Monday, November 17, 2014

Herstory: Shirley Curiel

Shirley, now in her studio full-time.
Her eyes often sparkled like warm sunshine on a cold winter's day, as we stood in the hallway of Prairie Hills Middle School smiling, laughing at ourselves, at our experiences, at the things that middle kids say and do.  She was the "Art" teacher, and I was the "Reading and Writing" teacher. Our few minutes of hall duty became a life saver for each of us.  Her classroom had windows that highlighted the sunshine and seasons, the colors of fresh air, and imaginative pieces of artwork; my room had orange carpet, thin walls, but immediate access to the library and a wide world of surprises.  

Shirley helped me with ideas for expression of thought through art.  Words sometimes don't tell the whole picture, or perhaps we don't know how to share those feelings, but pictures and art free us to express a thought or feeling unseen in words.  When I needed a way for my students to express a book or a piece of writing Shirley had my answers.  I've been blessed with teacher friends over the years who were creative and able to coach me on how I could use art in all teaching endeavors. 

Shirley was first introduced to art when she attended private school at John Brown University.  She said, "This allowed me to hang-out around places where art was being created and exhibited on campus." Marriage brought her to Hutchinson, Ks where she and her husband raised their three children, and after the death of her sister-in-law they raised her two teenage daughters.  "With five kids, no washing machine or dryer, driving a car that I bought for $300 I enrolled in McPherson College and graduated with a degree in History, a teaching certificate and many hours of Art."  
Shirley's well lite studio where colors come to life.

Her first teaching job as an Art teacher landed her in the basement at Central Jr. High in Hutchinson where she a small classroom with pipes carrying heat for the entire four story building, regular student desks not tables, no sink, one bookcase and one old wooden chest of drawers for storage.  The kiln for firing the clay work was on the 4th floor, no elevator.  "I had to carry all the heavy clay projects up three flights of stairs and then run up to adjust the temperature from low to medium, from medium to high, and then the custodian would shout 'don't forget to turn it off after school.'  She laughed as she described the conditions in the basement,  "While the upper floors suffered from insufficient heat, we opened our windows to keep from stewing.  Because we were in the basement, the windows opened to concrete window wells about half the depth of the windows, and dirt from the ground blew in on the heads of the nearest students.  I was so happy to have a job that I felt none of this was an overwhelming problem.  I spent ten years in that room, before moving to Prairie Hills, where I enjoyed a room double the size, four sinks, a private glassed in office, large storage room, enclosed kiln, and individual storage for each student."  No wonder I eagerly looked forward to a few minutes with Shirley every day.   
One of her popular pillow paintings.

Buhler country road landscape
Even though she's painted all of her life, she did not start painting for herself until she retired in 2000.  As she told me, "I could not do two things at once.  It took all of my time and attention to do my teaching job." Before we moved away, I bought one of her Kansas landscapes. It hangs in my writing room to brighten the day, but it can also be seen from the hallway, so people's eyes are drawn toward her landscape where sunshine adds highlights to nature's colors. I'm most grateful to my friend, Shirley Curiel, for being a part of my life, and for still adding sunshine to it everyday through her paintings.   


  1. Letty; I still feel close through your writings. Miss our little lunch dates. Sounds like you are doing well. I was reading your latest writing about Shirley Curiel, and I was one of her Central Jr High students in the basement of that school which is no longer there, been torn down.
    Miss the good ole years. Keep writing and I'll keep Reading! cs


  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful blog post about Shirley. rm

  3. Thanks,Letty. You turned the hum-drum events of my life into a real story. Reading about these ordinary happenings in story form makes them seem more significant.

    Concerning the name Shirley and the period of its greatest popularity, I was born in California in the late 30's and assumed that my name was chosen because of the popularity of Shirley Temple, the box office smash of that time.

    I enjoy reading your stories and always look forward to you comments on Facebook.

  4. Enjoyed your blog. Loved the way you put paragraphs in different colors. Made it easier to read. Happy Thanksgiving. jr

  5. Thank you. That was interesting, Shirley C! Probably all long-time teachers have stories similar to yours--but perhaps without 4 flights of stairs!

    Quite a few years ago, I recall coverage on the local tv news of a basketball arena (used by the prof. team in Denver) being torn down. One of the bystanders was interviewed and his comment was something like--It's about time that was replaced. We can't have prof. basketball players using locker room facilities that are 25 years old.

    I recall thinking that I had NEVER taught in a school that wasn't MORE than 25 years old--and wondered if that same man would care about that!!???

    "Shirley" is a name just not used for newborns any longer. In my 33 years of teaching I only once had a Shirley in my class--17 years of that time I was an elem. school librarian so worked with all the kids in the school--but no Shirleys!!

    One year during my early years of teaching, 6 of us rented a house together and 3 of us were named Shirley!! Then there was Swann, Suzanne and "left out" Mary Lou!!

    About ten or fifteen years ago there was a group that was organized only for those named Shirley. They would get together once a month for lunch. I was still working so only attended once. Interesting idea however! ss