Art Teacher Raymond LaBranche Retires After 16 Years At WHS

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By Beth Emery

Atlantic News, Tuesday, January 10, 1995

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON - The beauty of original pictures and paintings, or the creativity that is revealed through pottery is what lead Raymond LaBranche to the University of New Hampshire where he majored in art. Now, some thirty-six years later, LaBranche will be retiring from his job as an art teacher and chairman of the art department; or as he stated, "making a career change."

LaBranche has owned a small pottery shop in Newfields, New Hampshire since 1965, and, at the end of this school year, will be devoting his time to his store.

After graduating from UNH, LaBranche headed for Lake George to take on an art teaching class for only one year. Upon returning to New Hampshire the following year, a job opened up in Salem, where he taught art classes for sixteen years. Following the years teaching in Salem, a job offer at Winnacunnet High School opened, and LaBranche quickly filled it. He has stayed at Winnacunnet for almost sixteen years and has taught all ten art classes that the school offers to students.

Winnacunnet's highly praised art department, which includes teachers Jill Berry, James Elder, Ronald Prevoir, and LaBranche, sees over three hundred students daily. The staff collectively teaches fifteen classes per day and are generally "very well accepted" by their students.

Students interested in pursuing a college education in art would start the program at Winnacunnet with Beginner Art, a prerequisite for many of the following art classes. The advanced art students would continue with Drawing I and Drawing II, followed by Portfolio Prep, otherwise known as Drawing III, which primarily consists of painting. For other art preferences, the school offers Photography, Sculpture, Ceramics I & II, and Art History. Of all the classes, LaBranch enjoys Art History the most. "That's my favorite class," stated LaBranche. "Studying paintings and pictures of famous artists is the main portion of the Art History class."

During class thousands of slides are shown of famous artists and their creations and then students interpret and discuss them. The students also make two or three trips to art museums to see the original works, and later the pupils duplicate a painting of their favorite artist. "The students have a text book they work from, and they are required to do reports, but the course is not straight lecture such as a regular history course may be," LaBranche added.

Although Art History is LaBranche's preferred class, Senior Portfolio class is also taught by LaBranche and is an extremely helpful class to those art major students applying to college. The students work on a collaboration of twelve to fourteen pieces of their best work to submit into their portfolio.

"Students will not be accepted [to college] without one, and by making it a class, I can help make their portfolio the best," LaBranche stated.

The department receives a list of requested art work that colleges prefer to see. They like a wide variety of work, particularly recent, and they usually ask for a self portrait, a landscape or still art drawing, a 3-D clay sculpture, and most often, a drawing of a bicycle.

The students usually dislike the bike the most, but because they are all over the world, it is easy for the college to pick out their mistakes," LaBranche added. The students taking the portfolio class usually work on their creations during class time and may take their pieces home to work on as well. "If the students took it upon themselves to prepare a portfolio, they may not get things in order. This way they are very well prepared," LaBranche stated.

LaBranche himself tends to favor "more modern art," particularly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "Pictures are a beautiful thing, and the more of them you see, the more joy it brings to you, and I hope the kids enjoy it too," LaBranche stated.

Besides pictures and painting, LaBranche's love of pottery persuaded him to join the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, made of hundreds of artists centered in Concord, who own many stores throughout New Hampshire which allow he and his fellow craftsmen to bring their personal pottery to the Exeter Craft Center, and other large retail stores and sell for profit. Because of time constraints, the craftsmen rarely gather until August where for nine days the All Annual Craft Center in Sunapee, New Hampshire, the largest fair in New England is held. Beginning in 1933, it is the oldest running in the nation, and celebrating their sixty-second year, more than one hundred and forty craftsmen who are involved, will contribute their crafts. Anxious LaBranche will be particpating for the twenty-fourth year and happily stated, "It's like a big class reunion, being able to see all your buddies, its a fun nine days."

Of course, preparing for the fair in August will take much preparation and many hours of hard work on his clay creations. As LaBranche said, he's "not getting any younger" and, though he has been pleased with his teachings for the past thirty-two years, his own art work and the management of his pottery shop will fill most of his time. His efforts and success as a committted art teacher and chairperson, along with his management and participation in his store and in fairs, make Raymond LaBranch a well known and successful artist who's appreciation for art brings great enjoyment to his life. And beyond his own work with clay, the time he has shared teaching others has shaped and molded a new generation that spin from his wheel.

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