Art teacher retires after 38 years

 

April 11, 2019

Danner assists Meg Davis this week.

Haines School's longest serving teacher, Linnus Danner, won this year's Champion of the Arts in Education award from the Alaska Arts Education Consortium (AAEC). Danner has been named a Champion of the Arts because of her commitment to "positively impact the lives of students and their communities," according to the announcement. The award coincides with the news of Danner's retirement after 38 years of teaching art to generations of Haines residents.

In nominating Danner for the award, Haines school principal Rene Martin wrote, "The evidence of this commitment is prominently and permanently displayed through the student art on the walls."

Danner's influence extends into the community. Haines is infused with the art of her former students: puppets made for local theatre, art in Ampersand gallery and the murals that hang from the American Legion post and other buildings about town. Danner constructed the stained-glass window in the pool entrance in her first year as a teacher, which is part of why the superintendent wanted to hire her.


Danner's classroom hums with the heating and cooling of kilns. Tables spread neatly throughout the room, surrounded by clusters of stools painted in the spirit of Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol, and Durer masterpieces. Where some teachers might hang inspirational quotes on the walls, Danner's classroom has lists of what might be considered artistic principles: "Design, Create, Articulate," says one. Her classroom displays detailed color palettes, some in the form of posters, others in the form of hanging mobiles of painted clay tiles, their colors unusual, ranging from plum brown, to quinacridone magenta. One need only step into her classroom to realize that Danner takes art seriously.

On Monday mornings, Danner teaches a class of ninth and tenth graders. They enter the room energetically, find their seats, grab their palettes, brushes, and canvases and within five minutes they get to work. When one of the students spends more time talking than painting, Danner scolds her. "You're having too much fun." Then Danner walks over to the stereo and plays Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

15-year-old Hannah Boron paints a portrait of her mother at her age, gazing enigmatically from a boat on Mosquito Lake. "It's just so beautiful what your mind can create on its own," said Boron.

"Art is an important part of humanity," said Danner. "Art is a subject that must be or should be taught in school, and I believe that everybody can learn the skills."

Melina Shields, Haines High School class of 1996, remembered Danner's emphasis on skill-building. "She compared art to basketball, and would tell her students, it takes practice and dedication and you just got to do it!'" said Shields.

One of the most important lessons Danner taught Shields, who went on to study art in college, "is that the practice of art creates confidence, and confidence creates good art pieces," said Shields.

Many students are intimidated by Danner's intensity.

"I have high expectations," said Danner. "I'm teaching and I have a lot to teach and that's all that's happening."

"When I was younger, I found it really hard to get along with her," said Sarah Long, who graduated in May. "But as I aged, I realized that everything she pushed me to do as a kid was really getting me ready to be an adult."

As six-years-olds, Danner made Long's class learn color wheels, which wasn't what Long thought art class would be-fun. When she became Danner's teacher aide her senior year, Long saw the lessons differently: "She wanted you to know about these things outside of the classroom, to try to get you to appreciate art in everyday life, so that we can see the art around us and how it affects our life."


Long's experience as Danner's teacher aide crystallized her dream of becoming an art teacher. Now a freshman at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Long is majoring in fine arts with a minor in education.

Amelia Nash, '94, local artist and owner of the Ampersand art gallery, said Danner forced students to step outside of their comfort zones. In fourth-grade, Nash's class drew sketches with their non-dominant hands, then sketches drawn without ever looking at their hands, then even more sketches looking not at their hands or their pieces of paper.


Later, Nash understood these as, "a series of exercises designed to divorce you from your notion of what something was." Eventually, "you learn to trust your hand," she said.

"The lessons that Linnus taught stay with people," said Heather Lende, Danner's longtime friend and neighbor, whose children all took Danner's classes. "They make life more fulfilling and happier because [life] is more beautiful."

"I think Linnus is a remarkable teacher," said Sarah Chapel, Vice President of the school board. "She works with students from the minute they walk through the door as kindergarteners," she said. "Linnus has shown us that you can teach anybody art, and she gives students the tools to be lifelong artists."

In addition to teaching art at school, Danner has visited homeschooled children in their homes, yurts, or tents. She has taught adult art classes. She organizes a regional Art Fest that more than 100 students participate in. She puts in hours of extra time conducting an annual art show that displays the work of every one of her students.

Danner is a private person. She declined to comment on her plans for life after retirement. Her immediate future includes sifting through mounds of paperwork in preparation for the upcoming Art Fest. Danner appears to be too busy to think much beyond that.

"I don't know, I've taught too long. I might never do art again," she said, "I might be sick of art!"

 
 

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