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Mr Stambaugh The Teacher

My first memory of Mr. Stambaugh is when I was about 8 or 9. He was already good friends with my uncle Carter Hall who also taught at St. Albans. He came by one afternoon to visit my parents. I sat myself opposite him with my paints and paper in my lap. I don’t remember him paying any attention to me then. Shortly after that was my first year at St. Albans (fourth grade or Form C as it was known in the school). We all had art in the 4th, 6th and 8th grades. On the alternate years we had Shop. I liked all these classes. I had no sense from Mr. Stambaugh that I was particularly good at art. My dear friend Gave Farr was very good, very talented. I am not sure now what that meant to me or anyone else. In the Lower School, as I remember, we only worked in water color, water color cubes in a small metal box with only three colors (basic red, yellow and blue). And so we learned how to make all the colors of the spectrum from those three colors as well as how to control a rather difficult medium with just water.

When we entered Upper School (high school), art was an elective. Not every one took art any more. I took art every year and two studio classes a day my senior year( thanks to having satisfied all my requirements already). I clearly loved the art classes and did not get any particularly great encouragement. I was quickly graduated much to my surprise to painting in oils which I continued to use then and do to this day. It is interesting to me that he had us paint also with a limited number of colors , the same ones Van Gogh used and which he told us was all w needed to make any colors with.

What did Mr. Stambaugh teach? I almost might say he did not teach. He nurtured. He created an environment into which we could create art. And it was truly all about art. But more than that he created a world and really a world view. His classrooms were famously filled with bird cages and plants. And then there was the art created by the other students. I came of age in the shadow of earlier STA students, all of whom I revered in some respect or other. Most of those did not go on to become artists in the rest for their lives, but I knew every one of their styles and could recognize it easily. Of course there was Hib Sabin, much older than me, who had a very great talent early on and who we all painted in the shadow of. But there were many others whose styles remain vivid to me to today: For example Tom Gleason with his deep violet shadows, Brown Miller with his characteristic Ultramarine blues, Peter Gessell, who painted only in earth colors, which I understood was because he was color bllind, Ed Reustow, Sandy Larson and on and on. That too is an example of Mr. Stambaugh’s teaching, not disqualifying someone because he could not utilize the usual palette, not elevating one style like Ruestow’s over another one like Gleason's. There were many others before me whom I followed. I can name more. I leaned from them all.

And then there was the art room also full of music and magazines with images as well as birds and plants.

We were encouraged to paint from images in magazines and photographs, mostly nature if we were at a loss as to what to paint. He did not emphasize working from life. I would usually come back at the end of the summer with photographs I had taken and then painted from them. As my high school years progressed , I also experimented with surrealism, hot at the time. We did not have available a lot of art books, but Mr. Stamabough took us to museums and encouraged us to go on our own. My most memorable experience with him was at the Phillips Collection . He took our whole class. Most of the others were wandering off right away but I stuck close to him. I remember standing next to him, still very small beside him, while he showed me a Braque still life, telling me to cover with one finger a certain white mark and telling me that this mark makes the whole painting. He said without it the painting would not “work”. I never forgot that . What did he teach us? Actually I think he taught us abstraction, taught us what made up a painting, and that was not representation. We would set to work on anything of our choosing. Later he would come around and make a suggestion here and there. Finally we might show him a work and he would say yes , it is finished: it “worked" or even great praise was it was a “corker”.

But that is not all. He communicated (and believed ) that what we were doing was important. He was even fierce, adamant, and judgmental about that and communicated that not only to us but to the school as well. I think that is why particularly Canon Martin respected and supposed the art program even if he did not fully understand it. This is also a major reason why I have given my life to this activity: art.

There is more I can say about Mr. Stambaugh’s gift to all of us. His amazing exhibition that he organized for the 50th anniversary of the school in 1959 is almost unimaginable today. We had about 50 amazing and valuable paintings in our gymnasium. I got to see close up works by the likes of such varied luminaries as Pollock, Rothko, Ivan Albright and Milton Avery. He also championed the outsiders at school and was proud when a football player was a committed student of his, like Ed Smith.

No on can fail to mention his striking appearance which we all took for granted . He reminded me later of pictures I saw of Marsden Harley. Also his face reminded me of the head of Jon Marin by Lachaise in the Phillips. But appearance is secondary to the aura that he exuded, a powerful influence in its own right and one that many of us were drawn to and aspired to be close to.

I want to mention one other aspect of his “teaching”. He encouraged us to work out side of the required class times and told us that that is where the real progress can be made. I experienced this profoundly one afternoon in the art room after school when I was about 14. Something special happened while I was painting, something that I have carried with me all my life and is central to me even to this day. It was the result of the world that M. Stambaugh created as much or more than any particular thing he taught.

I must also mention that there was somewhat a particular STA style of painting back in those days. It was painterly and had to have been influenced somewhat by Impressionism and landscape painting. That had to have been part of what Mr. Stambaugh nurtured. And yet none of that is reflected in his own work aside from the fact he painted in nature. None of us ever painted in his style . He deliberately would not let us see his work. He told us he did not want to influence us. We should find and create our own way.