The art of giving back

Last modified: 10/30/2014 9:37:57 AM
In 1998, Antrim artist Earl Schofield and his wife, Yvette, had been married for just a few months and were preparing to build their life together — he as an artist and she as a first grade teacher. They had also recently received their university degrees — from the Massachusetts School of Art and Design and UMass-Amherst, respectively — and had no reason to think their collective future would be filled with struggle.

Within months, however, that had changed — Schofield’s wife’s health took an inexplicable turn for the worse, and she was unexpectedly diagnosed with acquired seizure disorder, occuring through viral encephalitis. A few years later, Schofield’s daughter, Rohyn, had a medical battle of her own with leukemia.

Today, Earl Schofield still thinks constantly the health of his wife and daughter — luckily, there is now less to worry about, as his daughter has been in remission for almost nine years now and his wife is healthy enough to raise their four children. Also, coming to teach at Dublin School, a steady job with benefits — plus the benefits from life in the country — have helped Schofield’s life take a significant turn for the better.

“If you find a decent artist, they’re usually connected somehow to an educational institution,” he said.

Last year, Schofield found even more footing — a Dublin School parent, Cynthia West, began an effort to build a studio for Schofield, in which he can work and hold private classes that are crucial to make ends meet.

Now, with his daughter healthy, his wife’s sickness under control and his own career on the rise due to a friend’s assistance, Schofield’s life has been looking up in a way it has not been since he and Yvette were first married.

“Every year we’ve been here, things have slowly gotten better,” he said.

The Early Years

When asked about what it was like to deal with his wife’s condition on a daily basis, Schofield, speechless and shaking his head, has trouble finding an answer.

Schofield strictly guards his wife’s privacy, and asked that she not be interviewed for this article.

However, he was willing to offer a limited portrait of the day-to-day struggles he and his family have been through.

“I’d have to go with the cliche that you live one minute to the next,” he said. “You’d have a horrible, horrible day, you’d wake up, try to forget about it and keep going.”

Yvette’s sickness impacted her husband’s career as well. Schofield took two years off from work to take care for his wife, exacerbating his dismal financial situation — already $10,000 in debt in 1998 due to student loans, Schofield had to go back to school again to get his teaching certification at Westfield State College, receiving it in 1999 and supporting his family with part-time work throughout the process.

After a brief stop at a boarding school in suburban Springfield, Mass., he got his current job at Dublin School in 2001, which solved the looming economic problem he and his fellow artists face.

“Parents are always asking the question: how are my kids going to make a living? There’s super, super wealthy [artists] and there’s amateurs and there’s not much in between, which is a shame.”

Being in New Hampshire also propelled Schofield’s career in a different way: the state engaged his longtime love of the outdoors.

“My connection to nature...has always been an integral part of my practice,” he said.

Schofield said the “urban bias” that exists in the art world, which often befalls artists who do not live in cities, is unfortunate given how important networking is in the profession.

“It’s almost impossible to make the connections you need,” he said.

And yet, with three freezers full of vegetables and four daughters who sometimes forgo breakfast to frolic outside, Schofield said it has always been a foregone conclusion that he would reside in New England, of which he is always reminded when he travels to Denver annually for seasonal work.

“I work in two different museums out there,” he said. “It’s awesome and awe-inspiring and I could never live out there — it’s just not the same.”

Disaster strikes again

Despite the good fortune of being hired in Dublin, however, Schofield faced adversity once again when his daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004.

“It wasn’t an unfamiliar place — I think I cried once and that’s it. You don’t have time to think about [the sickness],” Schofield recalled. “Mostly the hospital made us feel lucky, and in a lot of ways all of this has made us appreciate the important things in life, fresh tomatoes from the garden and a quiet moment on the porch with tea.”

“I say I don’t suffer fools quite as well as I used to,” he joked.

Schofield added the patient being his child and not his wife also gave him a somewhat different perspective.

“You’re less think a little bit less about the impact it’s having on you. “ I can remember when my wife was in the hospital thinking, ‘Oh my god, how do I handle this’...I don’t remember thinking that with Rohyn.”

Rohyn’s cancer proved aggressive, and Schofield and his wife were forced to consider the possibility that they might lose her. However, he said their family “got lucky,” and his daughter’s rapid response to he leukemia treatments helped her survive the life-threatening disease.

Schofield said that art helped him cope with his daughter’s recurring illness. Schofield and his family would haunt CHAD, the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, looking at the art displayed there.

“We would go for walks in the middle of the night at Dartmouth and we would look at all the different paintings,” he said. “It was helpful to me, especially because you couldn’t get outside as much.

The paintings were so spiritually renewing that Schofield designed a mural with his Dublin School class for CHAD and has given some of his own paintings to Monadnock Community Hospital Frizney Memorial Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Insitute.

Through it all, a key part of Schofield’s family structure has been his employer, the Dublin School, which provides support that goes far beyond a salary.

“Our lives are completely enmeshed with the Dublin School,” he said.

A familiar face at Dublin

Schofield has thrown himself into the life and routine of the Dublin School, head of school Brad Bates said. According to Bates, Schofield has a strong presence that extends to all aspects of students’ lives.

“At night you’ll see Earl in a dining hall with faculty and students discussing ideas, whether it’s the Islamic State, whether its the art world,” Bates said. “He is always engaged and a great model for our students and young faculty — someone who loves the exchange of ideas that make places like Dublin truly thrive intellectually.”

Bates added that Schofield’s instruction has been crucial to building the art program Dublin School has today.

“He’s elevated our visual arts program to one of the top arts programs in the country and his students go off to the very finest art schools in the country,” Bates said. “His view is that the art world is very competitive and tough place so he gives very clear feedback to students...if he says something’s good it probably means it’s outstanding.”

Students interviewed agreed with Bates’ characterization of Schofield’s teaching methods.

Olivia Loria, who graduated from Dublin School in 2009 and continued to study industrial design and graphic design at Virginia Tech and the Art Institute of Boston, respectively, said that Schofield’s bluntness prepared her well for the difficulty of becoming a professional artist.

“I would paint very slowly and [Schofield] would frequently challenge me to try to improve and paint faster and paint more, which definitely helped me later because I’m better [now] at producing more in a timely manner,” she said.

Erin Tourgee, a senior at Dublin School who has been Schofield’s student for four years, said that Schofield’s instruction — making her photograph nothing but people in order to overcome a fear of photographing them — was crucial to her improving her photography. She added that Schofield is always willing to discuss challenges extracurricular as well as curricular.

“He’s willing to put down his paintbrush...he’s willing to listen and help me through [a problem],” she said.

The new studio

Schofield said the Dublin School has supported his career outside of teaching, even providing him with a studio space for the artwork he does outside of his teaching duties that he requested from the head of school in his job interview.

“The institution through different headmasters has always been supportive of that,” Schofield said.

West’s daughter, McKenzie, was a student of Schofield’s and West said Schofield “played an integral role in my daughter’s art education.” West said she wanted to find a way to thank him.

Still, when Schofield told Cynthia West, the mother of one of his former students, that he could use a new studio at his home, he didn’t think she would take him seriously.

Nothing could have prepared Schofield for when West arrived at his Antrim home a year and a half ago, with an architect from the Keene firm Catlin + Petrovick Architects and general contractor Andy Hungerford in tow.

He said he was in blissful disbelief that the architect’s design included everything he could have wanted for the studio — even a space for him to teach summer classes.

“She kind of came back a little while later and I was like, ‘You’re kidding right?’I’m so, after just being who I am I’m so practical...she kept going ‘don’t worry about it, just if you had your way to do anything what would you do,’ which is actually really hard for me.”

West said that, besides the difference Schofield had made in her daughter’s life, she was mindful of the way he had handled his own struggles.

“I was compelled to bring his story to light and assist him in reaching his artistic goals,” she said. “He’s had some difficult times, and we live in a community where friends make things possible for one another.”

A key part of what drove West to be “the catalyst of change” in Schofield’s life was the generosity he has shown in donating his art to institutions.

“Earl’s whole story is about giving back,” she said. It’s always been his dream to place art in public spaces such as hospitals.”

The Goal

Fundraising for Schofield’s backyard studio began six months ago and West estimates it will take another six months to a year to complete the fundraising portion. West said her goal is to raise $50,000 for the studio’s construction, 25 percent of which she said she has already raised.

Schofield said he has always felt conflicted about receiving help from others, describing himself as prideful, but added that the promise of being able to fulfill his dreams has given him new wisdom, even after the travails he and his family have been through.

“Cognitively you’re supposed to go through these stages where learn independence and then you realize there’s another stage after that which is interdependence and you sort of have to learn how to give and take,” he said.

Schofield’s new studio, which will be named Hemlock House Studio, will be under construction starting six months to a year from now. It will be a far cry from the garden shed that currently serves as Schofield’s backyard studio, which has a collection of wooden slates for a ceiling and is lighted by naked fluorescent bulbs.

West added that Schofield has pledged original work to those who donate $5,000 or more, as well as a scholarship named for those who donate $10,000 or more, and implored those with the wherewithal to donate to do so.

“We have it in our power to make a difference in the lives of an extraordinary art teacher and future art students of all ages,” she said. “Sometimes all you need is a little help from your friends — this is a story about community goodwill and hope.”

David Blumenthal can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232. or He is on Twitter @DBlumenthalMLT.

Editor's note: This story has been edited from the original version which appeared in print and online.


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