School News

Greg Thatcher, Artist and Teacher, Pursues His Vision in England

What does a fine artist who is also a teacher do for recreation when the school year ends?

If you’re Maharishi School art teacher and department chair Greg Thatcher, you go to England and spend a month drawing the sacred yew trees in St. Mary's Churchyard, Painswick, Gloucestershire.

During that month you would spend your days with sketch pencil in hand, you would also find time to be interviewed by Italian art curator and entrepreneur Luca Melchiona for a feature article on the topic of “transcendence” in his online TAR magazine, you would be interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucester, you’d arrange summer teaching workshops for next year’s summer . . . and you would sketch the yew trees, hours and hours of plein air artistic communion with the sacred yew trees of England.

It all started in 1991, when Greg first starting drawing the yew trees in St. Mary’s Churchyard. Explaining that beginning in a BBC Radio Gloucester interview, he had been told by a friend that he “just had to see the trees,” so he and his wife packed a lunch and brought the children. “It was this magical, wonderful place that had all these incredible, absolutely gorgeous trees with these wonderful shapes--it was magic.” As a part of the trip, he produced a drawing of the trees. “I finished the drawing and brought it in, and my wife was with one of our children at that point. I brought it in and showed it to her, and she started crying. I go, ‘OK, I’m on to something here.’”

In the summer of 2013, Greg spent 130 hours on location--in the open air--in Painswick on a single drawing. This year’s successful Kickstarter project, "Plein Air of the Sacred Yews,” helped fund Greg and his wife Jan’s return to England in order to continue his long-time association with the yew trees. En plein air is a French term that means “in the open air,” referring to artists who work outside in the environment being rendered. Greg’s en plein air work this summer went well. “We had great weather and I was able to work almost every day. I put in approximately 120 hours on location. The drawing is now almost completed, and I will be able to finish it up in my studio here [in Iowa].”

Greg has spent the last 26 years teaching art at Maharishi School. In the 10 years prior to that, he taught art at Maharishi University of Management (then Maharishi International University), arriving in Fairfield in 1978. This year he is teaching Art History and Portfolio Preparation, which is a class in which students develop and refine work they have a passion about. He will also be teaching photography classes, both a digital photography class and a “wet darkroom” class.

Over the years, students passing through Maharishi School’s art and photography classes have earned over 750 awards in state, national, and international competitions. These students have not only refined their technical skills but have also received an education on the relationship between the artistic artifact, the artist’s consciousness, and those who “receive” or experience art. On his gallery webpage, Greg writes the following: “The direct experience of an artwork is primarily an internal experience, based solely upon our level of consciousness and our mental impressions and past experiences. Experiencing an artwork with openness can provide us with direct contact with our deeper selves and, at times, a beautiful epiphany that reaffirms the divine.”

In a TAR magazine article, “Transcendence,” Greg explains this process in the following manner:

One of my grade 12 Art History students was doing a Vermeer for her master copy. During an in-depth critique of Vermeer's The Milk Maid, I asked her a series of questions that challenged her perception of his work.

I first asked her, "What is the picture about?"

Then a little deeper, "What is happening within the picture?"

Then, "What compositional structure does he use to create unity?"

Greg then encouraged the student to look more deeply and then still more deeply, and the student discovered that she was experiencing increasing inner quietness and stillness. Greg told her, “This is the brilliance of Verneer’s work. It is transcendental. And now, you know.”

Taking a subject to its deepest level and then connecting consciousness with the topic of study is the focus of Maharishi School’s Consciousness-Based curriculum, and as an artist Greg is uniquely placed to help his students make connections between their creation, the appreciation of art, and consciousness. In his BBC Radio Gloucester interview, Greg said, "I have to be a plein air artist, which basically means I have to draw while I'm here . . . I have to draw [the yew trees] exactly the way they are,” both their outer and inner reality.

Greg and his wife continue to expand his sales in the global market, marketing his art through Facebook, which has already been successful, locating galleries that are suitable venues, and expanding the teaching workshops that he has initiated as a part of his England experience. One possibility he is especially excited about it that a teacher of music and dance in Cheltenham, Gloucester, is interested in developing a performance based on Greg’s drawings where dance and music will express the essence of the sacred yews.

Greg believes that art informs teaching and that teaching informs art. Insights from one enrich the other. In fact, he feels that teaching is just one facet of his life as an artist, that teaching not only increases a student’s understanding but also his own. Whether he is making art, exhibiting art, marketing art, or teaching others about art, it is all work that helps Greg be the teacher and artist he is.

(Yew Trees #66 copyright Greg Thatcher, used with permission)

Tags: art education , en plein air

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