The Power of a Teacher

Martha K. Schauer (1869-1985)

Thank you to Reverend Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr., for being today’s guest blogger. Today, he honors the power of a teacher to make a difference! Our family tree and wider kinship of friends has deep roots in teaching, preaching, and all things education. His writing today is inspired by his desire to learn more about the artist who painted a picture that hangs in his coastal Georgia home.

The Power of a Teacher

An original watercolor painting of a Lowcountry coastal scene, its quality evident, adorns the front wall of my St. Simons Island, Georgia home. As I often view it, I feel the inward pull of a kayak journey through some of the winding contours of marshes and creeks on the island. The area at the East Beach causeway winds through a marsh expanse all the way to Gould’s Inlet, and the dock scenes along the way suggest the aura of the painting.

I bought this piece at an auction in Blackshear, Georgia 18 years ago in a grouped lot of pictures. How such a gem made its way to South Georgia, I can only imagine -it was likely passed down to some family member who didn’t hold the same awareness and appreciation for the piece before it found a welcome home with me. I always love the research and exploration of any such collectible item. I learn a lot in these pursuits. This one led me on an inspiring culmination of memorable blessing. 

Painting from the auction in Blackshear, Ga.

My quest started with the signature of the artist—Martha K Schauer – and led me to encounters with the Dayton, Ohio Institute of Art, through some internet information, and to a prominent New York Times columnist. Martha K Schauer was born in Troy, Ohio and graduated from Steele High school in Dayton in 1908. Her college and graduate education occurred at Pratt Institute in New York, and at Wittenberg University in Ohio. She is listed in Who’s Who in American Art and Who’s Who in American Women. Her art collection appears in many prominent American museums, private collections, and art books. She was a high school teacher in Springfield, Illinois and at Stivers High School in Dayton, Ohio between 1910 and 1957. Additionally, she taught night classes at the Dayton Art Institute and was Director of the Saturday Institute of Art in Dayton from 1926 through 1956. The weekend art schools drew numerous aspiring artists through those years. (This and other information retrieved from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/111236439/martha-k-schauer).

Her resume is impressive, as was the impact of her life on the world of art. Formidable is the word that comes into the heart of students and teachers alike when they consider Martha K Schauer. When I called the Dayton Art Institute and spoke with their historian, the conversation was lively and glowing with gratitude for her legacy. The Dayton Institute has a small collection of the works of Schauer. This historian informed me that her art is still popular and sought after when something comes available. A mosaic began to emerge as I continued reading and researching. 

Martha was tall, striking, and never wore make-up. She spoke with confident authority. One writer described her as having mesmerizing hazel eyes with arrow-like gaze as she spoke with a glistening sparkle behind the spectacles. Another said, “she had a marshmallow heart” – a balanced bit of steel and velvet. 

She was recognized widely as an artist with great talent and skill. Most of her work was done in watercolor, and she was regarded as a master in the field. The museum canvases which I viewed online depict watercolors of red geraniums, pink peonies, morning glories, and golden marigolds. Similar paintings surely brighten the walls of many homes.  One observer said, “she could paint water in a vase so wet and clear that it makes you thirsty to look at it.”

Many of her pupils entered the field of art as teachers, advertising artists, cartoonists, illustrators, decorators and fine artists. Among the many stories that could be told about Martha K Schauer, I want to share a slice of one of her most famous artists, Milton Caniff. Schauer taught art to hundreds of young people. The artist-teacher personality sometimes requires careful attention and management. Such was the case with Caniff. 

Martha recognized the unusual talent of Milton. She knew he had potential greatness and the prospect of becoming a top-flight artist.  However, he was a challenge – a gregarious kid who tried out for literally everything:  school plays, cheer-leading, and who joined all the clubs. 

In time, he fell in love with a girl who became a positive and persuasive influence. She badgered him into going to college to seek another direction than acting. Somehow, she was able to keep him focused, and he finished college in five bumpy years. 

Martha K. Schauer

In 1932, Milton Caniff moved to New York with an artist’s job with the Associated Press. He took over some of the tasks of the great artist Al Capp and developed many well-known comic strips which were nationally syndicated, such as TERRY AND THE PIRATESfeaturing the blonde bombshell Burma. Caniff spoke well through cartoons to many relevant issues. Finally, the cartoon STEVE CANYON was born and thrived throughout a captivating longevity. Caniff’s cartoon career continued, and he depicted countless American events in a gripping manner. The cartoons reflected the highest level of skill and content. 

As the years passed in his art career, Milton Caniff became the most honored man in his profession because of the formidable force of Martha K Schauer.  The lucrative career and the relationship behind it reveals the incredible power of a teacher. Milton never forgot her. 

Roz Young of the NEW YORK TIMES dug out a news article she had done (after an interview with Caniff) for the Chicago Tribune and sent it to me, an article which speaks not only of the power of a teacher but also of the love for one. Young shared, “Every time he came back to his hometown, he went to visit her.  They had a great time laughing about the old days and reminiscing.”

As the years passed, Schauer lost her hearing and sight and had to enter a nursing home. This passionate artist was cut off from the world of art, books and music – and perhaps, many relationships. But Milton never stopped coming to visit her.  Roz Young reports that Martha always knew the kiss and touch of Milton’s hands – and they always brought smiles to her aged face. 

In March 1985, Martha died at age 96. Caniff dropped his work and flew to New York and shared words at her memorial service. He spoke from his heart and said, “Most of us have a person outside our families who have a profound influence on our lives…mine was Martha K Schauer! This stately lady taught high school art to a knucklehead crowd! She graded us against ourselves. If she thought I was goofing off, she cut my grade from an A to a B minus. I got the message.”

Milton Caniff spoke of Schauer’s views of art to inspire others and make a difference. He also commented that “just before graduation, she called me into her office to tell me that I was not developing to my potential and that I should be punished.”

The following October, Caniff used the Steve Canyon comic strip to tell the world, who knew little of Schauer, how he felt about her.  He spoke of her caring influence. The tribute speaks of the debt we all owe at least one teacher – a teacher who sets our feet on the right path and pulls back the curtain of the future, showing us a glimpse of what we might become. 

Teachers! I am grateful for teachers who prompt, prod, and persuade us to more lofty horizons. Our teachers and mentors shape our lives and help us play a part in making a better world.  

Incidentally, I also learned through the Dayton Art Institute that the painting on my wall is not a Lowcountry scene, but a scene in Kennebunkport, Maine.

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