Artists pay homage to influential teacher

Esther Painter Hagstrom. (Courtesy photo)

Esther Painter Hagstrom. (Courtesy photo)

Helen Hawes

John Minchin’s warm brown eyes light up when he talks about his career as an architect and illustrator. Petite and upbeat Hildegarde Jaeger Stubbs is almost magical when she speaks of her work as a plein air painter.

These two Encinitas artists hadn’t seen each other since they were children until they were invited to participate in a group art exhibition in honor of their former art teacher, Esther Painter Hagstrom.

Hagstrom taught art at Coronado High School from 1939 to 1951. She had classes with younger students, as well, because she was in charge of the Coronado school district’s art curriculum.

Minchin and Stubbs attended Coronado schools and studied with her in the 1940s. But Esther Painter Hagstrom died soon after from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 46.

The art show is the brainchild of Esther Painter Hagstrom’s granddaughter, Suzy Hagstrom, a journalist who wanted to know more about the grandmother she’d never met. She decided that engaging her grandmother’s students was a good place to begin.

Stubbs said that the teacher played a large role in her life as an artist.

“She let us create; she wanted us to express ourselves. She would pull it out of us by saying ‘be free, don’t be afraid, draw what’s in your mind,’” Stubbs said.

She remembered Hagstrom for helping her to create her own first impromptu art show. It was for a school open house in the eighth grade. Stubbs made paper hats and put one on each desk. Then she raided her father’s rose garden at the Copley Gardens to garland them.

“I picked armfuls of roses and put them on all the students’ desks; she let me do that,” Stubbs said.

Minchin said that art was invaluable in his work as an architect. He designed many custom homes in Rancho Santa Fe and did architectural renderings on a consulting basis.

But his memories of the teacher go beyond the classroom to social events. When he was a student, he worked for the Spreckels family in “utilities,” mostly moving furniture at the Hotel Del Coronado with other boys. Sometimes he saw his teacher there.

“I know she went to a lot of the events and dances at the Hotel Del,” he said.

Minchin added that he would have liked to ask her how she enjoyed the dances. He said that he liked her class very much.

“She was a great art teacher and I learned quite a bit. She was a warm person,” he said.

In assembling the exhibition, granddaughter Suzy Hagstrom said she also felt like one of her grandmother’s students when she realized she would need an electronic presentation of all the artwork.

“When I created the website, I felt in a way that my grandmother was teaching me to do something new, like she was guiding me,” Hagstrom said.

The group exhibit has been years in the making. The show was brought to life by the Coronado Public Library when the decision was made to permanently house the Esther Painter Hagstrom collection.

Her former students couldn’t be happier.

“I feel honored to be a part of this show because I loved that art teacher,” Stubbs said. “She was very outgoing and expressive and made you love what you were doing. She made me love art.”

Stubbs said that if she could, she would thank her teacher “for opening doors for me that have lasted all my life.”

The show, “Art through the Generations,” which includes the watercolors, oils, acrylics, pastels and drawings of Esther Painter Hagstrom and nine of her students, runs until May 31.

The Coronado Public Library is hosting a reception for the nine artists participating in its exhibit. The event will take place at 3 p.m. on April 6 in the Winn Room of the Coronado Public Library at 840 Orange Ave. in Coronado. More information is available by calling Suzy Hagstrom at 619-758-0532 or on the website at www.estherpainterhagstrom.vpweb.com.

Helen Hawes is a North County freelance writer