Bill Hatch’s Tree

A tall, beautiful English oak tree stands at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico, thanks to Bill Hatch, an art professor there. With its spreading branches, it shades a lovely green lawn next to the Henderson Fine Arts Center, a fitting place for the tree.

The tree is alive because Bill planted an acorn and tended to it as it grew into a seedling. When it became a sapling, he donated the English oak to the college. In many ways, the tree represents the time, effort, and love that Bill has put into teaching each of his art students for decades.

One of those art students, Shirlee Riley of Aztec, NM, recalls how much he has helped her over the years. In about 2002, she came to San Juan College, wanting to learn to paint. She had loved drawing ever since she was five years old, but she had never learned the basics of painting.

“He’s a marvelous teacher,” she said. “He taught me all the elements of art. You have to know what paint is made of. He taught me what colors to use that can blend easily. He taught me how to paint with oils.”

She was impressed with his patience. “He never puts people down,” she said. “He listens to the students and how they’re learning. Once he critiques a painting, he talks to the students, and he tells them things about their work if they need help. He tells them in different ways how to improve until they understand.”

She recalls how he worked with one student until after several years she finally began to understand how to draw a tree. At first, the student painted trees the way she saw them in her brain. The tree itself actually looked quite different. For years, Bill patiently critiqued her work and encouraged her to keep working at her art. Though it took a long time, the woman eventually began painting trees the way they looked in nature, not the way she saw them in her brain.

“He didn’t come and take the brush out of your hand and show you,” she said. “He talked to you. He was focused on you, and he would give you an example of the good part and the bad part of what you had done. He still does that to this day.”

In that same way, Bill nurtured the English oak from an acorn to a sapling. Now it stands tall, providing shade and a calm presence on the college campus where he has spent so many years of his life teaching students. He has helped them to blossom into the amazing artists he knew they could be. The tree he nurtured is a symbol of his masterful teaching skills.

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