Lessons from Rowena

My brother remembers it well. I came home from school cursing a blue streak and stomped the project flat. It was all because of Rowena.

I had been struggling along in her "interior 3-dimensional design" class during my 4th year. I had no idea what she was talking about. One day she looked at my work and said, "That piece, Winston. It's too far over. It needs to be straighter. Fix it." So I did.

Rowena teaching her 3D class.

Rowena teaching her 3D class. From the 1962 Pratt Yearbook.

I showed it to her at the next class. She looked at it and squinted. "That piece, Winston. It's too straight. It needs to lean a bit more." But," said I. "that was where I had it on Tuesday and you said it needs to be straighter!" She looked me right in the eye and said, "Well, yes, Winston. But that was Tuesday." Stomp that sucker!

In fits and starts over the next few years I came to understand what she was talking about. It is all part of understanding a visual language. One has to learn the vocabulary and the subtleties of the language. It takes time and comes with practice. It cannot be written about although, God knows, Rowena tried to do so.

Fast forward 25 years. I am teaching foundation 3-D. A student brings in a project. I look at it, turn it around, look at it some more. "You know," I say, "I think that piece is too straight. You might want to give it a bit more lean." The student replies, "I had it that way on Tuesday, Mr. Winston. You told me to straighten it up." "Well," say I, "But that was Tuesday." Instantly the thought flashed though my head: "Oh shit. You've just said that terrible thing. And meant it!"

And I explained, quietly and gently, that there are degrees of everything and sometimes you don't know what looks best until you try changing it and then find that it was better where it was. Sure do wish Rowena told me that!