When Teachers Are Heroes

Yesterday I woke up to news that my high school art teacher had died. He was loving, kind, generous, and sassy. He introduced me to artists and movements. He helped me get through a transitional period and into art school. He helped a lot of people survive and become who they are today. He made life more worth living.

Roger Montgomery Mulford (1937 - 2022)
Roger Montgomery Mulford (1937 – 2022)

He was one of those people who didn’t have to come out of the closet. Unapologetically himself, his temperament was somewhere between John Waters and Lady Elaine Fairchilde. His art room was an oasis of misfits that had the feel of the Andy Warhol Factory long before the idea of safe spaces existed.

He was fiercely protective. When he learned that a so-called “guidance” counselor had been pulling me out of classes to espouse bigoted views of LGBT people, he grew livid. He spoke up to the administration, so I never had to work with that “guidance” counselor again.

He turned me on to Vegas in Space, a sci-fi comedy about cadets who go undercover as mid-twentieth century showgirls to investigate the theft of girlinium, a rare element that regulates a women-only pleasure planet. The low budget film made by drag queens critiqued our culture’s arbitrary standards of beauty and good taste. Anyone caught wearing beige could be executed on site.

In another scene from the film, much of which was shot in black and white, we learn that the planet’s atmosphere is too thin to hold color, so inhabitants must use a color booster. When protagonist, Captain Tracey Daniels asks, “so everything here is fake?”, Veneer, queen of police, flatly responds, “yes, the real world is rather colorless”.

When class was over students stored half finished drawings in a cabinet. Occasionally when we pulled them out to work on them again we’d notice mysterious alterations. One day a friend pointed out that her watercolor depicting a grandmother at a picnic had been painted over. Instead of holding a sandwich, she appeared to be smoking something pleasant with various woodland creatures.

At the onset of the pandemic when I reached out with a sappy message to say how much I appreciated him, he laughed it off. “Ha.. I just had fun.. You brought joy.”