Artist and art professor Wendell Poindexter will be recognized for his 35 years of teaching at Frederick Community College in April next year, the date undetermined.
Poindexter began teaching at FCC, nearing his graduation from the Maryland Institute College of the Arts, often called MICA. A previous art department head, Betty Coe Rider, contacted him and asked if he would be interested in designing and teaching a class called Commercial Art.
With graduation nearly a semester away, Poindexter said he accepted the job because “all of my big hopes and dreams—I couldn’t remember what they were.”
That began his long career with FCC. He spent nine years as an adjunct position before he served 35 years as a professor and taught for over 20 years as the head of FCC’s Art Department.
In February 2024, Poindexter will receive ceremonious recognition from FCC for 35 years.
With no prior experience, he began teaching an evening class.
“It was sketchy times; I had students—I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it,” Poindexter recalled.
As the college and enrollment grew, the class increased in scope and began to add in graphic design elements, such as page layout and logo design, which caused the students to do a “hodgepodge mix of graphics and illustration.” Eventually, the Graphics Program was started, which offloaded a lot of the stress that the class was under and made it more focused, allowing it to become the class currently known as Illustration.
In addition to working at FCC, he did logo design and freelance work for various organizations, as well as some commission work, to help make ends meet. He eventually stopped doing that kind of work because he was never happy with the art he was creating.
“I’d rather just do what I wanna do, and if you like it then you can buy it,” he said.
He also had a job at the record store Waxie Maxies, where he worked through and beyond his years at MICA. It was a chunk of time that was notable in his life, where he made friends with many of the people who he worked with.
“That was a period of my growing up that was just a ton of fun,” Poindexter said, noting that they are all still friends to this day, having reunions because of the bonds created during that time.
He received an undergraduate degree in illustration and graphics from MICA before taking a chunk of time off, then returned to school for his master’s degree at the University of Baltimore. He said he chose the University of Baltimore because it was right across the street from MICA, and because taking a number of credits at the University of Baltimore meant he could take some classes from MICA at the University of Baltimore price.
At the University of Baltimore, he worked as a laboratory technician, doing things like running the computers and the darkroom cameras. He received his Master in Publication Design there. He continued his education in order to advance his teaching career, going on to American University in Washington, D.C. and earned a graduate certificate in arts management, then finally to McDaniel College in Carroll County.
Even though he changed his focus towards his teaching career and worked full time at FCC, he still continued, and continues, to work within the art community and on his own art.
His desire to go into art began when he was a child when he was always drawing, creating doodles and characters, cutting them out and pinning them to the wall above his bed. He would create scenes depicting holidays or seasons. His mother worked as a teacher, and when he was a child, he would help to decorate the school bulletin boards. He said that it got to the point where she couldn’t wait to see what he had up on his bedroom wall.
Growing up, several influential people in his life had gone to MICA and talked of their time there, so he was naturally interested in applying to the college. He also knew with certainty that his future would be in the arts in some form or another. “I used to say to my family that I couldn’t do anything else”.
There were other people who were influential in his life. During a sabbatical, he revisited MICA, and ran into several of his old professors, who remembered him by name. His illustration instructor, Susan Waters-Eller, invited him to sit in on a class.
Poindexter recalled he was awed by the work that was created in her class.
“Her concepts were just so abstract,” he said. “The work coming out of it was beautiful.”
He also spent time with James Hennessy, his drawing instructor, whose teaching methods served as the model for his own. Poindexter said he is still in contact with Hennessy even today.
While he didn’t meet him during his visit to MICA, another instructor who had a great deal of influence on Poindexter was Abby Sangiamo, his portrait instructor.
“There are bits and pieces of things that he said that I still say to my classes,” he said.
When Poindexter teaches his own classes, his preferred subject materials that of what he terms “the make-believe” or things such as fantasy, sci-fi, and, his personal favorite, horror.
He likes the make-believe and the creation of characters. In his own art, he does not refer to the figures that he paints as figures but instead as characters, and asks that people who pose for him do so through the lens of the specific character that he is creating.
One time, he said he forgot to convey to a previous student and friend that he was painting a character and not a real person when the person posed for a painting he was making of a little boy from the song “Silly Boy Blue.”
Because it was a painting of a fictional character, the face, body, and clothes were all different. After the painting was finished, and the friend saw the finished work, he called Poindexter.
He asked Poindexter, “Why did you make my head so fat?” He said they had a good laugh over it.
Some of the art he makes is shown in FCC’s Faculty Art Show, where the professors’ works are showcased.
“It’s nice to see a PowerPoint, but it’s even nicer to go to a show and see three-four pieces that your teacher has created,” he said.
Students’ art shows display the best pieces that students of that semester have completed and are something that he and the rest of the art program use to demonstrate the students’ talent and promote the classes to prospective students.
“Students who are interested in art but don’t know what to do need to see what comes out of the studios,” he said.
Poindexter has experience setting up these kinds of shows from the work he has done assisting various organizations with their fundraisers, such as when he was a board member for the Delaplaine Arts Center in downtown Frederick. At one point, he said the Delaplaine and FCC collaborated on an art exhibition of a former FCC instructor. He has continued to assist FCC with its various art exhibitions.
His long-time work at FCC, and his more than 20-year stint as the head of the art department has meant that his impact, both on his fellow faculty members and the students who pass through his classes and the art program in general, is an “impressive thing to think about,” he said.
Multiple generations of students have come through under his teaching, students whose parents recommended him because they took his classes years before. He said he meets almost 90 new people every year and regularly has former students coming up to him all across Frederick to catch up and thank him for his teaching. He said parents thank him for helping give direction to their kids.
“Not every profession does that,” he said. “There are people that make more money than me, but they don’t have people coming up to them and saying, ‘You changed my life.'”
The social aspect of teaching, the people you know, and the people you meet, matter to him, and Covid was a shock to that.
“I didn’t realize how much of my identity was attached to this institution,” Poindexter said.
Walking across campus and hearing students call his name, and saying hi to colleagues in the halls were all lost when working from home, in his office, just down the hall from his bedroom.”
“We all kept our paychecks, but there was so much more,” he said.
While retirement is looming in his future, he isn’t ready to go yet. On Feb. 1 at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, he will be honored at the by the African American Resources Cultural and Heritage Society for his work in the Black community in Frederick.
“This has been my life, and good or bad, sad or whatever, this institution has been… me,” he said.