a nerd and a comedian combined, and I wanted to be just like that.

His classes were also notoriously difficult – so much so that everybody groaned if you ever talked about him. I was failing for a while but started paying attention to his notes and where I messed up. I learned how to critically think and ask questions, expand, use examples and different types of reasoning – and before I knew it, I was popping out a couple of essays a week.

I ended up doing really, really well in his class, and I’ll never forget what he told me before the school year ended, “Denzel you were always capable of this.”

It was the first time I felt like a somebody.


Sweeping up Leaves

December waddles in at the last minute
like it’s black and white and flightless.
Coffee is ready and someone
is sweeping up leaves outside.



Last night I saw Mr. Zuercher in a dream.
I was so embarrassed and excited
I catch him up on what I’ve been doing
he smiles and stands there
nodding in a white Oxford shirt,
dark red tie, and grown up looking
ironed khaki pants
that say I’m listening
like the best episodes of Frasier.
I tell him I’ve been paying rent
and that I cook sometimes.
I over enthusiastically tell him
I read and write poetry–
like it’s some language I learned on Duolingo.
I say that I read history (occasionally).
He says Wow!
But I can’t really hear it anymore
so I trust his mouth made the shape
and was honest to his thoughts.
I tell him even sad things
My ear is better…!
but I think that weird thing is growing back.
I tell him I need to call my mother more
and I get sad sometimes but I’m okay I think.



I grow sullen and show him
the back of my ear for some reason.
He nods and frowns a little
eyebrows raising
like arms over shoulders just before a hug



He is listening to me talk
like it’s 2012 and I’m the weird kid
who just moved here from far away.



– Denzel Johnson-Green


Mom, by Elizabeth Indianos

The most influential Art teachers in my life were, Mrs, Otto in High School who let me do whatever I wanted. Hiram Williams at the University of Florida and Mernet Larsen at the University of South Florida.

Dad, by Elizabeth Indianos

My parents were also very influential. My mother Rose Indianos received a piano scholarship to Julliard at age 15. My Dad William Indianos attended RSDI for fashion design before he went to war.

portrait of Elizabeth Indianos by Hiram Williams

This is a portrait of me, painted by Hiram Williams, his work at the Harn in Gainesville and portraits I did of my parents.

– Elizabeth Indianos


We would like to thank the arts teachers at the four Pinellas County Exceptional Student Education schools.

– Markus Gottschlich


My most consistently illuminating art teachers have been peers in writing groups, like these women.

Ellen Placey Wadey, Claire Parins, and Martha Steketee (not pictured) who helped make my short film Hatboxes a reality, the late St. Petersburg Writers-Actors Group, without whom neither Longer nor Flag Act would exist – and the beta readers and collaborators who are helping to bring my feature Space Heater into the world.

– Susana Darwin


"Journey to Serenity: Embracing Home amidst Life's Trials"
“Journey to Serenity: Embracing Home amidst Life’s Trials” by Jenipher Chandley

Throughout my life, I have been incredibly fortunate to receive a robust artistic education, guided by a number of exceptional instructors who significantly shaped my journey as an artist.

While many teachers played a role in my development, three college instructors stand out as pivotal figures in setting my current artistic path in motion – Sandra Bourne, Tony Weldon and Jennifer Pauly Paterson. Thirteen years after graduation, I continue to use everything they taught me and hold them in the highest regard as my mentors.

Sandra Bourne

Sandra Bourne’s classes were a revelation. Her approach to color theory and composition opened my eyes to new dimensions of artistic expression. She had a unique way of encouraging experimentation while providing the structure needed to hone technical skills. Her feedback was always constructive, pushing me to explore beyond my comfort zone and realize my full potential.

Tony Weldon

Tony Weldon, with his profound knowledge of art history and techniques, provided a rich context for my work. His passion for the arts was infectious, and he challenged me to think critically about my creative choices. Tony’s emphasis on conceptual development helped me to deepen the meaning behind my art, making my work not just visually appealing but intellectually engaging.

Jennifer Pauly Paterson

Jennifer Pauly Paterson was instrumental in my professional development as an artist. She guided me through the process of submitting my work to shows and art competitions, teaching me the importance of presentation and perseverance. Her mentorship was a blend of encouragement and realism, preparing me for the competitive nature of the art world while fostering my determination to succeed.

These instructors not only provided me with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in my field but instilled in me the confidence to pursue art as a career. Their belief in my abilities was a driving force behind my achievements, culminating in my position at the top of my class and my unwavering commitment to my craft.

Maintaining contact with Sandra, Tony and Jennifer has been a joy and a privilege. They have transitioned from mentors to friends, continuing to inspire me with their own artistic endeavors. Their influence extends beyond my college years, as I still draw upon the lessons they imparted in my daily practice. I am deeply grateful for their guidance and support, which have been crucial to my growth and success as a fine artist.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out their work. Each of them brings a unique perspective and talent to the art community, and their contributions are truly remarkable. I owe much of my success to their dedication and am eternally thankful for the impact they have had on my life and career.

– Jenipher Chandley


Bob Barancik – Lamentations: Two Blue Figures Abstract Collage

In 1966, at the age of 16, I decided that I wanted to spend my life as an artist.

And nothing else.

Although it was not a decision that made my architect father especially happy, he arranged for me to study with the distinguished Professor Paul Weighardt at the Evanston Art Center in suburban Chicago on Saturday mornings.

If I was going to choose a genuinely difficult and precarious creative career, it would make sense to get the best instruction asap. My dad was entirely correct.

Paul had briefly studied at the famous Bauhaus school in Germany under world class artists like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. But he received a more traditional European arts education at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts.

He and his Jewish wife fled the Nazis at the beginning of WWII. It was an dangerous, arduous and epic journey across both Russia and China. They arrived in America penniless and alone. But thankfully, the Weighardts were befriended by the Quaker community in Philadelphia. This gave them a foothold to begin a new life in the new world.

While teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s, his students included Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, Leon Golub and others who went on to distinguished art careers.

My initial experience at the Evanston Art Center was rocky. I was a volatile and callow teenager in an adult class of working art and design professionals who were mostly in their 30s, 40s and older. It was challenging situation for everyone. Especially with the presence of a nude female model.

Paul had the patience of St. Paul with me. He died about a year after I went off to college. He was 72.

Presently, I am 74.

The passage of time astounds me. I owe him so much and still often think of him.

– Bob Barancik


Paul Massie was an angel for me. He cast me in my first play at USF. He helped me go to grad school at NYU.

He brought me back to USF to teach years later, when he retired – and it is his position I now have, and his office. I am reminded of the verse in the Christian Bible in Hebrews that talks about entertaining angels, unaware I did not know upon meeting him that he would be so influential in my saying, “Yes, I know I want to be an actor.”

Paul definitely saw something in me, and though I was completely blind and secretly hopeful, he nurtured and encouraged me to go for “it” – Acting and Teaching, not as a dream but rather as a response to the call to do both.

I learned from him that showing up requires discipline, that doing the work requires collaborative trust and vulnerability, and that “the process is the product.”

I have endeavored to walk in his footsteps – with acuity, incisiveness and care. Thank you to the late Paul Massie!

– Fanni Green


St Pete’s Nomad Art Bus is a mobile arts education center


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