Touched by an art teacher

When I had Mr. James Hensley for my 7th grade art teacher, I started to really think outside of the box. The assignments that he gave were so imaginative and expressive that I had no choice but to think of something different. From morphing into animals to hotels in space, Hensley’s assignments always got his students thinking.

Natasha Graham, Partners for Youth Opportunity intern with the Durham VOICE.

Natasha Graham, Partners for Youth Opportunity intern with the Durham VOICE.

James Hensley was born in Eastern Paintsville, Kentucky, the heart of Appalachia.

When he was a little kid he said he was going to be a bunch of things: doctor, fireman, superhero, but Hensley has always been artistic.

“I remember my mom being so mad at me when I drew on the walls with crayon,” says Hensley, who drew stick figures and doodles on his childhood walls.

Hensley moved from the wall to the paper as he matured artistically — and personally. He entered multiple competitions and art clubs in high school and his local Kentucky community college before earning his Master’s degree at UNC in 1991.

But, then his life’s colors began to bleed off the page. Hensley’s wife realized after several attempts that she could not have kids — then everything began to change.

He discovered that he really wanted to share what he knew about art and share it with children. He came to Durham in search of a teaching job.

Art Teacher James Hensley.

Art Teacher James Hensley.

“Art is my passion,” Hensley says. “Teaching gives me a chance to influence young people. I think of my students as my own kids, so I try to put them down the right path. And really, I don’t know if there’s any nobler profession.”

He began his teaching career at Chewning Middle School and in 2012, the year I started my freshman year, he brought his hands-on teaching style to Northern High School. When I had him as my teacher I remember hardly any notes and a lot of drawing. He gave us a chance to express ourselves in his class while at the same time teaching us how to do it in a constructive way — and positive way.

“The visual arts can be a positive outlet for things bouncing around in your head,” Hensley said. “Natural or not natural, everyone can learn.”

After I had taken Mr. Hensley’s class, I took what I learned from him and started thinking of some projects of my own. I realized how expressive and different art could be and this helped me realize that art was my passion. I don’t think that I would have realized that if I hadn’t had Mr. Hensley as my teacher.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

2 thoughts on “Touched by an art teacher

  1. Bonita Graham says:

    I think this is a very good article. This author speaks from her heart. She has great detail and a lot of flair. Keep up the good work; you’ll go a long way as a writer.

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