Danielle Mailer ’72
Danielle is a visual artist with work shown in numerous galleries in the Northeast. She is also Chairwoman of the Art Department at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, CT and is the daughter of renowned American writer Norman Mailer.
What’s your most vivid memory of your C&C education?
City and Country, among its many offerings, was for me a kind of life raft. The intimacy of this Village school, combined with its levelheaded, progressive and compassionate teachers, offered a refuge for a young child whose life was turned upside-down with regularity. Add that this was an over-sensitive, dyslexic child, and one can see how essential it would be to have your childhood learning experience be in a place where a wide range of skills and interests were encouraged and even celebrated.
I remember Ronnie McLeod (the art teacher) holding her large brown hands over mine as we pulled up a clay pot on the wheel — such an apt metaphor for all the ways she nurtured my art interest in those formative years. I can still conjure the sense of triumph when I finally, successfully threw that first pot, when this red formless block of clay suddenly transformed into something pretty.
I remember arriving to Rhythms with anxiety and feeling locked up, and then suddenly feeling quite free as we were guided to move our bodies through space. In retrospect, I think this was therapeutic movement. Sybil, our teacher, used dance as a healing method. How innovative at a time when “gym class” in many schools consisted of push-ups and running laps.
How did your education at C&C shape the way you look at the world and the role you play in it?
As I transitioned from grade to grade, there was always an opportunity to excel through my “art voice.” In the 10s, when we studied medieval history, we each did an illuminated letter, probably our initial. What joy there was in using gold leaf paint and colored inks to convey your personal insignia. And since I am so clearly a visual learner, those creative projects brought the lessons home forever.
In choosing the path of an artist, I once again must look to my alma mater, at least in part. As early as the 6s I was selling my drawings to other children for the grand sum of two cents. (I think one or two of my buyers went on to become art dealers.) Ronnie, the art teacher, was particularly enthusiastic. For years and years she would remark on my talent, but never in a pressured way. It was as if she was thinking, your hair is brown, you are 4-foot tall, you love to paint. Of course my parents, too, were very supportive of my interest in art, but my father was very worried about the fact that I wasn’t reading at age 7. I imagine Jean Murray, the principal, would have said with firm patience, “It will come, it will come, but meanwhile isn’t it amazing how much passion Danielle has for making art?” Of course the reading did come eventually. I even managed an A average in high school and graduated from a fine liberal arts college, Bowdoin.
In what ways do you feel your education continues to this day?
In my adult life, the choices I have made bear direct relation to those positive, early experiences.Becoming an art teacher, for example, and working with the middle school age, is no mere coincidence. I think I wanted to give back, in some deep-rooted way, some of what was given to me. It amazes me how far we have come in recognizing the legitimacy of different learning styles and how the brain processes information. And even more amazing that C&C, 40-odd years ago, held fast to that revolutionary concept, that children learn in different ways.
C&C undisputedly offered an education that was so much more then simply a place to learn facts. This lovely little school provided a subtle philosophy on the art of being. It offered an environment that celebrated learning for learning’s sake, and where life long friendships were forged. For me, a child from a broken home, with chaos at every turn, I relied on the stability and safety of such a place. It was, in effect, like the mortar in a complicated mosaic, holding tight the pieces of my life.
(Photo of Danielle Mailer by Bob Hauser)