Janice Rosales - Transcript

Transcript of Janice Rosales
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: 2/27/13
Place: Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL
Transcriber: Carly Faison
Total Time: 29:27

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

1:30 DN: That’s wonderful. Now you came to. Peirce School as a principal, but you got involved in other activities other than just the pedagogical guiding of the students and the teachers. Could you talk a little bit about your passion for art and Peirce?

1:45 JR: Oh, I am passionate about Peirce, about its students, faculty, and staff, but one evening it was very dark and late and snowy, I received a call from a gentleman named Jim Zimmer, who was working at the Lockport site of the Illinois State Museum. And he was putting together an exhibition of the work of John W. Norton. So he asked me if we had paintings, murals, by John W. Norton. And I immediately thought of the kindergarten and the murals that are there. There are 11 in the collection, and I said, “Yes! We have these murals.” And he made an appointment to come out the next week and was thrilled and overwhelmed to see that we had 11 of the original 12 murals that pop in and out of their frames and represent the months of the year. And it came to, um, after he studied our collection, he asked to borrow three of the paintings for the exhibit and the exhibit went on for over a year, and traveled around the state. That was the first indication I had that the paintings that were here were important.

3:12 When I became the principal, the principal before me said, “Watch carefully. The paintings should be cared for and need to be watched carefully.” But that was about it. I didn’t have any feeling for their importance. So, that peaked my curiosity, this experience with Jim Zimmer and I began to search out the paintings. There were paintings behind the boiler and paintings in the lumber pile, paintings on the wall, broken. There was a painting that was torn. And so, we began to do some research about the history of the school, and why and how the paintings came to the school.

4:03 At the same time I was studying for my PhD at Loyola University Chicago and it was time for me to find a dissertation topic. In collaboration with my chairperson, she said to me, “Well, what, what are you interested in about education?” And I said, “Well, I’m really passionate about the school.” And she said, “Well what about the school would you like to know?” And I said, “I would like to know about the history of the Helen C. Peirce Trust and the meaning of the art collection as it aligns to education. So I began my study. And fortunately the school has a wealth of information in its files of the history of the school and I was able to do more study with the Art Institute [of Chicago], the Newberry Library, with the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. and drawing on the memories of the neighbors here at Peirce. So we had had our 75th anniversary. I had the names and the addresses of all the graduates who came to our anniversary party and I sent them a letter asking for photos and memories. And they were wonderful. We have many stories from the graduates and photos that are quite valuable to the history.

5:32 So, there are three things that are important about the art and architecture of Peirce. The school was named for Helen C. Peirce because she was the founding member of the Lakeview Women’s Club and she was its first president. When she died in 1911, her friends and club members went to the Board of Education and asked that the next school to be built would be named after Helen. Her husband was so excited and honored in her memory that he left railroad stock in a trust for the school.

6:15 The first principal and the [Lakeview] Women’s Club met together to decide what to do with the funds, the proceeds, and they decided to buy art for the school. So this would be around World War I, in the late teens and early twenties. They purchased fine oil paintings, they paid students at the Art Institute [of Chicago] to copy the masters and put together a collection of paintings for the education of the students. So its relevance was that they wanted students to appreciate art, to learn about art, and to have culture in the school. So this was a neighborhood of immigrants, and they felt that the immigrant children needed that exposure.

7:06 And so I did research the collection. The collection was in dire need of restoration, and through the Art Institute [of Chicago], I was introduced to Mr. Barry Bowman of the Chicago Conservation Center in Chicago. Slowly I asked a bunch of departments for funds to restore this painting, and the next year, that painting. Slowly I was able to restore all of the artwork here.

7:39 The other important factor about Peirce is that another thing that the club did was ask George Graham Elmslie to design a prairie style kindergarten. And they took a room that already existed and reformed it and brought in many features of the prairie style school. So there’s a stage with a mural, and there are the John W. Norton paintings, and leaded glass windows, and all the banding and wood that you would see in any fine house of the prairie style school.

8:16 Another thing they did with the outside of the building is that they had Jens Jensen, a very famous and important Chicago landscaper, design a community garden and a wonderful, wonderful playground and community area. Including a council ring, which is one of his trademark features, for the playground.

8:45 DN: Do you know what year that was? That they created the garden and Jensen?

JR: About, just after 1920. They waited until after World War I was finished. They had the money, but they waited until the war was finished to do these improvements. Interestingly enough, Jensen, Elmslie, Norton, were all members of the Cliff Dwellers Club downtown. So it’s very possible that they had conversations there about the restoration and the improvements here at Peirce.

9:20 So, the plans, in the studies for my dissertation I found the original plans for the kindergarten, and the original plans for the Jens Jensen work. Those plans are now hanging outside the door of the kindergarten. So if you have interest, or someone wanted to look at those plans they are available right with the work that was done. The playground of course has been reformed many times now. Twice while I was here, and so there are a few features of the Jens Jensen work that remain. However when we redesigned this last playground there is a circular bench that is reminiscent of the council ring, and its place close to where it may have been.

10:05 So, I think you can see that Peirce is very interesting in its history, and the wonderful motives the group of people, the first principal, and the women’s club had for children, wanting them to be exposed to culture, to have beauty around them in their education setting. And so I’m passionate about it.

10:34 DN: I just wanted to comment as an aside that the community garden is still viable and alive in Peirce, an important part of the children’s education.

JR: Yes there is. There is a lovely garden here designed by a retired teacher now, Jane Abatangelo is a master gardener. During her time here, she and the children gardened. She designed that garden, and it still remains. It’s lovely.

11:03 There is a tradition here at Peirce, probably rooted in that first movement for nature, for art, and the school continues to study and to revere and to make connections with children about art. We’ve always had wonderful artists as teachers and a very supportive community. Many of the things that we’ve done could never have been done without Edgewater. Edgewater is a community, for me, that appreciates diversity, supports culture, and people are wonderful in volunteering their time, not only as tutors and mentors to our students but to volunteer, to help with the research, and fund improvements. Especially our legislators, our aldermen have always been very supportive to the school, and that really helps the work of the principal. As a principal I always appreciate the many community people, businesses, and I said, legislators, and politicians who supported the work we were doing, and were very positive about the work we were doing.

12:24 DN: When you first came to Peirce, you inherited a school with a different vision, maybe, than you had. You planted your own vision of Peirce with the new appreciation of art, culture, and fundamentally sound educational principles. Over the time you were here, we’ve seen a real improvement in the education of the children, everything, from their passion and their interests, but also to their test scores and measurable indices. Now, when you first came to Peirce, how did you implement all those objectives?

13:05 JR: That’s a dissertation in itself. I was here for 17 years and I had the luxury of time. A good leader always brings together a community and listens to the needs of the community and then co-creates a vision together. So it wasn’t just my vision. It was the vision of the parents, the students, the neighbors, community members, the politicians, the aldermen for sure. Mary Ann Smith was a great supporter; I know that Harry Osterman continues to be a great supporter of the school. So everyone had a part of the vision.

13:50 But, I’m a parent, I have a daughter now grown, two grandchildren, granddaughters. I think that you take it very personally and you want the best for every child in the school, just as if you were that parent, you become passionate, and you become determined to have the best education possible for that child. So, that’s what we did. We said, what could be the best education for that child? We, my assistant principals, John Coussens and then Roy Malone, and we worked together with the teachers and the parents to create an environment that was strong in character education, so that the children would have the qualities and the traits that we wanted them to have. That of self-responsibility and respect and caring and appreciating diversity. Of course, being a school of great diversity, that made it fun and not so hard because we had the diversity right there. And we had teachers of every different kind of ethnic group as well. And so, it was easy to celebrate, and it was easy to create vision, because everyone was passionate about it, and it continues to be.

15:18 The current principal, Nancy Mendez, was a teacher here. She’s been here for 20 years. She was part of the visioning. And she is a great educator as well as supporter of children. And so it’s not so hard when you love children as you would love your own children. We were fortunate along the way, we were selected to get an addition. We had… Timothy Blatner was the architect and was sensitive to our needs and allowed us to participate in the design. We got more than possibly we were scheduled to get, and had a great deal of say in how it would be designed. But along the way we were able to restore the collection.

16:07 Right after I had finished most of the restoration, the Chicago Board of Education, under Gary Chico and Paul Vallas, began to recognize the great wealth of art in the Chicago Public Schools. Heather Becker, who’s associated with the Chicago Conservation Center, wrote a book on, it’s called For the People I believe, on all of the artwork in the Chicago Public Schools. It’s a wonderful book and documents the artwork not only at Peirce but at all of the schools. There is a listing of the Chicago Public Schools of all the artwork. But it’s easy for that artwork to be forgotten, in that we’re not museums, we are schools. Our primary mission is to educate children. It’s important that the leadership in the school be educated about the artwork and about its conservation because educators are busy doing their work. Educating and working with teachers and parents and students, and when a painting falls off the wall, it’s put aside and not restored immediately and put back up.

17:25 It’s my current vision to ensure that the collection continue to be recognized and conserved as it should be, because it is a very important collection and has a lot to offer the children. As you walk through the halls, you’ll see the original oil paintings, and there’s a museum tag that tells the children about the author and about the painting and when it was painting. So, schools can act as museums. Our kindergarten is documented in the Art Institute [of Chicago]. You can go online to the Art Institute [of Chicago] and see a 360 degree view of the prairie style kindergarten right on the Art Institute [of Chicago] website. Indeed, the Art Institute [of Chicago] did borrow several of our paintings to display them when there was a display of the collection of Chicago Public Schools. So we were honored to have several of our paintings borrowed to be shown at the Art Institute [of Chicago].

18:35 DN: Could you talk a little bit about what you see as being the connection between history and art in the education of a child?

18:45 JR: Well we want children to be well rounded and to be aware of their surroundings and aware of possibilities. The purpose of art in schools is to spur the creativity of children and let them see many different kinds of art forms. We might have watercolors and we might have oil paintings and it’s a tie into studying history. Many of the paintings here at Peirce have stories with them, or were created in a certain period of time about a certain subject. So art can enhance the study of so many subjects. It can enhance math and it can enhance science, social studies. It allows children that may not get the opportunity to go down to the Art Institute [of Chicago] to have a museum-like setting in their own school, and then allow the teachers to use their own creativity and knowledge of art to bring art into their schoolwork.

19:58 In addition, many children may not appreciate math and science and reading so much, but they may love art. It gives them a feeling that the school appreciates their interests too, and then their interests can help them in the other content areas. So we try to make connections with each individual child with the artwork.

20:20 DN: I’m going to stop this right here. What do you feel is left undone in Edgewater, that you would like to see accomplished?

20:29 JR: Well, particular to the school, there are some few paintings that need to be restored again because they’re old and they need constant care. But in, specifically the kindergarten is now quite elderly, and it’s a beautiful example of prairie style work by a very significant architect. George Graham Elmslie worked as the co-chief designer, draftsman, for Louis Sullivan. The other co-chief draftsman was Frank Lloyd Wright. These are names that are very important in Chicago history. So he was a very important person, he’s been a focus of an exhibit, of course, at the Art Institute [of Chicago]. His work is there.

21:27 We don’t want Chicago or the Peirce community of Edgewater to lose this classroom, and to lose it because of how many people modernize it, and that’s happened time after time. While I was here we had the opportunity to remove the tile floor from the kindergarten that a well-meaning person put down to modernize the classroom. It turned out that it was an asbestos tile floor and it had to come out, and when I was principal they wanted to replace it with a tile floor and I said, “No, let’s see what’s underneath that tile.” We were able to save the floor. It was a wood floor, original to the classroom. When we replaced the windows in the porch, the terrace of that room is enclosed. It was added when Elmslie, according to Elmslie’s designs, when we replaced the windows because they were so old, we replaced them with similar style windows and were able to replace to the leaded glass according to the original leaded glass by an artist.

22:44 Instead of modernizing that room it needs to be constantly restored and I have designs that we were fortunate enough to make with the architect that designed this building. Actually, he designed the replacement of the windows in the entire building, of the original building. We worked with him. He helped us design the restoration of the kindergarten. So we have a plan and a way to restore it but it would take probably 350-400,000 dollars to restore the kindergarten. It’s work that needs to be done. While I was here we talked with the Chicago Landmark Commission, and they had never landmarked an individual room. I believe they have now. We worked with the National Landmark Trust, people, and were unable to get it recognized there. But unless the room is landmarked in some way, is protected in some way, it will eventually be lost, because well meaning people who just don’t know about architecture and art will say, “this pipe is broken, we’re going to lower the ceiling, we’re going to run some electric here,” and the wood will eventually deteriorate.

24:16 We’re at a time when, especially coming up to the centennial celebration in 2015, it would be very meaningful and important work to have that kindergarten landmarked in some way, protected, and restored. That would be my big vision for Edgewater, because it is a treasure. I don’t if I’m a treasure, but that room and the artwork here is a treasure, and it is meaningful. It’s been displayed at the Art Institute [of Chicago], it’s been recognized by the Art Institute [of Chicago] as important work and worthy, but even though it sounds like a lot of money, compared to the value artistically, it’s really a small amount to pay to have something be there for the children in the future.

25:04 The original creators of the room would say that children need to be surrounded by beauty, and we don’t want that to stop. We want that to continue, because it’s a beautiful educational environment, it takes hard work to develop them and to continue that work. Think of the thousands of children that have been educated here over a hundred years. We want that to continue for many years in the future.

25:35 DN: I’m going to wrap up with asking you two questions. I think I know the first one but we’ll get it for reference. I’m pretty sure. Most important personal achievement?

25:47 JR: I would say, creating a beautiful environment for children. Not that I created it myself, but in collaboration with the students, the parents, the teachers, and the wonderful staff members who we have here at Peirce. Many continue to be here, and we have a brilliant principal here who has so much energy, Nancy Mendez. It was a collaboration in Edgewater for everyone, but it gives me great satisfaction to know what while I was here, we created the best possible education, a rich education, not just in academics, but in social-emotional growth, with opportunities for music and art and theater, for the children here.

26:40 DN: What advice might you give young people?

26:46 JR: Study hard, prepare yourself for the future. Be open to the many opportunities in this world, and know yourself. So know that if you like art that’s something you can do and have confidence in yourself, as well as be self-responsible. We all need to be responsible for our own actions and for our life. I want children to have opportunities to be educated well and to follow their dreams and their creativity.

27:26 DN: I’ve asked all the questions. This is your story, Dr. Rosales, is there anything else you’d like to add to this interview that we haven’t already touched upon?

27:31 JR: I would just like to thank the people of Edgewater and the many people that contributed to the success of this school over the time I was here. 17 years is a very long time

and I could not have been successful without the help of all of the people that were here when I was here: the teachers, staff-members, the families, the neighbors, the community members. We’ve had a partnership with the Harris Bank through Jim Puralewski, who’s a neighbor, Mary Ann Smith the alderman, and later Harry Osterman. Everyone, the business owners, everyone contributed to the improvement of the school and the current staff is a wonderful staff as well as the principal and so my best wishes to them all.

28:27 DN: Do you think there’s anything distinctive or unique about Edgewater as compared to other neighborhoods?

28:34 JR: I think there’s a couple factors that make it a very special community. One is the great sense of appreciation for diversity and tolerance. The volunteerism of the community, you never lack for volunteers, we’ve always have the community volunteers, who just come in and say, “I want to tutor children in math. I’m retired, I have time.” People would come for years and tutor students, and you don’t find that everywhere. This community is very rich in drive and motivation, in wanting the best for its residents. You don’t find that combination everywhere, so it’s a very special place.

29:18 DN: Thank you, and I think we’ll conclude the interview now. Thank you Dr. Rosales.

JR: You’re welcome.