San Juan High School art teacher and artist inspired hundreds

by Janet Wilcox
Contributing Writer
Teaching art and creating art are two different realms of achievement. Retired San Juan High School art teacher Tony Wojcik not only had those skills, but he also taught hundreds of students (and even teachers) how to develop those skills as they learned the Three P's: pottery, painting, and photography.
Back in the days before technology and cell phones, taking photos for the school paper, The Rattler, was a very complicated process.
The film had to be developed, then imaged onto photo paper that had to go through several liquid processes (water baths).  It was Tony who taught us how to do this. He was always very patient and explained the “why” and “how” of each step.
He also introduced the concept of how the two hemispheres of the brain work and how both sides can be part of the creative process.  The book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” explained this concept.
It was very useful to me personally while teaching a diverse student body that had a wide variety of skills but had differences in hemispheric strengths of the brain.
Tony grew up in Clearing, a suburb of Chicago. He has lots of family there and grew up enjoying ethnic foods. He and his wife Leslie met while both were serving in the US Air Force (1965-69) and they were married in 1969.
Tony went to Mesa State College in Grand Junction, then to BYU (1971-74) where his serious study of art began. They soon learned that an art major is a very expensive field (because of all the required art supplies). He worked a year in Grove, OK then they returned to BYU where he earned his Masters degree.
Mr. Wojcik’s art classes were a great reprieve from the pressures of English, Math, and Social Studies classes. In the 80s and 90s teachers were expected to get all students up to an acceptable standard of achievement as determined by tests.
In art, however, there was a wide range of “acceptability” as well as varied art mediums: pottery, oil painting, watercolor, and photography.   Autumn Wilcox recalled, “He was very relatable to students, a good teacher, and joked around with us making everyone feel comfortable and accepted.”
He taught hundreds of students at San Juan High over a span of 30 years. He also taught for the college for five summers with the Upward Bound program.  They not only learned the basics of art, but also went to art museums in various places seeing the “real deal.” 
Tony continues to make pottery and sells his wares at both the Monticello and Blanding Tree for All. He has his own kiln and potter’s wheel and keeps his skills top notch.
Several of Tony’s students now make their livelihood by painting and/or making pottery.  Surviving financially as an artist isn’t an easy accomplishment and the term “starving artist” is common. However, two of his students, Gil Scott and Troi Whitethorne, are exceptions. Perhaps there are more.
Gil Scott, a successful San Juan County artist, recalled, “In Blanding they used to have a summer program where we’d have a summer job and then attend summer school. I always remember Mr. Wojcik saying, ‘You could be painting in an air-conditioned room!’, hinting that I could be doing artwork.
“He also had art magazines and art books in his class room for us to look at. He’d catch us flipping through the pages looking at the art and he would mention that the photos ‘don’t capture half of the painting – until you see them on the wall.’
“In my travels and being able to actually look at masterpieces, I now have a small understanding of what he meant and how artists move the paint and use composition, lights, and darks. The mediums make sense. A photo of a painting doesn’t do justice to the real deal!”
Troi Whitethorne, another successful San Juan County artist, started taking classes from Tony in 1990 at SJHS in his junior year. “We worked in several mediums: clay, paint, and pencil sketching,” said Whitethorne.
“Mr. Wojcik taught us basic art composition, dimensions, color wheel and mixing colors, shadows and balance. In addition, we learned everything about making pottery: mixing, firing pottery, painting, etc.”
Tony touched on all aspects of art and Troi took three years of classes from him. “He was very friendly and willing to help. He went out of his way, taking extra time to help us get better.
“He gave us tips on composition, balance, and perspective. Since then, I’ve just kept honing my skills. Dexter Hatathalie is another artist who was in his class.” Troi added, “I still continue to paint and just recently went to Scottsdale and Albuquerque to sell my art.” 
Art is not the only thing on Troi’s mind.  He’s also working on a college degree in criminal justice. He is currently finishing up his associate degree and is headed eventually to a law degree. So sometimes “even artists” need a backup plan.

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