It’s true that teachers may never know the long-term impact they have on their students.
That fact became abundantly clear to me Thursday night as I interviewed Shannon Sadulsky, a 1988 graduate of Winslow High School.
Now 43, Sadulsky lives in the town of Limerick, in southern Maine, where she is a freelance artist, illustrator and photographer.
She has never forgotten her high school art teacher, John Rollins, whom she credits for encouraging her and persuading her to attend a good college and pursue her dream of being an artist.
Though she has not spoken to him in many years, he is very much a part of her psyche as she goes about her daily work.
“It was his influence that pushed me to go to Parsons School of Design in New York,” she said. “He was a great teacher.”
My interview with Sadulsky came about after I stood in line at the Waterville Post Office Thursday morning.
It was a longer wait than usual and as I watched the postal workers in the back room, I thought about how nice it is that some things haven’t changed, like the old-fashioned setting and the very large, 4-by-16-foot painting on the wall behind the counter. You know the one I mean. You can’t miss it, it is so huge and covers nearly the entire wall.
The painting depicts the Waterville post office, Two-Cent Bridge over the Kennebec River and Fort Halifax in Winslow. It is a conceptual rather than an actual representation of the distance between the post office and fort, and the work, in the lower left-hand corner, is signed “Shannon Sadulsky, Winslow Art Student.”
I had seen the painting many times before and wondered about it. This time, when I got to the counter, I asked the clerk how long it had been there and if he knew the story behind it. The painting, he said, was there before he arrived in the late 1980s, and he knew only that the person who painted it was a commercial artist living in the Portland area.
Later, at my office, I searched Sadulsky’s name on the Internet, found her website, www.sadulskyart.com, and sent her a Facebook message. I said I was interested in writing a column about how she came to create the painting and what she is doing now. I tried to reach Rollins, her former teacher, but was unsuccessful. Those who know him say he winters in Florida.
But Sadulsky called me Thursday evening. She explained she is an artist who does textile design, illustration, screen printing, abstract painting, jewelry design, stone carving and commercial photography.
In 1988, when she was a senior at Winslow High School, the Waterville postmaster contacted Rollins to see if someone would do a painting for the post office, she said. Rollins offered the project to Sadulsky, who readily accepted.
“I started working on it at school with another girl who was unable to continue, so I ended up doing it myself,” Sadulsky said. “I brought it home with me, and I was working on my portfolio for Parsons at the same time. I finished the painting probably a month before I went to college. I remember Mr. Rollins being a little stressed out about that.”
She recalled being given specific direction about the subject of the painting.
“They told me exactly what to paint. They wanted it to reflect the goodwill between Waterville and Winslow, with the Two-Cent Bridge in the middle, the post office on the left and the fort on the right. I used Masonite board and house paint. That’s what they gave me. I was using a fan because I was really, really hurrying. I’d put on layers of paint, basically, and I was drying them as quickly as I could.”
Did she get paid for the work, I wondered?
“There wasn’t supposed to be any payment for it, but it was very kind of the postmaster — he gave me some money that was left over in some type of scholarship fund they had. It was $300. I was going off to college so I really appreciated it. I was very surprised and very grateful, too.”
She attended Parsons, in New York City, and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art with a major in photography. It was a rigorous program, but a great experience. She loved living in New York, and she owes thanks, she said, to Rollins for steering her in that direction.
“I did work day and night to get through, but I really enjoyed it a lot, and I’m really appreciative that he pushed me to go there.”
After college she returned to Maine.
“I did some photo stuff, small jobs like printing at 1-hour places. I got a job for a commercial photographer in Portland, Peter Macomber, and worked for him about 10 years.”
She loved the work, but the economy took a downturn and several employees were laid off, including Sadulsky, in 2009.
Since then, she has been on her own, designing fabric, doing digital art, illustration and other freelance projects.
“I live with my boyfriend in Limerick, in an off-grid house on the side of a mountain, and we have been working on it for about five years.”
It is a beautiful spot and she says she is fortunate to be able to do her artwork because her boyfriend is very supportive:
“He is a mason and the house is going to be all stone on the outside and totally sufficient, with a windmill and solar panels.”
They also are gardeners and grow all of their own vegetables that carry them into the winter months.
Life is good.
Sadulsky said she still visits her parents in Winslow, but has not seen her painting at the post office in more than 20 years. People often tell her they have, however.
“I am amazed that it’s still there,” she said. “That makes me definitely proud that they’d keep it up for that long. I never, ever, expected that.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]