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Michael Gouker has work shown locally, in N.Y.

February 17, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Nearly 20 years ago, North Hagerstown High School art teacher Michael Gouker was doodling while a student teacher led his class.

Using black ink, he drew circles, many, many circles, that together created an image. The effect was almost photographic.

He liked it, really liked it, and has used the technique through the years.

Gouker has worked in a variety of media, including watercolor, colored pencils and collage.

Sometimes a drawing or painting works so well, as with his pen and ink creations, you stand back and go "Wow!" Gouker says.

Other times, as with some of the watercolors he's done, you want to hide it, he laughs.

He's shown work in the juried Cumberland Valley Artists Exhibition at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

"Fat Free Africa," a photo montage by Gouker, was one of 25 works selected from thousands of entries for "Collage/Montage/Assemblage," an international juried exhibition in December and January at The Stage Gallery in Merrick, N.Y. Gouker used a map of Africa on a grocery bag along with images of American food and starving people to illustrate the contrast between American overindulgence and African hunger.

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"I like to do some social commentary sometimes," he says.

How did Gouker come to art?

"It's just something I've always done ... something that I could do better than other things," he says.

A native if Myersville, Md., Gouker recalls his sixth-grade teacher asking, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

In the more than 40 years since he answered "art teacher," Gouker hasn't strayed from that goal. He's taught in Washington County Schools since 1969 and at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts since 1989. He earned his master's degree in communications in 1974.

A graduate of Middletown High School, Gouker went to Frostburg State College with the intent "from day one" of becoming an art teacher.

He taught art to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for eight years at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, and took a job at North Hagerstown High School in 1977.

Gouker recalls walking out of the school with the "biggest smile" on his face after his first day on the job. "Everything was right," he says. "I knew I made the right decision."

Gouker, 55, hasn't looked back and still finds challenges on the job. Motivating students is not always easy, but Gouker says he's had many nice and talented kids. One student from the 1980s helped design material for the Olympics, Gouker says. Another, a young woman who continually "bumped heads" with Gouker, who he thought hated him and went into graphic design. "You never know," he laughs.

Gouker's North High teaching impressed Ray Mongrain. The Hagerstown resident's three children took art with Gouker, and although he hadn't expected much, their work was good.

Good enough that Mongrain promised himself he'd try Gouker's art classes at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts when he found the time.

Mongrain has taken Gouker's basic drawing, pen and ink and outdoor drawing classes, and he says Gouker is an excellent teacher.

"You learn without realizing you're learning," Mongrain says.

"He's an excellent teacher," says Linda J. Dodson, educational coordinator at the fine arts museum.

Gouker has an ability to identify with every student and their individual needs, she says. Beginning Thursday, March 13, Gouker will offer a new class at the museum - Creative Thinking.

"I think you can teach people to do creative things," Gouker says. "I think you can help anybody be better."

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