Local artist passionate about teaching, by Jamie Lafreniere

Artistic expression is something we all long for, and Carl Mayer has helped many people find their inner muse. Mayer has been teaching in the area since the 1950s, and continues his work with students of all ages.
Many Marquette residents will recognize Mayer as an important teacher from the past, but his work also can be seen 0703loc1in area businesses and homes. While his artwork surrounds us now, Mayer didn’t fully appreciate art until the end of his student teaching career.
Growing up in Lake Linden, Mayer found artistic expression through playing the trumpet. He had no art training, but always wanted to draw and would copy things he saw in books and magazines.
Years later, he attended Northern Michigan University with the aim of becoming an art teacher. But even then, his training wasn’t complete.
“I had no watercolor training at all, so I took a class during my last year of student teaching in 1959,” he said.
He still remembers it as a turning point. His art professor wet the paper and applied one color. It disbursed, and she added another color.
“Then she tipped the paper and, like magic, it mixed and made other colors,” Mayer said. “This was Fourth of July fireworks in January. I was hooked, and I’ve had a love affair every since.”
His love of watercolor led him to another great teacher, Ed Whitney, who headed a two-week class on location in Maine. Mayer had struggled to learn and advance on his own, but the Whitney class gave him the foundations he needed.
“I scraped the pennies together and went out to Kennebunkport (Maine) and there were thirty people from around the country, some professionals, and some commercial artists,” Mayer said. “I’d not seen the tides before, so it was just spectacular to see the colors.
“That class changed my life. I took another with him in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, ten years later. He was a fantastic teacher. He’s passed away now but his former students, professional watercolorists, put together a tribute book to him, highlighting his work and teaching. What a legacy he’s left.”
Mayer started working on his own legacy in 1959 during his first year of teaching at Howard Junior High in Marquette. He loved the diversity of students, but eventually wanted to work in the high school so he could see how they were progressing.
“I wanted to take students through a whole four years and see what they were doing as time passed,” he said.
Mayer got his wish in 1969 when he started at Marquette Senior High School. The move allowed him to expand possibilities for the student.
“We taught a bit of everything,” he said. “We had one semester of design, then 2D, 3D and crafts. They got a little of each, and then could make a decision and elect to take composition in different styles and subject matters with many different media. They could choose what interested them and then explore a little further.”
Mayer always enjoyed teaching Picture Making and 2D composition. He also taught ceramics, jewelry design and sculpture. He remembers having to improvise for supplies, saving money by painting on old sheets for canvas and using house paints and primer.
But the fundamentals always were covered, giving students a strong foundation. Mayer would start his painting students with the primary colors, and then they would have to mix their own variations.
“I would tell them, ‘You can buy green, but why settle for just one color out of the tube when you can make anything you want yourself?’” he said.
One of his favorite student projects was the creation of a final portfolio. Students had to decide which career path interested them and then gather details. Each person would present the history, background, salary range and location of a career.
“They worked their little butts off,” Mayer said. “This is when the classes were twenty-five students, rather than the large ones now. They got a lot of personal attention. Then they gave a presentation to the class at the end, so every student could have the benefits of everyone else’s work. I still have some of the portfolios out in my studio.”
Mayer loved to watch students learning new creative outlets and tried never to discourage exploration.
“I always set up goals and objectives in my teaching, so my unbiased opinion will reflect in their grades,” Mayer said. “Art can be so subjective, and I wanted to lay out for them what was expected and how they got their A, B or C.”
He had many special students over the years, and some of them keep in touch to this day.
“The kids were 99.9 percent excellent kids,” Mayer said. “I still see them out in town, and they always say hello to me. I can’t remember all of them, and they look different when they grow up, of course. But as I tell them, it’s a good sign when I don’t remember them because I always remember the trouble makers! If I don’t remember them, they must have been good kids.”
Some past students include Karen Larson and Rita Rossway, both local interior designers. Carl feels a sense of pride and connection when he thinks about all the different generations he’s had the opportunity to teach.
“It is wonderful to stay in one place because I’ve had the parents and the kids, and now their children are coming along, too,” he said. “I can see different generations and how they grow.”
His influence was honored in 1999 when he won the title of Outstanding Art Educator. Mayer was surprised to hear about the title, but didn’t miss a beat when they called him.
“I said ‘It’s about time!’” Mayer said. “I was just kidding, but they were surprised about that.”
He also holds the honor of signature membership in the Midwest Watercolor Society, which later changed its name to the Transparent Watercolor Society of America. Mayer won this distinction by making their national juried show for the first three years in a row.
“I practice what I preach in art,” he said. “I wanted to be a teacher who did what [he] taught.”
And that work continues. Some of Mayer’s local work through the years includes hand lettering on all the banners for the U.P.200 sled dog race. He also donated a painting to the race this year.
He has works in progress all over his home, and uses the front and back of the paper until he gets a look he likes. Mayer’s scraps are more beautiful than some of the paintings that hang in people’s homes. His colors are vibrant and still convey the subtle beauty of our U.P. wilderness. His wife Patt is used to living among the canvases. 0703loc2
“He takes over the whole house in the winter,” Patt joked. “I can’t wait for the warm weather to come.”
Mayer’s workshop moves to the living room in the cold months, where he can work in front of the fireplace accompanied by Patt and Chaucer, their 165-pound purebred Old English Mastiff. They found Chaucer in Manistique, and, despite her size, she’s still a puppy at heart.
The Mayers and Chaucer are very much at home in their secluded spot in Marquette. They live in a home built by Patt’s father, where Patt has spent her entire life. Set back off of Brookton Road, the property includes a creek and pond all surrounded by thick forest in the back while just a block off of the main highway.
Also on the property, an Artesian well overflow remains open water throughout the year and attracts a large number of ducks. Other members of the Mayer family include two Australian Black Swans, Odette and Beaudett. They live in a small barn with a heater, which keeps temperatures at about 55 degrees through the winter. When the ice leaves in April, they go back to the pond. The pair even had cygnets two years ago.
The swans were a gift from Dr. VanDoosen, former director of the Kellogg Wildlife Center, who knew the Mayers would be the perfect family for the swans. After retirement Dr. VanDoosen had his own sanctuary in Seney, and he was instrumental in getting the trumpeter located in the U.P. The area now boasts more than sixty-five mating pairs.
From his own secluded, natural sanctuary, Mayer can find the time and serenity needed to continue his work. He also does commercial art, and has just finished painting a trailer for Quality Plus Cleaners.
Some of his more popular work includes several site signs for White Water Associates in Amasa, which highlight wildlife and scenery for the paths and observation decks.
“They wanted them to be motivational and entertaining so people could walk through and learn about the plants, animals and condition of the environment,” Mayer said, noting the incredible amount of work that went into the project.
His work also can be found in Marquette Meats and the pool at Tourville North.
Although he is technically retired, Mayer’s teaching work continues.
“I’m not retired,” Mayer said. “I’m just tired!”
He teaches his own art classes at Shadowlawn Studio at his home and travels all over the U.P. teaching watercolors. Mayer also donates his time by teaching at the Great Lakes Recovery Center.
At Great Lakes Recovery, he shows that any artwork can be art therapy.
“At first I just did painting on Friday night when they had speakers come in,” Mayer said. “Now I teach a class. People see it as a relief and a way of seeing what could be done with their time.”
Sue Burcar, program supervisor at Great Lakes Recovery, is happy to see how people respond to Mayer’s teachings.
“Last August, he started coming on a weekly basis to work with clients in our adult program,” Burcar said. “It was something different, because we have forty therapeutic hours here and this gave them a break. They are often surprised by their own talents when they find out they can paint.”
Mayer sees it as a way of losing themselves in an activity and learning more about themselves while painting.
“It’s a substitution for the substance,” Mayer said. “We use paint and paper and brushes.”
Rich Ryan, a former coworker of Mayer at Marquette Senior High School, attributes Mayer’s popularity to his way with a crowd.
“He’s very engaging for people of all ages,” Ryan said. “He’s very entertaining. We get a lot of laughs watching him in action. He can take a room full of sixteen-years-olds and every one of them is focused on Carl.”
This charisma helps with redirecting the people at Great Lakes Recovery.
“It’s an outlet that a lot of our clients need,” Ryan said. “They appreciate it and it’s relaxing. It’s real therapy for them. They can work on something very positive.”
Mayer also donates his time at the Jacobetti Veteran’s Facility. He has been going there every Thursday for three hours for the last eight years.
“Any of this works both ways,” Mayer said. “I’m a show-off and I have a captive audience—how can I have it so good? It’s a way of giving back to the community. By doing artwork, you get lost in what you are doing and nothing else matters.”
Mayer has nothing but words of encouragement for anyone wanting to paint. Even for those who think they have no talent, he encourages them to try.
“It is how much you put behind the brush,” he said. “Just pick up the brush and go. How motivated are you? What do you want to show?”
Mayer has been helping people tap their hidden talents for many years, and will continue to inspire for years to come—and his students remember the difference he’s made in their lives.
—Jamie Lafreniere
Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.