Canton High’s Joyce Stenmon retires after 40 years

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This story appears in the 26th annual Salute to the Fine Arts, a 6-page special section included in the June 1 issue of the Canton Citizen.

On the far wall of the Canton High School library, there hangs a striking mural of the Death of Achilles. The figures are graphically drawn with exacting precision. The colors evoke shards of ancient pottery displayed in Greek museums. Everything about the painting is awe-inspiring, eye-catching, and dynamic.

An exuberant Joyce Stenmon poses for a photo during her last PreK-12 Visual Arts Show in May. (Ed McDonough photo)

An exuberant Joyce Stenmon poses for a photo during her last PreK-12 Visual Arts Show in May. (Ed McDonough photo)

But the most surprising fact regarding the painting is that the artist was a 16-year-old CHS junior. Commissioned by her Latin teacher, Mr. Robert Waxman, the student spent her entire summer working on the mural. She learned a great deal about being an artist through that commission. But in the end, it was her drive, her love of “doing art,” her vision, her innate talent, and her resourcefulness which got the job done.

The lessons that Achilles taught her over 40 years ago have been incorporated into the work she has become revered for here in Canton. Because Joyce Stenmon, art educator extraordinaire, is not only still creating her own art, she has inspired generations of students to make art and to feel the joy and pride of creating.

As a child, Stenmon couldn’t stop creating, even delighting in trips to the iron foundry in Norwood where her father worked. Always having loved tools, she was fascinated by every aspect of the process, especially delighting in watching the molten metal being poured.

When she arrived at the high school she knew she wanted to study as much art as possible. At that time there was only one art teacher, Bud Quincy, and Stenmon did not get into art class as a freshman. “I was devastated,” she recalled. Stenmon said that when the time came for college and she walked into the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, it reminded her of the foundry where her father had once worked.

“I knew then that this was the place for me,” Stenmon remembered. “I dabbled in everything and ended up dual majoring in art education and metalsmithing and jewelry. It was guided freedom and I loved it!”

Since she graduated with highest honors with distinction in both her majors, it seems only obvious that she was able to, in her own words, “function well in the mess!”

Upon graduation, Stenmon took a position back at her alma mater, even though it was originally part time, because she knew she wanted to teach high school and she knew she wanted to do 3-D art. Here again, Stenmon praises Mr. Quincy, her former teacher, with whom she would now be working.

“He was such a kind person and hard worker,” she said. “He was a great model and mentor. When I in turn had student teachers and my staff (Stenmon has had 11), I always tried to give them that same rich experience.”

Stenmon recalled that it was during those early years that with parents’ backing, and the School Committee’s support, things really started to take off. “We grew from one and a half positions to what we have today, which is currently 10 art teachers K-12 and where we offer ceramics, photography, computer graphics, TV production, studio courses, and all art majors. It has been amazing, but it has also taken time, planning and collaboration.”

Everyone who knows Stenmon praises not just her ability to collaborate, but also her vision, her perseverance, and her unfailing commitment to the Canton Public Schools and the Canton community as a whole. Jen Henderson, assistant superintendent said, “Joyce has been such a successful leader because she is open to all new ideas, she is constantly learning, and constantly asking questions and no matter what, she is completely invested!”

Fellow art educator Patricia Palmer echoed the words of Henderson in a letter where she proposed Stenmon as a recipient of this year’s NCTA Honor Award. (Stenmon will receive the award at the banquet held in June). “Joyce has grown the department to meet the changing needs of the students, and she is always thinking, ‘What’s next?’” Palmer wrote. “Through numerous events, Joyce has created many opportunities to bring the community closer to our students and to their work.”

Among the many endeavors which Stenmon proudly calls her own are the open studios that coincide with Canton’s annual PreK-12 Visual Arts Show; Artists in Bloom, a joint exhibit with the Canton Garden Club; and the Norfolk County Family and Probate Court’s “Children Matter” exhibit, which showcases student artwork from grades K-12. Also included in this list of initiatives is the annual student exhibit at the Artist’s Studio & Gallery at Patriot Place. Frank Quinn, director of the gallery, remarked, “Joyce is a dedicated and professional art teacher and her students’ work proves it.”

Here in Canton, Stenmon helped organize the first Walk for Beth after fellow teacher Patty Willis lost her sister Beth to domestic violence. “Joyce’s efforts have been invaluable and she will be greatly missed,” Willis noted.

But what makes Stenmon proudest? That would have to be the annual PreK-12 Visual Arts Show, where every child’s artwork is represented. Stenmon secured funding for enough display boards so that now each and every child has something displayed each and every year that they are a student in the Canton Public Schools. Stenmon said emphatically, “All children are artists; all children are capable of creating using a visual language.”

Like the mythological Achilles that Stenmon captured on her canvas so many years ago, her career has been long and impressive. She has worked tirelessly for over four decades to bring the very best in art education to every student in the system. And like the fabled Achilles in her painting, she has had to fight many battles, like being accepted in the then male-dominated world of school administration. She also fought to have art included in the new STEAM initiatives.

“Art represents creativity and I knew that needed to be represented,” she said.

So also like Achilles, who was a gift to the Greeks, CHS Principal Derek Folan praises Stenmon as a “gift to this community and to our students.”

“Her smile and her enthusiasm drive everyone to be better,” Folan said.

Many, many former students are now colleagues, fellow artists, or just good friends. Chip Yeaton, CHS school resource officer, summed up the feelings of a whole town when he said, “Joyce has been a mentor, teacher, and a great friend. Thank you, “Sten,” for your inspiration and dedication to me, and to CHS. We hate to see you go!”

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