Joe as a Teacher


"I could never thank you enough for the encouragement & affirmation you have given me over the years -- Bless You!  You are still a great teacher! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You" 
Lonnie Hanzon, Creative Director Museum of Outdoor Arts  -- June 2006

Joe Wetherbee (Uncle Toadee) in classOne of Joe's professors at the University of Denver was the Superintendent of Schools in neighboring Jefferson County where the principal of Wheat Ridge High School was planning on establishing a full-fledged art department.  Joe was offered and accepted the challenge. As the only art teacher at the beginning he taught primarily basic elements of art, drawing and art history.  Soon he added teachers who brought with them specialties e.g. ceramics, jewelry-making, fiber art, and sculpture.

Joe, affectionately called "Weth," liked kids, loved Wheat Ridge High School, and working with children of that age group. He remained there until he retired 33 years later.  He was named outstanding teacher in 1958.

In his Master's Thesis, Teaching Abstract Painting on the Secondary Level, Joe wrote, "For most high school students this will be the end of their formal art training, as only a small percentage of them will continue their art education after leaving high school.  Yet none can avoid contact with current art trends, for they comprise a major portion of this twentieth century."

As Joe entered the field of art, the movement of abstraction (non-objective art) was flourishing not only in painting but also in architecture, furniture design, and everyday items.  Joe wanted his students “to understand that art evolves; that they should savor it and feel a part of it."

Joe and his wife Betty traveled widely in the United States and abroad, always visiting museums, special exhibits, and locales of special art interest and importance.  They took pictures, made movies and collected items such as posters, slides, and books that Joe used in his classes.
After retiring, Joe never stopped reading and sketching, though to a lesser degree as he lost vision in one eye and developed a tremor in his right hand.  Eventually his art work was limited to his decorating the envelopes of greeting cards to friends and family.

Letters To Joe

Joe's success as a teacher can best be judged by some comments of his former students.
In an art newspaper, The Banner, October 1980, former student Carol Hoffman wrote, “Joe Wetherbee has a reputation for producing more top notch artists than any other teacher in Jefferson County, possibly in the Denver area".  About his classroom she wrote:
“… There is quietness, a reassurance that everything is ok, that you are ok. Joe has a knack for seeing where a student (person) ‘is at’ and is able to quickly identify a student's talents shortcomings and needs--and to motivate a student to creative expression. … He is easy-going, encouraging--he gives a sense of peace and well-being in the midst of a day of chaos.  Perhaps this is why many of us have chosen the field of art.  For us it represents a form of aloneness and spirituality so different from the anxiety of much of the contemporary world; a place to be creative, productive and free.”
In the same paper another former student, John Hawthorne, wrote: “… as time goes on and one gets to know Mr. Wetherbee, he becomes a friend to a student and is always there to offer guidance. This man will always be there when needed … one of a kind. He believes that learning in itself is an art that everyone should take part in.”

“I know you don't realize how much of an impression you have made on our lives.  Your kindness, understanding and love will not be forgotten. You've passed on to the world a legacy of kids who have a better understanding of art not to mention of themselves and of others, and who through their experience of you are better people.  Thank you for all you have done for me which is more than you will ever know.” (DOE)
"I can only hope that you two in some way can share some of the fulfillment I feel in my life and work because of the path that I have chosen; because without your influence, that path may never have been attempted." (Michael)

“Thanks for introducing me to a way of art that I love.  Please remember me. I will remember you always and the impression you have made on my life.” (Brenda)

“You have that something special which makes you a superb teacher as well as a great person; you care about your students so much!” (Susan)
"I have strong memories of my time in your art class at WRHS, and I have to attribute my sustained love of the visually creative to your influence. You were a teacher who made a difference in my life and I appreciate it.” (Pat)

“Thanks for the years of faith and support that have helped me reach this point in my career.  This show may have never been had Joe not stopped a young man in his tracks by saying, ‘you should seriously think about pursuing art.’  That gave me permission to dare and dream.  Your words have been followed by years of interest and support." (Michael)

From Internet Chatter, February 2002

 "Mr. Wetherbee was an incredible teacher." (Kathy)

"So I am not the only student who experienced such great fun and learning from Mr. Wetherbee.  He made art fun." (Barbara)

"Mr. Wetherbee was one of the most memorable teachers I ever had.  Anyone who was serious about art and had him would never forget him." (Melanie)

"I remember Mr. Wetherbee from sophomore drawing class.  He was always encouraging.  He treated me as an equal and never judged me --I will never forget him--he was cool" (Russell)

"At one time I was also graced with the opportunity to learn from Mr. Wetherbee.  He was so amazing!  In his teachings there was honesty, belief, and no boundaries.  He is the main reason I graduated from High school." (Margine)

"He reacted to something in a way that was encouraging in a supportive, and non-judgmental way." (Joni)

Letters to Betty after Joe Died

After Joe died, his wife Betty was flooded with letters from former students, colleagues, and friends accounting their good memories and their gratitude for the positive impact Joe had made on their lives.  Recurring terms were: noble, sweet, dear, gentle, humorous, witty, professional, fine artist, my mentor, caring, worldly, wonderful, charming, talented, warm, funny, kind, understanding, and special.
"I cannot express how Joe changed my life.  He taught me what a man really is—a loving human being. He listened to me and encouraged me to pursue an artistic career.  I use those skills today.  Joe will always be a part of my soul and my children’s' souls.  I can never repay him." (Brett)
"I know you realize how instrumental Joe was in telling me just what I needed to hear to confirm my path to pursue art as a career… my life is a testament to his influence and confidence—Joe was a mentor who felt deeply and shared his heartfelt zeal for art. He was a man who was passionate about human potential, what it took to realize our potential, and how we all must honor and celebrate the potential in one another and ourselves.  To be a young man and walk into an art class and watch him lecture about his love of art may at first strange to a teenager.  Once I realized this man was serious, he gave me permission to be serious also.  That was Joe's gift to me."  (Michael)
"I just wanted you to know how much Mr. Wetherbee influenced my life in such a positive way--Arts have always been a foundation for my life and my family's life." (Ken)
"Mr. Wetherbee was simply the best. What I loved most about him was how special he made everyone feel. He loved us.  He encouraged us. He listened to us.  He spread his love of art to everyone. He was always in a good mood." (Phyllis)
"He was my art teacher for three years. He had a profound effect on my life and the path that I chose in life. I worked in the field my entire life.  He was a wonderful man."  (Jim)
"Joe's teaching and encouragement were truly the ignition that started John's long and successful career as an artist." (Jane, wife of a former student)

"He was truly my mentor, a fine artist, a jovial friend, a caring, worldly man. It was an honor to begin my teaching career with Joe. His demeanor made teaching a life-time joy, never a job!" (Erick)

Betty and Joe Wetherbee Art & Music Fund – Jefferson Foundation

The Betty and Joe Wetherbee Art & Music Fund was established by Betty in September 2009 in Joe's memory at the Jefferson Foundation to provide funding for visual arts and music programming in Jefferson County Public Schools in perpetuity. Funding for music was included since Betty was raised in a musical environment and appreciated the value of music in enriching one's life. Her mother had studied at the Conservatory of Music in Chicago and taught piano at their home -- with some of her students arriving by horse and buggy!


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