Retired art teacher shows creative side


Now that Thomasine Spore of Ellicott City is retired from being a full-time teacher, she can spend more time being a student - and an artist.

Spore was an art teacher for many years, retiring from Owings Mills Elementary in 2000 after 22 years in the Baltimore County school system.

During summers and other free time, she enjoyed switching roles to take art classes and workshops, as well as exhibiting her work in the Baltimore area.

"You learn new things all the time," Spore said. "I like that."

Spore is most experienced with watercolors, oils and drawing.

But several years ago, she decided to try monotype prints and took a class at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

A monotype is made by putting paint or ink on a nonabsorbent surface, such as glass or Mylar, and then putting the image on paper with a press.

The design is transferred to the paper, so "there will never be two prints the same," she said.

Spore's monotypes are on display at the Columbia Art Center gallery until Oct. 8.

To create the series of 5-by-7-inch monotypes in the show, Spore experimented with paper cut into arch shapes and one cut in the shape of a person. She put paint on the paper and around it, moved the shapes and tried different combinations to suggest layers and create textures.

"I would start doing it, and I just kept going and going," Spore said. "I just had a great time; I got on a roll."

A couple of larger works are in the show as well.

Tonia Matthews, an artist and instructor at MICA who taught Spore in May 2001, said she "is a very diligent student." Spore returned to use the school's press and to talk to instructors and students during the summer.

She did not stick to traditional imagery, Matthews said. "She was willing to explore."

Spore, who grew up in Reno, Nev., and will acknowledge being older than 60, has been making art as long as she can remember.

She said she has a book from her childhood with illustrations of boats and her own stick figures drawn on the pages.

"I had people falling off of the ships," she said.

Spore, who took weekly art classes in school, added, "I was always drawing and painting." She had her first instruction with a professional artist in the summer after her senior year of high school. Although the name of the instructor escapes her, she said "some of the lessons have stayed with me forever."

His approach was expressive, and "I learned to put down the impression I had of a place," she said.

Spore went to the University of Nevada to become a teacher and when she started teaching first grade, she incorporated a lot of art projects in her classes.

In her free time, "I started doing more serious, personal works," she said.

She was a graduate student in fine arts at the University of Northern Colorado a few years later and was certified to teach art. She then spent three years as an art teacher in Connecticut before heading to Europe to teach and travel.

She taught American students at schools in Germany and France and then married a U.S. Defense Department employee she met in Germany. After having a son and living in Korea and Turkey, the family returned to the United States and settled in Howard County.

Spore tried over the years to nurture the love of creating art in elementary school children.

"Children like to draw," she said. "It is a natural form of expression for them. ... It should be maximized."

At the same time, "teaching art is very inspiring for your own art. Children are uninhibited, they are very creative."

Retirement has offered her more time to focus on the creative process.

"I've always been doing it," Spore said. "It's just that I have more time now. ... It has become a second career."

She also has more time to be involved with the artistic community.

At Howard County Center for the Arts, where Spore is a resident artist, "she has really livened up the center," said Colleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council.

West said Spore is an enthusiastic volunteer who helps with fund-raisers and attends art openings.

"She is always there willing to help," West said, welcoming visitors to her studio to discuss her work, holding printmaking workshops and teaching children's classes.

"The teacher always really comes out in her," West said.

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