photo courtesy of Becky Guinn

Last week, Mrs. Becky Guinn was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions in "Interview With Becky Guinn; Part I." She is an amazing person, still teaching and advocating for art even though she lost her arms and legs due to an allergic reaction to a blood thinner in 2002. Here is the rest of her story:

Could you tell us some of your thought processes as you dove right back into teaching after the amputations? How did the students respond to you? 

After returning to teach, I used taped demos and that worked well. This was a great concern...how I was going to be able to demonstrate techniques. The state provided an artist for my classroom aide. We spoke the same language...it was a positive collaboration for my classes. Another concern was how the students would react to me. Should I just go in & do my thing or should I explain what happened & why I looked as I do. I realized that in every class there were several students who had no clue. So, I began each semester explaining what had happened. Often my humor kicked in & I would tell the kids they were going to have to help (the aide wouldn't be there) me...I was a little short handed! The term, 'Give me a hand...' took on a new dimension! 

I never knew if it was good or not to show students how to do an assignment or whether it was better to let them discover through the process. As a student, I would have wanted a demo - the more examples, the better. As a teacher, I found if I used my personal samples, I had more kids saying, 'I cannot do that.' Before I lost the use of my hands, I found my former students' projects made great examples...age appropriate & if another student could do it, my students were more apt to try.  Another thing that worked for some, was a 'peer tutor'...students would try for another student more readily than for me using my examples. 

Finally, I was concerned about the paper work teachers must do...being able to fill out a discipline report fast enough to not lose the rest of the class's attention. Bus duty, parking lot duty, cafeteria duty, working ballgames...I was unsure how I could accomplish some of those tasks with the speed & precision necessary. This is where my administration & co-workers were such a great support."

How did you come to realize that you could still paint?

This is one of the first paintings Mrs. Guinn created after the amputations. (beckyguinn.org)
"The very 1st thing I painted was with a blow-marker. Rehab tried to configure something for me to use. The 1st thing I wrote was: 'Love, Mom,' on my daughter's birthday card...6 days after the amputations. I told myself, 'Letters are symbols; draw the letters.' The pen was held by velcro on a fiberglass strap on my elbow and I used my 'art brain' to draw my signature. That was the 1st glimmer of hope that I might have art in my future.
The 2nd & 3rd things I painted were acrylics 5 months after amputations. One for each daughter...they asked & we all agreed that I wouldn't know if I could until I made a concerted effort. Both paintings were landscapes done with a cable clamp tightened on my forearm that had a paintbrush duct-taped to it. My palette needed to be light & fit in my lap, so a paper plate worked well. What a sense of accomplishment!"

How does the mechanism work in your prosethetic hand? Is it a shoulder movement that causes the hooks to close?

"My hooks default closed. There is a wire attached to each of the hooks that follows up my arm, around my shoulder to my back where the opposite end attaches to a ring at the center of the harness. When I extend either arm or flex my bicep enough, the hooks open. Both hooks can be moved/twisted manually. My right hook has three positions. Flexed the most, allows me to write, paint, eat, etc. Straight is the position I use for driving, typing, lifting heavy objects, etc. The tightness of my grip is controlled by rubber bands...the more bands, the tighter the grip." 

What gave you the idea to start the "Hooked On Art" program?

"The idea for the 'Hooked on Art Program' evolved from wanting to do something after retiring.  My retired friend and science teacher, Becky Cairns, was willing to travel and help with the program. We knew there were many connections between art and science.  Our motto became Art + Science = Becky 2 (Becky squared).  We had played around with several names, but returning from the 2008 NAEA Convention, a light bulb came on through Betsy Logan.  Betsy, Becky and I were riding back from the airport and Betsy said, 'Hooked on Art!'  It fit and we all knew that was what the program should be called.  After receiving a grant from the AL State Council on the Arts and the AAEA added the program to its budget, we were able to officially launch the program, which reached approximately 2000 students and teachers each year for 6 years."

How did you get involved with the Alabama Art Education Association?

"I had been an art education major 25 years before becoming an art teacher.  My high school had no art program.  I had to take mechanical and architectural drawing in a boys drafting class to have any art lessons. After college we moved to St. Petersburg, FL where art teachers were 'a dime a dozen.' I went into real estate advertising and marketing because I needed a job. After that, we moved to MS, AL, TX.  I did not ever even apply for teacher certification until we returned to AL in 1992. When I was hired as the only art teacher in Chambers County Schools, I was the 1st art teacher in 10 years. I had never been a student in a high school art class.  It had been 25 years since I had been in college art classes.  I was told to choose my curriculum.  I decided I needed to go somewhere for help.  I signed up to attend the NAEA Convention that was being held in New Orleans in 1996.  I went and learned all I could.  I was overwhelmed.  I attended the next one in Chicago.  Still like a fish out of water! I went to the '97 AAEA convention that year by myself...didn't know a soul. Met others who were there alone.  Met wonderful people who were friendly.  They couldn't call my name, but they were accessible to everyone. You could just tell; the workshops were as good as NAEA. I learned so much and felt welcome.  At the fall conference in '98, I had a co-worker with me.  The last night at a banquet, I met Andy Meadows.  He said the conference would be in Montgomery the next fall and maybe we could help and get involved. Because Valley is on Eastern time, we would leave school at 4 our time and get to Montgomery by 4:30 even though it was 90 miles away.

 I continued after the conference to attend workshops by the Central AL Art Educators. They became my mentors; they taught me how to teach art! Having been a member of AAEA since 1996, I have to say it has supported my career, forged friendships, strengthened me as an art educator, given me guidelines, professionalism, leadership and a veritable life-line that I desperately needed."

What could you tell us about God and about how He has supported you through the experience of having your limbs amputated?

"God did it all! He allowed me to live when 5 of 6 people with cases of Heparin Induced Thrombosis as bad as mine, died. He kept us positive and showed us the way forward.  We set goals and took steps to achieve those goals; so we did our part, but the blessings, the lack of resentment, and the results all point to God opening doors and He gets all the glory. The fact that I almost lost the ability to create works of art has produced an urgency in me to create...just to see if I can.  My methods, media, and techniques have changed since my amputations.  With age, I am realizing even more limitations, but every day is a gift from God.  Every prompting from nature's beauty stirs in me a desire to capture it. Not because I can improve God's creation, but because He has put this desire within and maybe the viewer will respond in kind."

 photo courtesy of Becky Guinn
How can art teachers best advocate for visual art in the state of Alabama? 

"Art Educators need to 'sell' the program whether it is in private or public schools. Use every opportunity to get your photo in the local newspaper.  If not your photo, then your kids, your class.  Draw outside and invite the newspaper to come by and get a shot.  If you receive a grant - publicize it.  Ask freelance writers to do an article on a special project your students are working on.  Meet for volunteer activities after school-invite a reporter.  Take field trips, make pics and send them to the newspaper.  Put community wide and school wide events in community calendars. Get on local TV stations with student exhibits.  Be creative; think outside the box.  The public has to know your name and your program to be sad to see it go...make yourself known to your superintendent and school board members; get to know the mayor. When you have a special unit, invite the mayor, city councilperson, education partner, superintendent and/or school board members to a brunch, lunch, reception, banquet...they probably won't come, but they'll remember you invited them! Make an artists' recipe book; a calendar of local sites drawn by
students, photographed by students...collaborate with the drama teacher, foreign language teacher, music dept., phys ed to present a special program for the whole school or selected grades. Publicize, publicize, publicize...newspaper, TV, radio, churches, flyers, letters to parents and public figures, even local businesses...they'll be hiring some of your students one day. If all AAEA members did  this, we might even attract some new members into AAEA; then if our increased numbers publicized the arts we would finally get the word out about the best professional organization in the state! I cannot imagine NOT being a member...my teaching career would have floundered and suffered had it not been for AAEA.

What advice do you have for an art teacher just starting out? 

"My advice for an art teacher just starting out would be: 
Look through your students records...they are eye-opening.
Respect the human being even if you abhor their behavior.
Guard your sense of humor...laugh out loud sometimes; it can break tension.
Avoid being backed into a corner verbally or physically.
Be consistent with discipline...follow through on promises...watch out for ultimatums.
Allow students' choices on projects, even if it's small ones like the number of colors to use, or the kind of paper.
Hold fast to the school rules so you do not create issues in the next teacher's class (cell phones, hats, gum) - be a 'team player.'

Don't sweat the small stuff."

Becky and her husband, photo courtesy of Becky Guinn

We will be forever grateful to Mrs. Guinn for her transparency. My favorite video is this one, Walking By Faith:CBS 19 Newswhere she describes God surrounding her with his presence, almost like a cocoon. She could have kept all of this to herself and not said a word, but she continues to tell her story, living courageously. She is an example for all the rest of us in endurance, strength, and patience. Mrs. Guinn typed out this entire interview herself, using her "hooks!" She says,

"Thank you, Anna...just putting one foot in front of the other, daily, with my heart & hand in God's."

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

1 comment:

Elizabeth Logan said...

AWESOME!!! Becky Guinn is my hero and I love her to death!!!! Great articles!!!