By: Julian Brenman ‘20, Editor-In-Chief 5-26-18
For a quarter century, Mr. Peter Seidel, a beloved fine arts and architecture teacher, has been drawing, painting, and inspiring at Friends’ Central. Now, after having reached approximately 3,750 students, Mr. Peter Seidel has decided to retire.
As Mr. Seidel nears his final days on campus, he shares the story behind how he arrived in his position in the first place: “I came to the school because I had been working as an architect in 1992, but I was laid off during a recession. The construction industry and architecture are very susceptible to dips in the economy. I was laid off and I heard about this job. I thought, ‘maybe I could do this.’ After all, my undergraduate degree was in Fine Arts, and even while I was working as an architect, I was continuing to make sculpture. I had plenty of background. When I first came to Friends’ Central, I learned that I had to spend a lot of time thinking about the fundamental principles that I needed to teach these young art students. That was very different from what I was thinking about as a practicing architect. My first few months were spent seeing where students were and understanding how I could best help them.” Despite the initial adjustment period, Mr. Seidel recalls, “I felt the challenges of teaching were worth my best efforts.”
Many students struggle finding enough momentum to come to school every day for the four years during which they are in high school. Mr. Seidel reveals what has kept him coming to school for the past 25 years, always with a smile on his face: “The thing that has always been stimulating to me has been to be able to teach the core principles in a way that students light up when they grasp them. It’s always been great fun for me, and I’ve taken considerable pride in the work that students have done. The work they have done is a manifestation of how completely they have grasped an idea.” He continues, “Working at the school has given me the stability and regularity that are so important, at least for me, for generating work, for pursuing my own creative vision. Having steady work has kept the wolves of chaos at bay. I’ve been able to develop and sustain a creative practice.”
During his tenure, Mr. Seidel has not only brought art to the students, but literally to the school itself. He says, “I’m happy with the placement of quite a bit of art around the campus, including some large sculptures, like the one in front of the FCC, ‘Mom’s Piece,’ the one that hangs inside of Shimada, or the one that stands in front of the Language Building. All of those placements were arrived at carefully with lots of thought. There are also paintings placed around the campus that I’m quite happy about. There’s a whole series of paintings and drawings that document architectural change at the school. For instance, in the Shimada, there is a painting that shows what used to be there before the Shimada was built. Right next to that, there’s a drawing by a student of what the Shimada would look like when it was built. Same thing in the FCC. There are two or three small works that depict what used to occupy that site, and there is a student perspective drawing that shows what the new building would look like. Same thing in the Language Building. With our art collection, I’ve been happy to document the changes to the campus. Of course, I’ve put other paintings around the campus. Outside of the physics room, there is a large non-objective work that, to me, suggests the infinity of the cosmos. Or outside of the chemistry room, there is a painting that depicts bottles of colored liquid that’s suggestive of reagents. That’s one of my paintings. Outside of the math department, there is a geometric abstraction suggestive of a unit circle. Those are all my placements. It was fun for me to try to imagine tying those works of art to those subject matters.”
In addition to the changes to the physical campus that have occurred over the course of Mr. Seidel’s time teaching, there has been another change to school life, one that Mr. Seidel describes as “drastic.” He expounds, “The biggest change has been the integration of technology into traditional teaching. It has offered a new tool which can be appropriate, but can also not be appropriate. It has become a distraction. I know that digital technology is indispensable in any architecture office, but underlying that, there are core concepts that must be learned prior to the introduction of technology. Core concepts like measurement, scale, and mass.”
Though Mr. Seidel has enjoyed all of his years at Friends’ Central, he reflects on a time in history during which the campus had an especially joyus buzz: “In the fall of 2008 when the Phillies won the World Series and Barack Obama was elected president, it was like the water was boiling out of the pot. There was great excitement.” Mr. Seidel is himself excited about the future of the institution. He states, “I’m excited by bringing in a new generation of enthusiastic, young faculty. The school needs that to be refreshed. There are many of us that have been teaching for a long time and we are naturally aging out. That’s the way of time, that’s the way of the world. I hope the school will be able to attract enthusiastic young teachers.” His advice to these new teachers is as follows: “Learn early how to say ‘no’ graciously. Everybody comes here with enormous good will and you will be taken advantage of for your good will unless you protect yourself from being overextended.”
Mr. Seidel has no doubt been devoted to school life for the past twenty five years. What some students and staff may not know, however, is how Mr. Seidel’s efforts extend beyond City Avenue: “I’ve been on the board of my local library [the Gladwyne Library] for more than 20 years. I’ve been able to champion the cause of the library and contribute to the community in that way. As a designer I was in a position to steer a recent renovation that included a very modern glass elevator to a historic, old stone building. That was enormously satisfying. We ended up being given a historic preservation award for making a sensitive intervention in a historic building.” Moreover, Mr. Seidel’s work in sculpture can be seen outside of the nearby Ludington Library. He has exhibited his paintings in numerous one-person and group exhibitions over the last 20 years and has even picked up a few awards.
Retirement will provide Mr. Seidel with an amplitude of free time. While this does mark the conclusion of his teaching career, he affirms that he will continue creating art: “I have more to say. Once I’m retired, the first order of business will be to renovate my old industrial garage in Bridgeport, the studio where I used to make sculpture before I came to Friends’ Central. Bridgeport is not too far away from where I live. It want to renovate it so I can start painting again.”
Speaking of painting, Mr. Seidel paints a picture of what he hopes his legacy has been at the school: “I hope that I have taught students how to see more clearly, more vividly. I’m grateful for my colleagues who have helped me stand up a little straighter. I want to be remembered as the teacher who trained students how to see.”
Well, Mr. Seidel, on behalf of each of your students, we can attest that when we were in your classes, what we saw was spectacular. We appreciate all of the art and architecture you’ve brought into our lives, and look forward to seeing your future creations displayed in the community. Thank you, Mr. Seidel, from the bottom of our hearts.
~Julian Brenman ‘20, Editor-In-Chief, on behalf of the Friends’ Central Community