Teaching and the obstinate Shetland pony ( Auto-biography).


We all know that Shetland ponies are escape artists. When you see them looking down, they are actually thinking. “How the hell can I get out of this joint?”. Our Shetland was a Houdini. I would get a phone call; “Hey Gerard your horse is in town.” I would jump on my bike with the lead in hand. I would cycle back, Shetland on rope, give her a stern talking to and put her back in with the sheep and chickens. I would again fix the wire fence but also knew she would soon figure a way out again. When the foal was born she stopped escaping.

There are so many memories fondly embedded in that period that I am at risk of never finishing what I set out to do. The aim is to meander from the beginning of my family’s migration in 1956 till my present state of blissful dotage. Still, words at times seem to have a will of their own, like a Shetland, and lead to unexpected and totally arbitrary directions. My apologies.

The job of teaching came about though a friend named Jan Muller who was doing the salt glazed pottery and lived in the museum village of Orvelte, and who was teaching at a collage for adults. After a short interview I started teaching at the same college. That was the best time of our stay in Holland. The first day of teaching was somewhat nerve-wrecking. Who was I to teach anything? I wasn’t taught anything. Failed even the Phyllis Bates ‘academy of dance’ of Fox trot and the Rumba. And that was with the dance steps painted on the floor!

Of course I had a good grounding from Desiderius Orban, the Hungarian master teacher at The Rocks in Sydney. He lived till 101 years and at the time we were in Holland I was still in contact with him. Fear is what prevents many from employing what we are all born with. The ability to express and give form to some creativity, no matter how humble or grandiose. The first lesson, if I remember correctly, was to try and get all the adults to put charcoal or pencil to paper. Now, if you had a group of toddlers, they would instantly without exception start to doodle furiously and with great joy! Not so with many adults. It is sad. They lost this spontaneity and joy. Many would as a first option say; ‘I can’t draw.’ They say that before any attempt was made to put a single dot on the paper. How do you know?  You don’t know if you don’t try!  ‘Go on, put the charcoal on the paper just draw a line or just a single dot’!

My first day was to try and make the students approach the paper without fear. Somehow the enthusiasm of the toddler had to be regained. That is what my aim of teacher was. I could not teach just skill or things like shading or making portrait eyes follow you around the room, photo-like images of apples or strawberries so real that the paper or canvas was almost bitten into by the ambitious but starving student while wearing a beret and dirty pants.


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11 Responses to “Teaching and the obstinate Shetland pony ( Auto-biography).”

  1. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I would definitely be one of those people who’d say, “I can’t draw!” I was never good in art class, and my confidence was low from day one. Maybe I just didn’t have the right teacher!


  2. Yvonne Says:

    I sure do like the style of Lonia. (Is that her name?) No wonder you are proud!

    Teaching! I well remember my first day standing in front of a class of student nurses (in Adelaide). I definitely didn’t need any laxatives that day!


  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    The first day of teaching is mind boggling. At least teaching art you know they are there because they want to be and not because it is a requirement. I had one student in my sculpture class who told me she saw everything as “flat”. Another young man left to become rather well known in another field of art, his being Native American carving. But isn’t the whole memory thing a kick? I run across a former student every now and then. Not one of mine has made the good impact of yours in painting. Lovely images. You did well in your teaching.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It is great when people lose their fear of doing things outside their comfort zone. For some, putting a line on a piece of paper or writing a couple of words, strikes a deadly fear into their very souls, yet happily do bungi jumping or sky diving.


  4. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    You are proud of her with good reason, Gerard.


  5. elizabeth2560 Says:

    You certainly have had varied careers … and now teaching! From the reading of your posts, I think you would have been a great teacher and I love your idea of capturing ‘the enthusiasm of the toddler’ within your students.


  6. berlioz1935 Says:

    “Fear is what prevents many from employing what we are all born with.The ability to express and give form to some creativity, no matter how humble or grandiose.”

    What a great statement, Gerard. So wise and insightful. I wish more teachers would be able to draw out the creativity lurking insight their pupils. We would be all better of.

    Lonia’s paintings are beautiful.


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