My Alma Mater: Portrait of an Artist
By Felice Sherwin Polson, ’78 FAA
At first, keeping busy during the COVID-19 shutdown was a challenge for me. But I did a little soul searching and found myself thinking about my college years at the U of I. Before I knew it, I had rediscovered my love of painting.
My memories of Illinois center on two people: Susan Sensemann and Glen Bradshaw, MA ’50 FAA, the art and design professors who had the biggest impact on me as an artist.
I will never forget the beginning of my freshman year, taking Ms. Sensemann’s Drawing 1 class. On the first day, I felt nervous about being a new student from a small high school, starting at a big university. And on the second day, all I felt was shock—shock, because I arrived in our classroom at the Armory, only to find a nude male model! I had expected to draw a still life!
Thankfully, as the semester progressed, my nervousness (and shock!) melted away. Ms. Sensemann’s style put me at ease, and I was impressed by her knowledge and expertise. I not only enjoyed hearing her talk about art, but also loved the way she used complementary colors in her work. I made it a priority to see her paintings whenever she exhibited on campus, and to try some of her shading techniques in my own work.
Fast-forward to a few years later: I was a junior high art teacher, on a field trip at the Art Institute of Chicago with my eighth-graders, when a painting in a familiar style caught my eye. It was by Ms. Sensemann! I couldn’t believe it! She had achieved every painter’s ultimate goal—the Art Institute. I felt overjoyed for her and, of course, bragged to my students that she had been my professor.
Another professor I like to brag about is Glenn Bradshaw. He taught Figure Painting II during my senior year and gave me some advice that still rings true: have conviction in your work; paint on larger canvases; and closely study the work of other artists. Those suggestions started paying dividends right away, with my final project for the class, a self-portrait modeled after that of Max Beckmann.
I was delighted when that painting was selected for the senior exhibit in the Art + Design Building. I had wanted to be a painting major all along, but ended up in the “more practical” major of art education, at the urging of my father. As an art ed major, I didn’t expect to be included, so I felt very honored.
More than 40 years passed. I raised a family, taught art, and painted a few things here and there to decorate my house, but painting was not a big part of my life. But now, I am retired, my children are grown, and I am finally painting again—doing something that I feel I was born to do.
Fortunately, all the lessons I learned at the U of I have stayed with me, and I am proof that it’s never too late to be all that you can be! —Edited by Ryan A. Ross
Felice Sherwin Polson spent her entire 34-year career in Des Plaines [Ill.] School District 62, teaching junior high art and grades K–2. Now retired to Arizona, she enjoys hiking and painting in her new environment and living in her age 55-plus active community, which she describes as “the senior version of college.”
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