Carol Shutt is retiring next month after 27 years of teaching Mount Desert Elementary School students about art and helping them express their own creativity.
“It has been pretty exhilarating, because the kids surprise you all the time,” she said. “Students begin with creativity, so you just try to do things to help that grow or, at least, to help them not lose it as they get older.
“Art is a unique subject because it integrates so much else. It really has threads in every aspect of our lives.”
In addition to teaching art to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Shutt is an accomplished artist in her own right. Last week, dozens of her pieces — paintings, drawings and collages — were on exhibit in the Blum Gallery at College of the Atlantic.
Following a reception in the gallery on Friday, she gave a slide-illustrated talk about her work as an artist and her career as an art teacher.
“I believe that teaching art to children is kind of a delicate dance between giving them the freedom to explore while still teaching them skills and giving them a foundation for learning in the arts,” she said in the talk.
She showed several examples of her work that she said “probably wouldn’t have happened, or I wouldn’t have made the discoveries that led me to do this work, if I hadn’t been in a K-eight art room.”
During her career, Shutt received 10 grants from the Vincent Astor Incentive Fund at the Maine Community Foundation, which helps teachers at MDES and MDI High School and staff at the Northeast Harbor Library expand their experience and improve their skills. With the help of some of those grants, Shutt has studied art in Cuba, France, Italy, Nepal, Portugal and The Netherlands.
Asked how she “got into” art, Shutt said, “I come from a family of artists, so it’s always been in my life.” She has a degree in fine arts from Syracuse University.
She describes herself as a mixed media artist and attributes that, in part, to her teaching experience.
“You become a mixed media artist because that’s what you do in an elementary school art room,” she said. “We’re giving them various skills and introducing every material. So, you can’t help but say, ‘I’m going to go home and do more of this in my own work.’ I think teaching has made me more open to using a variety of materials.”
Shutt said she feels lucky to live and work in a place where “education is really valued, and the arts are really valued in our schools.”
“I know that’s not true everywhere, so I really appreciate the enthusiasm that people here have for the arts and how they enrich our children’s lives. Art is very honored.”
Shutt said she decided to retire now because it just felt like the right time.
“It’s wonderful to leave feeling so good about the school and the students and the work. It’s an intense job, but an incredible job, a wonderful job.”
She will be greatly missed, not only by MDES students but also by teachers and staff.
“Under Carol’s careful guidance, inspirational instruction and high expectations, students leave here with great pride in their artistic abilities,” said Brian Cote, middle school science teacher.
MDES Principal Gloria Delsandro said Shutt’s belief that all children are artists is inspiring.
“I believe she really is in tune with the whole child and is able to recognize their strengths and interests and help pull those out, so students are able to be really invested in their artwork,” Delsandro said.
“And Carol is so adventurous, so high-spirited and so enthusiastic about life that it’s just contagious.”
Last month, Shutt organized the annual Arts Week event at MDES, which she started 20 years ago. Area artists come to the school and hold workshops with students in every grade, getting them involved in everything from dance to wood burning.
“Over the years, Arts Week has gone from something I was doing for the school to something that every single person in the school takes part in,” Shutt said. “That has been very exciting to see. Everyone gets to use that creative part of themselves, and everyone gets to shine.”