Good Foundations: Mark Green and the Hackley Studio Art Program

Mark Green’s journey to Hackley crisscrossed the continent and the Atlantic, yet after 10 years at Hackley, he is pleased to say he’s truly found a home.
A native of Chicago, Mark completed his BFA at Washington University in St. Louis and went on to earn his MFA in painting at the University of Delaware, where he was granted an “Excellence in Teaching” award. After a year of working at a prominent Philadelphia gallery where he learned about the business side of selling art, Mark joined the faculty at St. Andrew’s School, in Middletown, Delaware. Three years later, he moved to France and was named to the faculty at Parsons School of Design’s Paris campus, where he worked for seven years.
By Suzy Akin, Hackley Review Winter 2012-13: Mark Green’s journey to Hackley crisscrossed the continent and the Atlantic, yet after 10 years at Hackley, he is pleased to say he’s truly found a home.
A native of Chicago, Mark completed his BFA at Washington University in St. Louis and went on to earn his MFA in painting at the University of Delaware, where he was granted an “Excellence in Teaching” award. After a year of working at a prominent Philadelphia gallery where he learned about the business side of selling art, Mark joined the faculty at St. Andrew’s School, in Middletown, Delaware. Three years later, he moved to France and was named to the faculty at Parsons School of Design’s Paris campus, where he worked for seven years.

During his time in Paris, Mark was able to spend a lot of time painting. He also worked as a tole painter, creating decorative arts -- mostly florals painted on metal-ware such as trays and lampshades, utilizing a traditional 18th century “single stroke” painting style. “I enjoyed the challenge of painting in a manner that was foreign to my own,” he notes. His role at Parsons expanded over time; he began as a Foundations drawing and design instructor, but was later asked to teach painting, fashion drawing and illustration.

At Parsons, Mark met fellow faculty member Greg Cice, who taught drawing, art history and art theory and served as a critic for the upper level painting students. Greg recalls, “Mark was an outstanding instructor of painting and drawing, and a very serious artist. I respected him then as one of the stronger teachers at the school, and I respected him as well for being one of the more talented artists among the faculty.”

Those impressions were memorable. Some years later, in 2002, Greg Cice -- by this time Chair of Hackley’s Visual Arts Department -- needed to hire an Upper School Art teacher. He recalls, “We placed an ad in the New York Times, which ran on a Friday, and on Monday, Phil Variano dropped 500 resumes on my desk. Among them was Mark Green’s. I remember thinking, ‘If this is the same Mark Green I knew in Paris, we’re not likely to find a stronger candidate than this. As the search evolved, it became clear; this was our guy.”

Mark left Paris in 1995 and taught two-dimensional design, figure drawing and oil painting for five semesters at his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, until he was recruited to work for a paper products company in San Diego as a staff illustrator. “This company interested me because it was in the process of developing an animated series based on characters created by the company’s founder.” Working as a “ghost artist” for the characters, copying the drawing style of the company’s creator, Mark spent five years making various illustrations and designs for licensed products. He gained important, useful skills and knowledge -- learning how to function in a business environment, effective use of graphic design tools, an understanding of commercial illustration and marketing, the reality of meeting deadlines in a commercial environment, and more. Yet, he says, “I didn’t feel I was making enough of a significant contribution. I missed teaching.”

“Art is about self-discovery, an invitation to find deeper connections to our world. It is with art that a student can enlarge his or her vision of the world and explore the multitude of ways it can be seen and interpreted,” Mark observes. It’s not only about making great art, however. “My goal is to give students a good experience that fires their natural instinct for curiosity.” So often, “art” comes bundled with the sense that it must be painful. For Mark, however, there is no place for “that wrenching of self-esteem that goes along with doing art.” Art should be a positive activity, “a do-able thing that helps you see yourself and the world in new and expansive ways.”

Some of us are lucky enough to find our life’s work right off the bat; some of us never find it. But some, like Mark, have the courage to change directions when such convictions become vividly clear. He has never looked back.

Lucky for Hackley that fate planted Mark’s resume on Greg Cice’s desk in 2002, and that Greg recognized the value of this fit. What could be luckier than the combination of a teacher who believes that art helps you see the world better and a school whose mission is to challenge students to “learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds of our community and the world.” It was a long journey, but we’re so glad Mark Green has come home to Hackley.

Mark is the first to appreciate this. “I feel completely at home here. There’s something so right about this particular community -- the brilliant, enthusiastic students I have the opportunity to teach, the gifted, generous colleagues I work with, the gorgeous campus I live on... it’s a privilege and a joy to be a part of it all.”

In addition to teaching art, Mark has been a dedicated mentor and administrator for Hackley’s weekly boarders. Twice he has taken on the mantle of leadership on the boarding corridor, once as Head of Boys’ boarding and again as our Interim Director of Boarding. On each occasion Hackley’s boarders enjoyed living and working with him. Assistant Headmaster Kevin Rea notes of Mark, “Mark loves Hackley boarding, plain and simple. Mark has shepherded our boarders through the normal ups and downs of boarding life with aplomb. His dedication to the art of sensitive conversations helped support many of our boarders at times when what they really needed was to feel valued and supported as individuals. They looked forward to his arrival on the corridor, and they really missed him both times when he left. Mark’s ongoing enthusiasm for Hackley boarding really speaks to his devotion to our community.”

In his ten years at Hackley, Mark has gathered a wide and loyal following among Hackley students. He particularly loves teaching the ninth grade Foundations of Studio Art course. Because Hackley requires students to earn at least two years credit in the Visual or Performing Arts, the Foundations course is one in which a large percentage of the ninth grade class enrolls. Mark remains friendly with them through their senior year. “I love the age group,” he says. “Ninth grade students are so open, so sponge-like, so willing to accept a new kind of instruction. I am able to get them excited about the process of making art and help them learn the ways in which artists think, see and solve problems.”

He observes that students often enter the art program with a low opinion regarding their artistic skills, and he is able to help them realize that they truly have the capability -- they just need to be shown how to access it. Mark tells parents, “It’s not so much about teaching art -- it’s about helping students gain self-confidence.”
Senior AP Studio student Allyson Blackburn ’13 has been Mark’s academic advisee since freshman year, and she simply says, “Mr. Green is the best.” Allyson feels he helped her grow “both as an artist and as a constructive member of this community. His guidance has been great.” His devotion to his own craft has also supported Allyson’s artistic growth. “He has been able to help me see so much about elements of craftsmanship, composition, the importance of angles and scale, and the ways these affect the impact of your work.”

Commencing with the Foundations of Studio Art course, Hackley’s Visual Art curriculum places great emphasis on “craft.” Mark believes students are able to make great discoveries about themselves once they are armed with an arsenal of art tools and techniques. “For those students who choose to make the commitment to search for an inner voice through artistic means, their critical, analytical and technical abilities are ready and at their service by their senior year.”

Greg Cice remarks, “When I first hired Mark, I knew he was a great college teacher, but I didn’t know how well he would transition to teaching high school students. In teaching our youngest high school students in the Foundations course, he meets them where they are, giving them what they need to grow and mature as young artists.”
Clara Nulty ’10, a junior at Carleton College who last spring declared Studio Art as her major, gives Mark significant credit for her development as an artist. “This term, I had my first TA-ing experience and I heard the professor tell students, ‘I can’t really teach you how to draw. I can only really teach you how to look and see.’ Of course, in drawing classes, you do learn technique and craft -- in essence ‘how to draw.’ But the most important thing to learn as an artist is how to see. Mark Green was the first teacher I ever had who seemed dedicated to teaching students that careful visual observation is just as crucial to understanding the world as the thoughtful reasoning skills taught in the core academic curriculum. Mr. Green challenges his art students to engage a different cerebral muscle. As an art major, I use what I learned in Foundations every time I draw.”

While Mark is, certainly, an accomplished teacher, he is also a painter, and pursues his own painting career on top of his academic commitments, showing and selling his work. At his Fall 2012 solo exhibition in Philadelphia, he showed 20 works; a third have already sold. It’s not easy to be a professional artist while managing a full time teaching job, particularly when you are a teacher like Mark Green, who gives so much of himself and his time to his students. All day long, his classroom draws students who seek Mark’s mentoring. “I do most of my painting at night and on the weekends, and the activity is an essential, re-centering aspect of my life. I am certain it also makes me a stronger teacher.”

Mark’s own identity as a working artist both inspires his students and enhances the lessons he brings them. His students know that he’s always on campus, almost always available to them, and that if he’s not anywhere in sight, he’s surely in his studio doing his own work. His artistic process itself both feeds the classroom experience and creates opportunities for dialogue about the process of personal expression.

Julia Dunn ’12 notes, “Because Mr. Green is a practicing artist, he is able to communicate in a variety ways. While sometimes he is a strong technician with ?a critical eye, other times he is a fellow artist with whom I can commiserate about my own art process. He shows that it is possible for one to make a living doing what he or she loves. He knows what is happening in the world of art and can always direct me to work which I might find interesting or informative.” Allyson Blackburn notes, “He has helped me learn about other artists out there, about what’s going on in the art world beyond the traditional ‘canon.’”

Mark has been quick to embrace technology. The addition of a SmartBoard to his classroom allows him to illustrate the skills students need to develop through quick tutorials. “I show drawings -- the art of the masters as well as student work -- and can draw over them with the stylus to physically show students what they should be looking for in terms of proportion or perspective. It’s so much more effective than having them look at a book, where the images are small and the students often block each other’s view.” Mark also initiated new courses in animation and digital painting.

Over time, Mark’s own work moved from landscape and still life painting to a focus on architectural themes. Architectural forms intrigue Mark because “they are vessels for our lives, and all the psychological/emotional histories they contain.” His own father trained as an architect, so Mark grew up with “architectural plans lying around the house. My father designed the house I grew up in and every day while it was being constructed, he’d take me to the house to see the day’s progress.” While living in Paris, Mark became enchanted by the rich aspects of French architecture as well as “the weather and light, all of which became limitless variables for my painterly inventions.” Painting images of singular houses and buildings allowed Mark to create expressionistic portraits that defined states of being -- be they melancholic, brash, enigmatic or blissful.

Mark’s passion for the expression painting allows has inspired his students to find their own voice. Julia Dunn says, “His creativity and ability to communicate it helped me to foster my own and remain motivated within the aggressively academic environment of Hackley. I believe that being a strong artist, in touch with one’s creativity, helps one find happiness or perspective in the wider world.” Julia believes “Mr. Green’s unrelenting kindness and modesty regarding his own achievements remind me that both life and art are about personal growth and communication, not competition or ambition.”

Mark reflects, “Teaching art permits me to share my passion, practice and knowledge of art with students while contributing to their artistic and cultural development. That drawing is something we all did as children, often begun before speaking, writing or reading, leaves little doubt of its importance in human growth and development. As much as I love the fact that some of my former students have matured to become excellent career artists, those who have pursued other occupations while continuing to integrate their artistic experiences into their daily thoughts and activities are just as gratifying.” All his students, in the truest sense, are well primed to “go forth and spread beauty and light.”

This story is part of a series on Hackley teachers who have been selected to hold endowed teaching Chairs. Art teacher Mark Green was named to the Ferraro Family Chair in the Arts in 2010, following Greg Cice (2006-2010), and the chair’s first recipient, Erick Storckman (2002-2006). The Chair was made possible through the generosity of former Board president Jack M. Ferraro H ’63 and his family to honor distinguished achievement in teaching fine arts, performing arts, and arts in association with technology, and is awarded for a four-year term. The Ferraro Family Chair was one wonderful result of the Centennial Campaign’s effort to raise endowment to support faculty compensation to help Hackley attract and retain the best teachers, a goal which is again at the heart of the newly launched Legacy Campaign. For more faculty profiles, visit: faculty-compensation/

Suzy Akin is Hackley’s Director of Communications and editor of this magazine. She is the parent of a Hackley Upper School student and a Hackley alumnus.