VisArts Student Turned Richmond Art Educator, Letitia Harris, Presents Master Teacher Award to Mary McNeil

March 22, 2018 Features

Letitia Harris credits several Richmond art teachers with inspiring her to become an art educator. On March 17, she got the chance to thank one her teachers in front of a crowd of 350 people at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

Harris presented Mary McNeil, a longtime VisArts stained glass instructor, with the 2017 Shelly Shepherd Master Teacher Award at VisArts’ Collectors’ Night gala.

McNeil has been teaching stained glass classes at VisArts for over 20 years. She first taught Harris, a 2014 college graduate and current Chesterfield County art teacher, when Harris was a middle schooler in VisArts’ Art After School program.

Harris spent over 12 years in the glass studio with McNeil, first as a student, then as a volunteer and intern= during her high school and college years. She also took classes with VisArts teachers such as Jay Sharpe and Kirk O’Brien. According to Harris, building relationships with McNeil, Sharpe and O’Brien was crucial to her development as an artist. “The more the teachers interacted with me as a person, the more I wanted to learn about them and their craft,” she said.

Harris credits her Chimborazo Elementary School art teacher, Ms. Stafford, and Binford Middle School art teacher, Ms. Hein Sadler, with encouraging her to take after school art classes at VisArts. “It became a home away from home for me,” she said.

The guidance Harris received from McNeil and other instructors encouraged her to explore a variety of art media. “They pushed me to be better,” she said. “I teach how they taught me.”

Harris has been teaching fine art to middle schoolers in Richmond for almost four years. This school year, she started a new position at Matoaca Middle School in Chesterfield County.

She’s looking forward to returning to VisArts this summer to teach an ArtVenture workshop for the first time. Harris will be co-teaching a brand new class called Art Explorers, where five- and six-year-old campers will create an eclectic variety of artwork using clay, wire, fabric, paint and more. “I love the curriculum,” she said. “It’s not crafts, it’s actually allowing the kids to play around with different mediums.”

It’s the first time VisArts has opened up the ArtVenture program to five-year-olds, and Harris thinks the age group will be fun to work with. “They’re so open minded,” she said. “Any age group can make art.”

To learn more about Harris’ class and the rest of VisArts’ ArtVenture program, click here.