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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.