Remember your mentors or mentees

Published 10:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2015

I was 37 years old when I went back to school, just a couple of classes at Austin Community College — American history with Robert Guentzel and music theory with Janet Gilbertson, both classes for fun. The following year I headed in another direction — drawing with Jim Wegner and introduction to art with Ione Bell.

Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter

I had no idea just how important those classes would be or where they would lead. Nine years, a zillion classes and hours on the road brought me to degrees in both art and museum work, leading to many more satisfying and rewarding years. And the journey is not over.

I believe that my determination to continue my education was formed at Austin Community College. Guentzel, Gilbertson, Wegner and Bell, each in their own way, gave me the inspiration and courage to continue, even when the going got rough.

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The Thorndike-Barnhart desk dictionary describes a mentor as “a wise and trusted advisor.” I don’t know if teachers really know what kind of an impact they make on their students. Even though there were many instructors that I can no longer name, and I only vaguely remember their classes (or if I do, I remember a classmate or an unusual happening in the classroom), there are some teachers whose impact is unforgettable. Jim Wegner and Ione Bell are two of them.

The first time I saw Ione Bell, I was reminded of my mother or some of my aunts. Ione was a short, grey-haired, rather frail looking lady, who should have been home crocheting doilies. Instead, she was flying off to Mexico to visit the village where her dried flower petal designs on her own handmade paper were being woven into large wall hangings. She was a co-author of a book titled “Art as you see it (A self-teaching guide),” and the advisor who said to me, “Bev, you can do it.” There was no questioning or analyzing, just the factual statement, “you can do it.” With that kind of support, I had to try.

Jim Wegner’s support was different. No matter what new ideas he assigned to us, he knew that our work would be good enough to be displayed, whether it might be our own personal version of a Henri Matisse abstract or a photographically real pencil drawing of the owl healing from a broken wing that was temporarily living in the inner garden at the college. He knew that our efforts would be enough. He had a wonderful way of analyzing our art work. He would always make suggestions on how we could improve a certain part of the drawing, but then would say, “I really liked what you did here.” We always came away from these conversations knowing we wanted to keep on keeping on.

Who was your mentor?  Do his or her suggestions still affect your life? Were they bad ideas that made you say, “I’m not going in that direction,” or great ideas that have stayed in your mind or your heart forever? Are you a mentor to someone?

I truly don’t know where I would be now, or what I would be doing if Jim Wegner and Ione Bell had not been in my life during that particular time, and maybe a different journey would have been just as rewarding. I don’t really think so.

Ione Bell passed on a few years ago, and wonderful memories linger.

I am thrilled to know that Jim Wegner is still teaching and mentoring and showing his own wonderful artwork. His display “Have Brush, Will Travel” is at the Albert Lea Art Center through May 16. Do stop in and view this incredible exhibition. It is beautiful, colorful, varied, fascinating, challenging, inspiring and fun.

And, while you are there, take the time to think about your mentors, or about the mentoring you may be doing for someone. We never know how our lives may be impacting the direction that another is taking, or even how their lives are affecting our own journey.


Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, 226 W Clark St., where the Jim Wegner show will be displayed through May 16.