A Teacher’s Influence Lingers, Half A Century On

Josh Markel is one of those long-ago Westporters who still retains a love for this town (and who reads “06880,” for its blend of yesterday and today).

Josh sent along this story. On one level, it’s about a teacher he remembers fondly, from the late 1950s.

On another level though, it’s a paean to educators everywhere. They may not remember every student — but their life lessons linger decades after their classroom lessons are done.

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I hit Long Lots Junior High around 1959. Scott Wright (his real 1st name was Guyer) was the art teacher. He had a profound effect on my development, and I think with others as well. He had a great talent for connecting with kids who weren’t successful in the traditional academic manner. And he was far more than just a successful art teacher.

I would hang out in his room after school, waiting for the late bus. Other kids did too.

Long Lots, back when it was junior high.

Long Lots, back when it was a junior high.

As an example of his unconventional approach, he sponsored 3 competitions for different types of art work, which were shown at Long Lots. Early on (compared to the rest of the world) he saw the value in film as an art form. One of his competitions was a scenario for a short film, which he paid to produce in 8 mm.

It was won by Zazel Wilde, who also spent time in his room after school. Hers was about 3 crises that send a kid over the edge. Very sturm und drang adolescent stuff. Zazel later became a model, and appeared on the back of the Doors’ “Strange Days” album.

Zazel Wilde (left) on the back of the Doors'

Zazel Wilde (left) on the back of “Strange Days.”

Wright also sponsored competitions to design an outdoor sculpture, and a large mural to be affixed to the side of the school. They were fabricated by students, at his expense. Apparently he had a small inheritance which I found out about when I, quite inappropriately, asked him how he could afford a Porsche on a teacher’s salary.

His dedication to the art world went beyond that of a teacher. He put out an irregularly published magazine, “The Palette,” that solicited comments from well-known world figures on the importance of art. He got statements from amazing people, including Winston Churchill. I recently saw Wright’s correspondence and responses, including hand-written signatures, for sale on the internet for $12,000.

In class he tried to make kids aware that art originally was thought to have magical powers. For a project to make an image of something we wished for, he played Bo Diddley for us (showing music as art imbued with magical force) — far out for a teacher in those days.

Scott Wright taught about Bo Diddley, and corresponded with Winston Churchill. This may be the 1st time the 2 men have ever appeared in the same photo collage.

Scott Wright taught about Bo Diddley, and corresponded with Winston Churchill. This may be the 1st time the 2 men have ever appeared in the same photo collage.

Once, he assigned us a project of designing a getaway house for ourselves. I came up with a boring rectangular plan. He showed me what Mies van der Rohe had done with a rectangle in his famous Barcelona pavilion.  That sparked my life-long connection to architecture and design.

The potential for creativity in architecture was underscored when he showed me the house he designed for himself in Weston or Wilton. It was a modern home with a boulder built into the living room.

Wright furthered my interest in cars, racing and automotive design by taking me to my 1st sports car race at Lime Rock, upstate. My wife still suffers under the weight of all the car magazines in our house.

Despite Sputnik's success, Scott Wright believed in the importance of arts education.

Despite Sputnik’s success, Scott Wright believed in the importance of arts education.

Wright also authored an article for Saturday Review about the importance of art education, when the rest of the world was exercised about science education in the wake of Sputnik.

Long before the light shows of the ’60s, he fabricated a device that projected random light effects on a frosted, TV-like screen. He told me of Russian composer Scriabin’s experiments with compositions that combined light and sound.

Wright was on fire. I would love to know more about him, and what happened to  him.

“06880” readers: Do you remember Scott Wright? Click “Comments” below. And if you don’t, feel free to add your thoughts about the influential teachers in your lives.

17 responses to “A Teacher’s Influence Lingers, Half A Century On

  1. I can’t picture him, but I do remember in the 1959 to 1961 years he occupied the classroom right past the office. When one entered the building, the office was on the right and then his art classroom. I do remember looking forward to his class. I wish a picture of him was included.

  2. I was at LL 1960-62..remember mr wright well… a v fine fellow and an excellent teacher. He really knew how to connect with us. Mr Douglas (art) was great too.. my first African American teacher.

  3. What a great story. I had never heard of this teacher before. Thanks for posting. As I have noted in the past, I had a number of excellent teachers back in the day. The first truly influential one was Lee Hawes in 6th grade at Coleytown El, who has been the subject of an “06880” column.

  4. Steve Doig (Staples '66)

    I got curious about Zazel Wilde. Some googling revealed that she now is Zazel Loven of New York, who went from modeling to fashion journalism and ultimately to writing about gardening. Not surprisingly, Westport’s Martha Stewart knows her: See http://www.marthastewart.com/contributor/1101775/zazel-loven.

  5. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    Miss Mansir . . .Oh, Man, let me tell you! My big brother, Charles T. (“Chuck”) Wandres, Jr., graduated from Staples with the class of 1946. Chuck was not among the world’s greatest essayists — but he would go on to produce and sell some exotic watercolor works. But, for his Senior Theme paper for Miss Mansir he turned in a paper that earned him an A+ with a comment at the end that he expressed himself very well. Six years later, little brother (me) comes along. I knew then I would not be among the world’s great watercolor artists, and writing for fun (and profit) was something far over my horizon. By spring of 1953 time was getting short for me to submit my senior theme to Miss Mansir. I kept drawing blanks. In desperation, I found Chuck’s paper, copied it verbatim, and handed it in. For my effort I was awarded a C+. How did she know? Who knew?

  6. A. David Wunsch

    Josh: This is a wonderful article. Thanks for writing it. Am proud to be your friend (and relative).
    A. David Wunsch
    Staples 1956

  7. Dan,

    Re: Zazel Wilde and the Doors’ “Strange Days” cover, the photo was taken looking into Sniffen Court (East 36th between Lex and Third) in NYC which is also the home of a wonderful amateur theatre group called “The Amateur Comedy Club” of which I was a member for many years as was former Westport resident Ed Gallagher (now deceased). In the old days, Sniffen Court served as the stables for J.P. Morgan whose home was on 36th and Madison. The stables were gradually converted into carriage houses in the 60’s and it is/was also the home of a few luminaries including Professor Irwin Corey (remember him)?

    I love 06880 and I much appreciate the hard work it must take to keep it going. I really had a wonderful childhood in Westport and it’s great to re-connect although I’ll bet the changes have been dramatic since I departed the parental home for college (RISD) in 1971.

    All the best.

    Bill Staby

  8. I’m with you Jack Wandres.Gladys Mansir was one of many great teachers at Staples, but after she retired, she was still encouraging me to write. I was on the WPD then and started writing a fishing column in the Town Crier. Every time I ran into her, she would encourage me to write some more. A half-century later, I’m still writing a fishing column for the Hour and I’ll still credit the A- she gave me on my senior thesis for getting me started. Hope all is well with you Jack. It’s been a long time since our last re-union. (Class of53).

  9. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I had no idea that Churchill was an artist (but knew he was an insomniac and a heavy drinker, so this info makes sense!) Apparently, he favoured pseudonyms when offering his works to galleries.
    Fascinating that he and Wright corresponded.

  10. willard brown

    Did you live on North Compo/Watch Hill? I lived at 123 North Compo Road 1951-1962—and was a friend of Stanley Prackup at 124. I remember you. Bill Brown.

  11. I remember Mr. Wright. He was a little intimidating to shy and insecure young 7th graders, yet even so I can vividly remember several moments in art class with him. Doing a cubist drawing as a draft and getting a thumbs up but not so much for the final rendition. However, being introduced to Cubism was huge and began my interest in modern art. He also made a memorable comment about how two of the monuments in D.C. were conceived backwards. The Washington monument design, in Wright’s view, was more appropriate to honor Lincoln and the Lincoln memorial more appropriate design wise for Washington. He was talking about the meaning and legacy of their presidencies. Interesting to ponder. I also vividly remember the film project, I was in crowd scene going into the cafeteria. And I remember Zazel Wilde who was a striking presence, statuesque tall, long wild hair and captivating. She was two years older and in an entirely different universe. Thanks Steve Doig for your research. Speaking of important teacher influences, John Hanulik, music teacher in those years, encouraged me as a singer and his interest changed my life!

  12. Arline P.Gertzoff

    The best teacher I ever had was Dr.Frances T.Humpreville at BJHS.Not only was Doc a brilliant teacher but she got the best out of the brightest kids as well as those who hated school. She would stand at the top of the stairs , get everyone to class,break up fights,etc.I can close my eyes and see Doc in her belted gabardine dresses and yes old fashioned Granny glasses. I was blessed to keep in touch and see Doc for many years. after Jr.High. She instilled a life long love of reading , literature, and the humanities. Doc was my role model for my own teaching career. She truly loved all her students.

  13. Wow.
    As an artist and teacher I would like to know more about him as well.
    What an inspiration!

  14. Stephen Kaufman

    I was at Long Lots for 7th and 8th grade – 1956, 1957. I knew of Zazel because her parents and mine were friends. Thanks for 06880 giving me glimpses of my youth.

  15. Nickie Bonagura Knutsson

    Weren’t we truly blessed with some terrific teachers. Going all the way back to Kings Highway, I’m remembering Mr. Birnbaum. He had such a special way of making his youngsters feel valued in the classroom. Can you imagine, Mr. Birnbaum came to both my and Kathleen Murray Lynam’s weddings. This despite the fact that her ceremony was fifteen years before of mine. Kathleen’s daughter was the pretty little flower girl at my wedding and just about the same age we were in Mr. Birnbaum’s class. Talk about full circle. Talk about a generous and committed teacher.

  16. John Parriott

    G. Scott Wright was a remarkable teacher/human being. He had a strong physical presence to match his dynamic personality. Tall with curly reddish blond hair, a prominent nose and Harry Potter glasses. He engaged us whatever subject might strike his fancy. I remember his outrage at having attended a patriotic rally, which ended with a marching band playing marching songs. “But do you know what the crowd stood up and yelled at the end of the program,” he asked with a tinge of incredulity in his voice, “War! They were crying, ‘War!’ ” He gave us an assignment one time to draw the spaces between the legs of a stool he’d propped up on a table. He told the story of someone in a local neighborhood who chose not to cut his lawn. All this fellows neighbors, with their manicured properties, were pressuring him to cut his lawn. So finally he went out in old pair of army shorts and cycle to mow down his lawn, having a great old time, and his neighbors called the police on him. For many years the mural that Mr. Wright inspired was attached to the side of the front entrance to Long Lots Jr. High. It was designed by Billy Costa. I worked with Billy and his crew to create a grid, divide the painting into plywood panels, and create the giant mural. It seems the hallmark of a great teacher is one who reaches out to their students on a personal level, to help the students contact their own creative and intellectual sensibilities in way that makes them realize what they’ve got in there. Mr. Wright was definitely in that category. It’s great to remember him. Thanks.
    John Parriott Long Lots Jr. High ’59/ Staples High ’64