After 32 years at Bells Elementary School in Blackwood, art teacher Rich Herzog is retiring, but he wants to continue his pointillism painting and find a new way to help children realize their artistic potential.
“I had an art teacher that was really helpful to me, so I decided that I could maybe be an artist,” he recalled. “I decided I wanted to go to college and go into the fine arts, and I wound up getting into a summer art program at Indiana University.”
Herzog discovered his love of art in the second grade, and that led him to a vocational school where he studied graphic design, despite his desire to pursue fine arts. After graduating, Herzog continued to pursue art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree in fine arts. Despite contemplating another education degree, he was convinced he should find a job as an artist first.
“I was going to go into education, but I had gotten talked out of it by one of my professors, who told me I was talented and should become an artist,” Herzog explained. “I came back to Pittsburgh, and there were no jobs at the time.”
Unable to find work as an artist, Herzog spent time in the fast-food industry. Despite the setback, he was able to spend time with his future wife, and it was her advice that convinced him to pursue a career in education.
“I dated my wife at IUP and she had graduated a year before me,” Herzog said. “… She told me the happiest I was, was when I was working with kids.”
Herzog got his education career up and running in the short term as a replacement for a Pennsylvania teacher on maternity leave, then found his niche at Bells Elementary.
During his time there, Herzog helped his students understand that art is not a right-and- wrong class. He not only taught them art lessons, but used his classroom to bring each student’s drawing and imagination to life.
“I wanted to get a variety of things for kids to look at,” Herzog noted. “I feel like nowadays, they don’t have an imagination. They have the computer, but it doesn’t feed their imagination, it pacifies it … When I talk about 3D and what form is, and how it feels and looks, I wanted something there so I could pick it up and show them what I was talking about.”
As the teacher retires from Bells, he leaves behind a legacy of quirky collections and a classroom filled with props and toys.
“When you talk to any of my kids, they always talk about my PEZ collection,” Herzog said. “I had gotten hooked on (it) from a fellow teacher who went to Germany. It was Spike, the dog from ‘Tom and Jerry.’ I wanted to display the PEZ so more kids would see them and bring them in for me.”
Not only was Herzog an inspiration in the classroom, he also spent time teaching children about art during summer programs, and he hopes to continue inspiring students after he’s gone.
Herzog also wants to help young children, and even the elderly, pursue their artistic dreams.
“I feel like I want to do something meaningful,” he added. “I am not sure yet; I just feel the need to help and be a part of something …
“It’s been a crazy ride, but I loved it. The path was always there that led to what I wanted.”