Arkansas Sketchbook

“Trichotomy of 5 Cents”

Chrystal Seawood | 2012 | Acrylic and enamel on wood

“I was going to give myself maybe like five or six months before I moved out [to Brooklyn] permanently,” Chrystal Seawood says. After mustering the gumption to give up her graphic-design job in Bentonville, she’d come home to Forrest City to develop her portfolio and save some money before moving east to pursue art full time.

“So I went back to my old high school, my old art teacher, and he let me use his other room as studio space,” she says. “Well, I had been spending time there and, naturally, kind of morphed my way into the spaces of the kids, kind of doing little mini workshops with them, helping them with their work. And eventually, I started substitute teaching, kind of like part time, just to get more money before I made my big move.”

Maybe four months in, she says, a student came up to her and told her she needed to be a teacher. At the time, it was the furthest thing from her mind, so she told the student, I’ll tell you what, prove it to me: Tell me why I should be a teacher, and maybe I’ll consider it. The next day, the student showed up with a letter.

“I believe you make a good teacher, which is why I’m ordering you to be one,” the letter begins. The student went on to explain that Chrystal did things that teachers normally don’t do (or at least any teachers whom she’d had). She says Chrystal made things interesting, that she made the subject matter relatable and that she took pains to make sure every student understood everything fully. “It’s not like you were teaching at all, really. It was more like you were just conversating—like teaching came so easily that you didn’t even realize you were doing it,” the student writes. “That’s what schools need nowadays, so that’s why I’m ordering, not asking, not proposing, that you become a teacher. That is my word, and my word is final.”

“It really brought tears to my eyes,” Chrystal says. “It was all the bubble-gummy feeling started to come, and just a sense of a deeper purpose started to overwhelm me. And I felt I was obligated to honor that. And I applied for this program that I’m in, called Arkansas Teacher Corps, and I was accepted pretty quickly and kind of fast-tracked, and got my own classroom in Forrest City, and this is my second year of teaching officially. And it’s been an amazing journey. And every day … I have no regrets for deciding to stay here.”

Those interested in seeing the above work, albeit on a much grander scale, should keep an eye on billboards along I-49 around Bentonville, where Chrystal’s work will be featured as part of the Arkansas Artists Work Enrichment project. For more information, visit ashbystoutdoor.com/aawe.

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