M.S., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
B.A., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Courses: Studio Art, Advanced Art, Yearbook
Susan Sanford defies stereotypes about art through two beliefs: Art can be taught, and you can have a monetarily rewarding career that involves art, because art is involved in so many facets of business.
Ms. Sanford’s own career reflects the latter belief in the variety of positions she has held. Early in her career, she was a scrimshander (etching and carving whale’s tooth ivory) at the Marine Museum of Fall River in Massachusetts. She spent five years as a bookbinder at the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she assisted in restoring rare documents and hand bound books in leather and cloth. From there, she went to the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, as a scientific illustrator. Some of her projects included diagrams of Mount St. Helen’s, a U.S./Mexico map, the cards for National Geographic’s Global Pursuit game, and illustrating the book Frontiers of Science. Ms. Ochoa moved on to MedSciArtCo in Washington as the CEO and illustrator. Her impressive client list included National Geographic, the National Wildlife Association, the Library of Congress, Office of Technology Assessment for Congress, Coleco, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and many others.
Then Ms. Sanford found a new passion when she began teaching at Wakefield Country Day School, where she designed the curriculum for the art program for grades K-12 and taught photography, book design, and layout. In 2010, she came to Randolph-Macon Academy as the art teacher, art tutor, and yearbook advisor.
“I think art can be taught, just like writing,” she asserted. “We start them writing at a young age, and when they get to sixth grade, we don’t say, ‘Sorry, you’re not Shakespeare, give up!’ But in art at the sixth grade level, they are told, ‘Sorry, you’re not Michael Angelo, give up.’ In the U.S., we have this idea that you’re born an artist. You’re not born a lawyer or a doctor, so why do you have to be born an artist? You may have the inclination, but with enough focus, persistence, and interest, you can learn it like any other field.”
Ms. Sanford is proof of her own belief: she only knew the basics of art when she began her master’s program. That experience helps her relate to nervous students. “A lot come in and say, ‘I can’t draw a straight line, I can’t even draw a stick figure,’” she said. “I tell them, ‘If you want to draw a straight line, use a ruler!’”
She spends two weeks in her Studio Art class just getting students comfortable. “My whole goal is to have them surprise themselves,” she said with a smile. “The first thing is to get them uninhibited, to let loose. It’s not about getting an A.”
With the variety of careers in her own background, it is not surprising that Ms. Sanford focuses on careers in her art classes. “I am passionate about having the students do real projects, so they can see the real application of what they’re learning and understand what jobs are available to them,” she said.
When she’s not elbow-deep in paint, clay, or other art materials, Ms. Sanford can be found gardening, as working outdoors is another passion of hers. She has two children: Ryan, who graduated from R-MA in 2012 and is now at the Naval Academy, and Ixel, Class of 2015, who is attending Northwestern Preparatory School on a U.S. Naval Foundation Scholarship.