Mentors — Teachers

The most surprising aspect of my life—has been my extraordinary good fortune to have always found my needs and circumstance precisely and skillfully supported by an continuous lineage of mentors & teachers. As if each were linked and carefully ordered to guide my efforts in a perfectly logical progression. My father keeping a close eye on me—late 1960’s

My Dad — O.M. Weaver Circa 1968
My Engineer Dad — O.M. Weaver

My Father — O.M. Weaver — began as and has always remained my primary teacher. He worked all of his life as a mechanical engineer helping to direct the design and production of gasoline pumps at the South West Pump Company in Bonham, Texas. He very early instilled in me the practical understanding that things can be made—and he used his after hours key to a vast machine shop to demonstrate the power and capacity of all manner of tools and materials to facilitate the process. By his very example—he taught me to approach all activity with logic and care giving equal attention to every detail. He was careful—he was kind—he was a master at teaching by example.

When content and happy—he had a habit of whistling a certain single repeated tune—a tune which then seemed as familiar as breathing. My Dad is now many years gone and for the life of me—I can not remember or recreate that tune.

Jim Danner — was employed by the South West Pump Company in a very singular role. He was trained as a pattern maker—highly skilled with all tools and materials. In a small manufacturing plant with many skilled workers—he was respected as someone who could do whatever needed to be done. He was the traditional artisan-craftsman-mechanic who could blend traditional handcraft with the demands of factory production.

Here is yet another powerful—teacher by example—who spent off hours carving sugar pine pattern stock into forms that appeared limitless to my young mind. He had a pocket knife collection that took hours to view and he grew worms that he harvested with a hand cranked telephone generator. He could start a camp fire under a poncho in a driving rain with the smoke curling smartly out the hole where your face should be. He was my friend—he was my mentor—he respected and encouraged me in ways that were as powerful as they were intangible.

Allen Stacell — Robert Riggs Photo 1972
Alan Stacell — Robert Riggs Photo 1972

Alan Stacell — had just begun a teaching career at the School of Architecture at Texas A & M when I enrolled (a seriously manic & starry eyed) student. I will never forget my first encounter with the eyes in this massive head that looked at you with an intensity and focus that was simultaneously encouraging & unnerving.

I have never ever met anyone with his presence—which was at once overpowering and disarmingly encouraging. He had a paradoxical quality of simultaneously challenging and nurturing confidence—a peculiar capacity to reflect and motivate individual creative potential. I have never spent so little time—a few hours a week in a single semester class—and been so profoundly influenced by anyone before or since.

John McElroy — for all practical purposes introduced me to clay. Though my first introduction was like many things—somewhat surprising. I first sat at a potter’s wheel in a rehabilitation center at Dallas mental institution called Timber Lawn. My mind required a bit of restructuring and something about this tool triggered latent memories.

After a brief but convoluted journey I managed to convince myself that Architecture was not the perfect match and I somehow found myself enrolled in the Fine Arts Program at the University of Dallas. I can still remember a close friend, fellow architectural student and Dallas native—Mark Schumann— recommending this small Catholic campus in the Irving suburb as a alternative to the sprawling mass of Texas A & M. Taking a closer look—I decided Mark was right and I found myself working in a very pleasant series of studio shops with a handful of students who became life long friends—Mary Lou Burt (soon my wife for twenty years), Charlie & Carolyn Debus, Juergen & Heidi Strunck, Jim Roach and Yoshi Schranil whose beautiful hands have gracefully served as my Business Logo for the last thirty five years. Looking back—this chance encounter was very close to perfect. Mac pointed out the tools and working space and suggested I could do this or that or whatever else appealed to me.

John McElroy Building Kayak Circa 1968
John McElroy — Building Kayak circa 1968

In the next room John had converted his office into boat shop where he was building a kayak for his son Fred. Quite suddenly (the boat unfinished) Mac stuffed his office into a broom closet (this is not an exaggeration) and announced the former office was now my pot shop. Pause and think about this for a moment.

From this beginning—my under graduate tenure moved in a predictable pattern. John would sit in the cafeteria drinking coffee & hatching ways to get us what we needed. If we needed tools or materials—they would suddenly appear. How about a new kiln at a school that had never built a kiln. In quick succession we had bricks and clay and pipe and were shortly stoking a new gas kiln where formerly there was none.

Mac’s sole purpose was to provide the means for his students to develop their creative potential. He did this day after day with no apparent fuss and appeared to enjoy it as much as we did.

I remember that he did occasionally give something that looked a lot like a lecture or a demonstration but for the most part he stayed out of our way and gave us the space to learn to do what we wanted to do. I am profoundly indebted to this man for his encouragement and support and most particularly for his life long friendship and respect. I frequently find myself wondering what I could possibly do to properly thank John McElroy.

The photo below (taken in the late 1960’s) rounds out my memories of that time. On a bright early spring afternoon (fly rods appeared) my VW bug (less passenger seat) was stuffed with John & Pedro & whoever else I can’t remember. We shortly found ourselves knee deep in an unnamed creek west northwest of someone’s cotton field—contentedly snagging bluegills and sunfish who were no doubt surprised by our sudden invasion. For nostalgic & illogical reasons this photo sums up my rich experience at The University of Dallas and with John McElroy in particular.

— Dan Weaver

John McElroy — Fly Fishing
John McElroy — Fly Fishing circa 1969