My Alma Mater: Portrait of an Artist

And the two faculty members who inspired her

Polson is currently painting a series of landscapes of the Superstition Mountains near her home in Arizona–complete with Illini orange sunsets. She hopes to exhibit her work in the future. (Image courtesy of Felice Sherwin Polson)
And the two faculty members who inspired her

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!

Felice Sherwin Polson, 1978 (Image courtesy of Felice Sherwin Polson)

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.

Superstition Mountains, Arizona (Image courtesy of Felice Sherwin Polson)

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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