By Nancy Wick
Woody Allen famously said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."
John Taylor, an instructional technician in art, laughs and says, "That's all I do. I show up."
His colleagues think otherwise. Art Professor Jamie Walker wrote this in his letter nominating Taylor for a Distinguished Staff Award: "John fulfills the role of instructional technician better than anyone can recall and has been vital in providing a dynamic educational environment that allows creativity to flourish."
The place where Taylor has shown up for the past five years is the Ceramic and Metal Arts Building near the Center for Urban Horticulture. There, graduate students have their studios and undergraduates do hands-on work for their classes. It's Taylor's job to make sure they have the supplies they need and that the equipment they use is functioning well.
Oh, and he answers questions too.
"There's usually a line at my door," Taylor said. "When I come in, it's 'John this, John that….' It's like all my children asking where everything is. I feel like Dex on the TV commercial, dispensing information."
Taylor knows the answers to a good many of their questions, not only because he knows the facility well but because he is also an artist. An accomplished ceramicist, he had made his living as an independent artist for 10 years before coming to the University. And it wasn't financial stability that attracted him to the job, he said. It was the chance to work with faculty he respects and graduate students whose work he thinks is outstanding. The program is, he said, one of the best in the country, attracting nearly 100 applicants for four positions each year.
When he came, that program was ceramics, although for his first two years, nobody was working in clay. "We had robotics, we had digital projections, we had mechanical devices and we had drawings," Taylor said. "I was thrilled. That's the kind of diversity you get in a university."
Then two new faculty came — one in sculpture and one in glass — and the program expanded to become the 3-Dimensional Forum, or 3D4M. Taylor's responsibilities expanded too, but he doesn't mind, calling the changes "exciting."
Meanwhile, he was pushing some changes of his own — pointing out the need to document student work. He spearheaded Student Technology Fund grant applications so that the program could acquire digital photo equipment, including special light boxes that diffuse the light and enhance the images of the art.
"He…reminds the students of the ever-growing necessity to document their own work and how this task can be less expensive and even fun if they learn to do it themselves," Walker wrote.
He's also there to help them as they learn.
But beyond all his functional roles, Taylor was singled out for something else entirely. Francis Roque, who earned his bachelor's degree in 2009, wrote about it:
"…(H)is greatest attribute is his ability to foster a supportive and encouraging environment that allows students to reach for new skills, challenging ideas and bold plans…. I would spend many hours working on a project. Suddenly, John stops by to pass along fresh fruit (cut apple, cherries, pears and tomatoes from his garden) and to check in on my progress. This moment of rest and reflection does a lot for my spirit…. By the time I finish my fruit and conversation with John, I'm ready to continue my work with eager energy."
Many other students and alumni described similar encounters with Taylor, all featuring fruit and conversation.
Taylor is amazed at the reactions. "It's funny what a simple little thing can do," he said.
He comes by his sensitivity honestly. An MFA graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he was working there when his wife died after a long illness. Urged not to do anything drastic, Taylor quit his job, sold the house they'd owned for 13 years and moved to Seattle, where he knew exactly one person. He started working as an independent artist, but he soon came in contact with UW graduate students, whose work he admired.
"I used to come to the Scholarships for Scholars fundraiser every year, just because I liked what they were doing," he said. No surprise, then, that a former graduate student who'd become a friend called him when the instructional technician job opened up.
Students and faculty alike are thrilled he took the job. As student Alwyn O'Brien wrote, "…he is always available for a smile and a chat…he is the anchor of community at the CMA. A treasure indeed."