Jack Cassinetto, my high school art teacher, died January 4, 2018, at 73.
All these years later, I am just realizing that he was only 10 years older than us. I know he was the cool, young, handsome, understanding teacher that was the focus of many girl crushes. His sister Maryjane was in my class year. How did I not realize? I remember him being non-judgmental, amused and bemused by us. It was the best part of my day, being in the art room, painting, talking quietly. Art was refuge in high school, thanks to Mr. Cassinetto.
Much of my Sonora High School existence is now a blur but two instances with Mr. Cassinetto stand out in my memory. The first is the outdoor art show he organized for us in the city park one spring Saturday afternoon. Sonora is a Victorian city in the gold country of California. The park is a city block of parterres, trees, paths and benches that squats in front of the Tuolumne County Courthouse, on the main drag, where two highways flow through town, where kids visit Santa every Christmas season. We set up right at the edge of the park, on Washington Street. My contribution was a huge, 3’x4′, abstract nude. Bright pink and bold it dwarfed the other show artwork. Mr. Cassinetto stood next to it much of the day talking to visitors as the cars full of tourists and locals rolled by. I didn’t realize the situation fully until I was having my first show as a professional artist and was thinking back—in 2006. I had been so proud.
The other event was his taking us down to a Henri Matisse exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It is the first visit to an art museum that I remember. What stood out for me was Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat). I loved that her face was blue, green, pink, yellow and red and yet it was still a beautiful face. What a revelation. I was pleased to meet her again last May at SFMOMA and recall that early museum visit.
The last time I remember seeing Mr. Cassinetto was at our Senior Banquet, in 1972. He never came to our class reunions, though Maryjane often did. At our last, I was sad to hear that he had been fighting cancer. She said he had it licked and was painting up a storm