Graduation Profile: Elementary art educator returns to finish what she started

After leaving campus 52 years ago, Marie Franklin will finally walk down the hill as a KU grad.

“You know there’s nothing worse than saying you graduated from this other little college, when what you’d really like to say is that you graduated from the University of Kansas.”

Marie Franklin on the KU campus, May 1962

Fifty-two years ago, newlywed Marie Franklin moved to Texas just one year shy of her degree in art education from KU. She completed an elementary education degree there and taught elementary school for decades, yet always felt she was missing something.

“We probably once, twice, maybe three times a year would discuss that for 50 years – wouldn’t you like to see what it would take in order to finish your degree?” Franklin said.

But Franklin, after starting her career and moving her family to California, just kept pushing it to the side. In the spring of 2011, her husband sought to remedy this for her by exploring her options with the School of the Arts at KU as a surprise for her 70th birthday.

Franklin’s journey with KU the last couple of years has been invigorating. She was thrilled to make a trip back to campus to figure out how to finish up her KU coursework at a community college in California and finally be able to take that walk through the campanile and down the Hill. Now she spends her mornings teaching at an elementary school before heading to take her own classes in the afternoon.

“It’s been delightful to meet up with some good artists that are professors at my local community college, as well as meeting up with children who are a little older than the ones that I regularly teach,” Franklin said. “And that’s been good and enriching for myself, I think.”

Her time at KU in the early 1960s is remembered fondly. She remembers the third floor of Strong Hall, and it being as hot as can be – “because it just simply is in Lawrence, Kansas.” Franklin remembers taking part in pilot programs, drawing musicians playing in Hoch Auditoria, and exploring a new media for art – Magic Markers.

“It was just a great art experience. I really learned a lot, and I think that I found myself,” she said. “I had some art in high school, but not anything like the breadth of the art and the environment that was there.”

Franklin helps third grade students with their clay art projects.

Franklin’s career didn’t start exactly as she had planned. She ended up getting a degree in elementary education from a small school in Texas. Regardless of her broader degree, she has always prided herself for being the art teacher of choice because she “knew more than anyone else did about how to make those kind of messes.”

Her love of sharing art with young people has not dwindled over the years.

“I think I’m rather amazed that when I started, I wanted to be an art teacher. And 50 years later, that’s what I did this morning is teach a class of third grade  children how to glaze their pieces of pottery,” Franklin said. “Obviously what I learned at KU has definitely stuck with me, because it’s the stuff I turn to every day and love.”