April 27 is bound to be an emotional day for artist and art teacher Jan Wills as she retires after teaching for 34 years. It will also be a tough day for the art students who adore her.
When Wills moved to Green Valley from Nebraska, she heard that Green Valley Recreation needed an art teacher. She signed on and ever since has taught painting with acrylics, oils, watercolors and drawing with pastels, and pen and ink.
Now, at 84, Wills said her daughter and son-in-law insisted she come to live near them in Dallas.
“I wanted to teach more, but I want time with them in Dallas while I’m in good health,” she said.
“My goal has been to turn people on to art. I’ve had the cream of the crop in my classes. I’ve seen the advancement of my students as they learned different techniques, not just painting. Some didn’t know a circle from a square, and to see what they’ve done has been a joy,” Wills said.
Her current classes in advanced drawing on Tuesdays, beginning drawing on Thursdays, and oil painting on Friday will come to a sentimental end in a few weeks as Wills leaves Green Valley. She hopes to teach art near her new home.
At a recent Friday morning oil-painting class, students gathered around Wills at her easel as she demonstrated painting a close-up landscape. It was easy to see how they revered her as they watched and listened, with some taking notes.
Several students put their feelings into words:
“Jan Wills has opened my eyes to the world of art. It has been a privilege to be a student of an artist such as Jan. She is patient, humorous, flexible and, above all, an inspirational and talented artist. Her classes over many years have not only sent future artists on their way, but have fostered endearing friendships. Green Valley will miss one of its finest,” said Joan Carnie.
When Mike Dunn had to quit playing golf for medical reasons, he needed another activity to help fill his time.
“I never had an art class in my life, but I loved to watch TV artists and their shows … In 2008, while looking at a GVR catalog, I saw Drawing for Fun being taught by Jan Wills.
“My wife and I signed up and I was shocked to find I could actually draw something. In a year, Jan had promoted me to her next level, Drawing for Fun, Advanced. Suddenly all the passion I had for golf was now for drawing and art. Jan, through her skills, knowledge and teaching ability, filled my life and void of golf with a love of art. She has touched many, many lives as she did mine,” Dunn said.
Soon after Donna Pitts and her husband of 52 years moved to Green Valley, he unexpectedly passed away. Alone and in a new place, Pitts said her life became very empty. A friend mentioned Wills’ art classes and Pitts signed on.
“Jan and her gentle teaching have filled a huge hole in my life and I’ve found an ability I really didn’t know existed. Jan teaches step by step through demonstration and example and has opened a whole new world to me.
“She always critiques in a kind, constructive and instructive way. I will miss her so, but she has given me the gift of art,” Pitts said.
And from Dorie Schultheiss: “I chose art classes at GVR and tried a couple of instructors. I was about to quit and then gave Jan Wills’ classes a try. I was hooked. She is an excellent colorist, and as a former teacher and principal knew how to teach.
“She is my cherished friend … I will miss her. But life is all about change and, with one flight to Dallas, we will still visit each other.”
To say good-bye, students in Wills’ art classes honored her with a farewell party at the Las Campanas Social Center on Thursday evening, March 1. More than 50 attended and showed their admiration with food, cards, balloons and many, many hugs.
Visibly moved and emotional, she said, “It’s overwhelming, absolutely overwhelming to see so many of my students here.”