Let us paint a portrait. This one is of Barbara Shannon, Adult Ed art instructor. She started as a Fine Art major at San Jose State, then attended grad school for a short while, stopping partway through to begin her teaching career at Camarillo High School and Adult Ed. It was 1964.
She taught three general art classes and two home ec classes with subject matter “I knew nothing about,” she said. Her college minor in Costumes and Textiles came in handy, though, with the units on clothing construction.
A switch to Thousand Oaks High School brought a change of scenery, though the same teaching fare: art and home ec.
“I always taught mostly art,” she said.
By her third year at T.O. High, Barbara was named department chairperson. She continued to teach until the day her first child was born.
“I was in 6th period doing a demo and kept feeling like I had a stomachache,” she said. “It wasn’t a stomachache. It was my son…I called from the labor room to get a sub.”
As a new mother, Barbara put fulltime teaching on hold, only continuing her career as an Adult Ed instructor. When her son reached high school, she returned to mainstream teaching as a substitute. She then helped establish a new independent study program with her colleague, Barbara Smith. It developed into the district’s present-day program.
Independent study became Barbara’s niche. She taught for 22 years, partially retiring two years ago to promote her book, Exploring Art Media.
“I felt there had to be a textbook to help non-art teachers teach art,” she said. “So I wrote it.”
She has been vending at teachers' conferences and making presentations about her publication. The second edition of the book, released in 2010, was a silver finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards in the Education/Teaching/ Academic category, given by the Independent Book Publishers Assn.
The independent study class she still teaches is simply a lab, entitled “Introduction to Visual Arts,” which helps students meet the California high school art requirement and entry-level requirement for the University of California. Many of Barbara’s pupils, however, are decades beyond high school or college-age; her oldest student is 93. There are many returners, too.
“My students seem to love me,” she said. “I have a following of [them] that have been [coming back] for years and years and years.”
This might explain why it is difficult to gain admission to her classes. It might also elucidate why many of Barbara’s protégés have done exceptionally well with their art, placing in competitions such as that of the Ventura County Fair.
Not surprisingly, Barbara has placed in the Fair herself. What’s more, she regularly competes in local juried art competitions, though she’s shy to say that she’s often been awarded best in show and people’s choice favorite.
“I get my share of first place ribbons,” she said. “For people’s choice…I’ve done nicely with that.”
Barbara has been with her husband, Ron Shannon, “forever,” enumerating 44 years of marriage. They met as teachers at Camarillo High, “the romance of first period prep,” Barbara said. They had two children, Jeannine and Brent, now both alumni of UC Davis. Jeannine majored in Art Studio, attended grad school for computer applications, and presently works as a graphic artist. She is also a new mother.Brent earned his B.S. in Physiology and attended Cal State Northridge for his Master’s degree. He works as a medical writer at Amgen, though he is currently stationed in Kuwait as an officer of the Navy Reserve.
Barbara considers being a new grandmother one of her hobbies. In addition, she likes to travel, taking a lot of pictures on her trips as reference material for paintings. She also loves to read. Of course she paints, too.
“There’s so little time between living and teaching that I barely have time to do as much painting as I want to do,” she said. “But there’s that term, ‘Enjoy the process.’ I try to enjoy everything I do and if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t do it.”
Her absolute passion is painting portraits and the human figure, though her students can follow their own desires when it comes to subject matter. However, Barbara is very structured about demonstrating the fundamentals first.
“My approach to teaching is a person should learn the basics, see all the possibilities, then you go off in your own direction,” she said. “When you come to my classrooms, you see 20, 30 people doing different things from abstracts in acrylic to picky, picky flowers.”
As for Barbara, she chooses to interpret faces and forms in order to honor the individuality of human beings.
“When I draw or paint, I am celebrating that person’s uniqueness or specialness,” she said. “Even if I’m doing a still life, I try to celebrate its beauty. I’m almost religious about how wonderful life is.”