With a twinkle in his eyes and a crooked grin on his lips, Peter Temple-Thurston is an animated teacher and a fascinating artist.
He inspires his students in many aspects as he gives long, exciting speeches during classes. His talks never miss a beat.
Temple-Thurston can go on for minutes at a time, matching his hand movements to his rapid speech about radical artists, political activists and people thinking for themselves.
But Temple-Thurston wears two hats. From one aspect, he is an art teacher, and from another, he’s a politically active naturalized citizen who moved here from his conflicted home country, South Africa.
The sparkle in his eye changes from excited to passionate as Temple-Thurston switches from talking about the inspiration he derives from Francisco Goya to his experiences growing up in the white section of segregated South Africa during Apartheid.
The white South Africans of European descent were either English or Afrikaners (Dutch settlers). They were separate from the black indigenous South Africans. The white populations were of a higher class, and the indigenous black people were made to be the working class – servants, nannies, etc.
As an English-speaking child growing up in South Africa, conflict and segregation was a way of life for Temple-Thurston.
“When you’re very young it seems normal to you,” he said. “It’s just how things are.”
But as he grew up, Temple-Thurston realized that he disagreed with and disliked segregated society. He remembers Afrikaner policemen stopping black people on the street and checking their I.D.s for no reason.
“It filled me with anger,” Temple-Thurston said.
He recalls one particular episode when he was a youth. A conflict arose on a bus he was riding about a black woman who was riding the bus with the Afrikaner child she was babysitting.
A white passenger complained the black woman should go to the back of the bus where the black people were supposed to sit, but she refused so she could stay with the child she was watching.
The bus conductor eventually told the complaining passenger to be quiet or get off the bus, and he let the black woman stay in her seat.
“You experienced a lot of those kinds of episodes there,” Temple-Thurston said. He did not like the segregation or mistreatment of the indigenous people. He especially disapproved that the police could get away with whatever they wanted.
Temple-Thurston said the police could put anyone in jail without a trial because of laws that were passed, and it became a police state.
“That’s one of the things I hated about South Africa,” he said.
Temple-Thurston continued to feel strongly against segregation because of inspiration from an art teacher he had while working towards his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
His teacher encouraged the students to think for themselves and question their superiors. Their class led a protest against the segregation, and Temple-Thurston and the other students were arrested and put in prison.
“When you’re young and idealistic, you think you can change the world,” Temple-Thurston said. “But when you hear that big metal door clang shut behind you, it’s quite a scary experience.”
Temple-Thurston was let out after only a few hours. He said the police were reluctant to keep white youth behind bars very long because their parents could afford lawyers. His art teacher had discouraged the black students from protesting because he knew they would be in greater danger.
After finishing his bachelor’s degree and getting married, Temple-Thurston and his wife moved to the United States in 1976. They both disliked the political unrest going on in South Africa and wanted to get away from it. Temple-Thurston also wanted to further his education.
Since moving away, Temple-Thurston feels South Africa has improved, and he still goes back and visits.
“I can be proud of my country now,” he said.
After moving to the U.S., Temple-Thurston focused more on his artwork.
“I’ve always liked art, I’ve always been quite talented with it,” he said. Temple-Thurston prefers print-making and watercolor painting, but his talents are not limited to those mediums.
He had the chance to display his artwork in two showings in New York. Those shows were mostly sculpture works.
One exhibit was called “History as Illusion” and featured puppets from different cultures. Temple-Thurston did all the sewing and embroidery himself. He was also featured in another exhibit, which he called “The Sleep of Reason” and was based off the print of the same name by his favorite artist, Francisco Goya.
Goya is Temple-Thurston’s main inspiration, and he feels a connection to him because of Goya’s living during Napoleon’s invasion of Spain.
“I’ve identified with Goya because I grew up with political unrest too,” Temple-Thurston said.
“The Sleep of Reason” was displayed in Franklin Furnace Gallery in New York, and it consisted of electrically-animated figures. Temple-Thurston said the exhibit dealt with the insanity of modern-day life.
He also had a show at Pacific Lutheran University in April of 2001, called “Twentieth Century Follies.” It featured some etchings that referenced his favorite book, Alice in Wonderland. He said the exhibit was a surreal look at the twentieth century’s take on history.
For the last 11 years, Temple-Thurston has been teaching part-time at Pierce College, and he is the source of inspiration for many aspiring art students. He hopes to pass on his passion for everything art through his art appreciation and watercolor classes.
“I love the opportunity to inspire and encourage young, creative artists to develop their talents,” Temple-Thurston said. “We need more creative arts in today’s society.”
He feels that society has become too industrialized and not creative enough. And he says that with budget cuts, arts are usually the first things to go.
“We need more arts, not less,” he said, “It builds kids’ imaginations and their ability to question and think for themselves.”
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost