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McGovern: The Art Of Inspiration

Even if you’re not an “art kid”, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the illustrious Mr. Kevin McGovern ‘74, art teacher extraordinaire here at CB. But alas, his time at CB is coming to an end as he prepares to retire this year. The Talon decided to talk with him about his time at CB […]

Even if you’re not an “art kid”, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the illustrious Mr. Kevin McGovern ‘74, art teacher extraordinaire here at CB. But alas, his time at CB is coming to an end as he prepares to retire this year. The Talon decided to talk with him about his time at CB before it sadly comes to an end.

To really know Mr. McGovern, we have to go back to the beginning of his time at CB. He actually started his time at CB not as a teacher, but as a student as a member of the class of ‘74.

Mr. McGovern’s Senior portrait, 1974

“I walked through the doors of Christian Brothers for the first time in 1970,” Mr. McGovern says. “I was a freshman. One of the first teachers I met would become a life-long mentor: Brother Martin De Martini. He was a great teacher…one of the best I ever had. The thing that made him stand out was his incredible enthusiasm for his subject matter. I remember him specifically writing the word CREATIVITY on the chalk board in capital letters and then explaining to us what it was…that is a lesson I still teach in my art classes.”

Mr. McGovern found his love of creativity and art when he was fairly young, so it may come as a surprise to some people is that he hasn’t  always been an art teacher.

Mr. McGovern in the CB hallways, mid 80’s

“I was hired in 1981 as a Humanities Instructor,” he says. “Later I taught English, Religion, and History. I desperately wanted to teach Art, since my degrees (BA/MA) are in Art…eventually I was able to become a full-time Art teacher.”

Although he hasn’t always been part of the art department, he has been an art teacher for the majority of his time at CB.

“This is my 37th year at CB…32 years [have been] as an art teacher.”

I was lucky enough to have Mr. McGovern as my teacher for Intro to Art my freshman year. At the time, I liked art, but I wasn’t too serious about it. That class, and specifically Mr. McGovern, fostered my love for art. Everything I made in that class, even the works I didn’t like, spawned some kind of appreciative word from Mr. McGovern. He always saw the best in my art and made me into a better and more confident artist. His teaching and constructive criticism even eventually caused me to go into the Four Year Art Program. So there’s no doubt in my mind that without his influence, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today.

And I’m not the only student who greatly enjoyed Mr. McGovern’s class. I mean, how could I be the only one when he has taught so many students?

“As a teacher, McGovern was amazing,” says Kelsey Wurm (‘18), who had Mr. McGovern freshman year for Intro to Art. “He taught me how to use different forms of art, which helped me figure out what medium I love to use most. He never said anything negative about my art pieces; he told me what I did well and how I could’ve improved in some areas. I loved how supportive he is…and if we ever had questions about whatever we were working on, he would give us his best input.”

Bailey Leek (‘18), who also had Mr. McGovern for freshman year art, shares similar sentiments.

“I loved my freshman year art class with Mr. McGovern,” she said. “His calm and cool nature encouraged me to make art that I am to this day proud of.

There are an abundance of students who have been greatly influenced by Mr. McGovern’s teaching. He has had many students who have gone on to have incredible success in art-based careers. When I asked about his favorite student “success stories,” Mr. McGovern had no shortage of examples.

Bobby Podesta visiting Mr. McGovern’s classroom, 1999

“[There’s] Bobby Podesta at Pixar, Matt Braly at Disney TV and Bryan Caselli at Frederator Animation Studios in LA…those three are all in Animation. Painting would be Clare Flynn, Matt Hufford and David Wagner. Architecture would be Chris Sylva…and if you are talking golf, of course, it would be Kevin Sutherland, who was on the PGA tour.”

Oh, did I mention that on top of being an amazing art teacher, Mr. McGovern was also the golf coach for years? Although he understandably tends to focus more on his art, he did tell me that he “coached six seasons of golf and won six Metro League championships.” Which, if you didn’t know, is a really big deal.

But back to art! Let’s be real — it’s hard to imagine CB without it’s Art Program. The Art Program is an integral part of our CB curriculum and identity. And we have Mr. McGovern to thank for its creation.

“When I became chair of the Art Department in the fall of 1992, there were a couple of art classes, but [there was] no program, no exhibits…the music classes were minimal and really just focused on [liturgies]…and a theater production would only happen if one of the English teachers volunteered to direct it,” Mr. McGovern explains. “Five years later, we had an exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum, where they gave Christian Brothers an entire gallery to fill with our student artists, our drama program was beginning to find its permanent home under the direction of Mr. Christian Bohm and Ms. Bobbi Wilson, and the jazz band was good enough to play at the Sacramento Jazz Festival! It was cool to watch all of these programs develop into what we have today!”

Not only was Mr. McGovern instrumental in the development of the Art Program, but he was also the facilitator behind one of the most anticipated events at CB: the LaSalle Art Show.

“My first year running the Art Department in 1993, I decided to have an exhibit on campus, which hadn’t been done for years. I called it the La Salle Art Exhibit and told Robyn Slakey, who I was working with, that if we [named it after] La Salle, ‘no one could ever get rid of it, because it was named after our founder’. When I asked Br. James Riordan if we could use the Brother’s Residence— then, the nicest building on campus — he gave us the ‘okay’ and even helped me host it the first couple of years.”

One of Mr. McGovern’s paintings, “California Coast #40, (Monterey Bay)”

By this point, I’m positive I’ve convinced you of Mr. McGovern’s fantastic teaching skills. But not only is he a great art teacher, he’s also a great artist! If you’ve attended the LaSalle Art Show before, you may have seen some of his work as he often has pieces on display.

His passion for art comes from many sources, but his inspiration behind his art stems from one particular experience.

“When I was in college at CSUS, one of my professors showed some slides of Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings…and they just stopped me in my tracks. I had seen slides of hundreds of artists by then, but I [had] never [seen] one where I felt this kind of connection. He became my mentor as a painter…and even to this day he is the painter that I look at the most!”

It can be quite a task to excel in one career, let alone two. Mr. McGovern has accomplished it, but he’s definitely ready to focus on his art.

“It’s a lot of work to combine a career in teaching with a career in painting,” explains Mr. McGovern. “It will be exciting next year to start to put all of my energy towards my painting…I’m looking forward to that!”

Seeing as he’s been at CB for so long, it’s no surprise that Mr. McGovern has had some major life moments tied to his time here.

“One day in 1994, my wife showed up on campus without telling me she was coming…something she never did,” he shares. “So, I was coming out of my classroom and I see [my wife] walking towards me with this huge smile on her face. I was like ‘Hey, honey, what are you doing here?’…then she explained the smile — she had come to tell me that she was pregnant with our daughter, Shannon.”

He adds that “if everything goes well with [his] retirement,” he has “regular trips to Disneyland with [his] wife, Leslie, [his] son, Brian, and [his] daughters, Shannon and Mo” to look forward to.

Mr. McGovern has been an integral member of our Christian Brothers community for many years. He has been instrumental in the lives of many art students inside and outside of the classroom. Just think of all the aspects of CB that we take for granted that we would not have without Mr. McGovern’s dedication to the arts — we wouldn’t even have the Art Program, not to mention all the specific events to do with the Art Program. Suffice to say, Christian Brothers wouldn’t be the way it is today without his influence and guidance. But alas, all good things must come to an end, even Mr. McGovern’s time with us here at CB. But not to worry, Mr. McGovern leaves behind him a strong, artistic legacy that will be always be a part of CB’s history.

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