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John Nippolt
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Editor’s note:
     John Nippolt is a teacher in Hawaii ’s school system. John’s interest is in teaching his students the arts but also in preparing them to be good citizens. John wrote the following about one of his students, a gifted, talented, although troubled young man, Rosco. John recognized the talents in Rosco and attempted to aid him in finding his creative place. John helped the young man as much as he could, even standing up for him with Rosco’s parole officer.
     After graduation from high school Rosco found that real life was more difficult than he had imagined. John tried to persuade Rosco to attend art school to no avail. Instead he imagined that he would go to Indonesia to surf. During the early summer months, Rosco had been fighting with his brother. So much so that his parents placed a restraining order on him, forbidding him to enter the family home. Disobeying the order, Rosco came to the house, causing the parents to call the police and had him arrested.
     While incarcerated, Rosco felt that nobody care for him or loved him – while in his cell, Rosco hung himself.
     His mother, on hearing the news, had a heart attack.
     John Nippolt wrote the following as a celebration of Rosco’s life held a few weeks ago.
     Those who know John Nippolt and have read John’s tribute to Rosco have contributed to help fund an art scholarship fund that John has established in his memory– appropriately named “The Rosco.”
      Teachers determine one of the most important components of the learning equation: developing strong teacher/student-learning relationships. The good teachers will find a way to offer individual constructive criticism through a process that illuminates the discipline they teach while exposing how positive learning relationships create successful living relationships.
     The difficulty for us to see what life really has to offer when we are young is a tenet of adolescence generally forgotten by many adults, but not so for teachers. Especially not this teacher. Little did I know teaching art is in direct opposition to creating art, but I was beginning to find purpose in my job after working for a few years and soon I began to feel the ebb and flow of student relationships in my life.
     Nearing the end of my middle school level teaching days, I heard the buzz about a student who was gaining great notoriety for mischief he continually got himself into. Stories and raised eyebrows from other teachers and staff followed him around. So naturally, and as it should be, it was in my art classroom that I finally met him face to face. He dressed and looked the same as his pals, but there was something edgy about him. He was the go-to-guy if you wanted somebody who would chance it and take a dare. No matter how dire the warning, he always managed to block out thoughts about consequences. If it meant taking a risk, for him taking risks magically turned into fun. I considered that maybe we had something in common, I noticed all those who poked fun at him, yet he endured it from friend and foe alike for the sake of his own wild exuberance.
     I could tell he was a surfer; it takes one to know one. So I knew and expected funny business. Funny-ha-ha and funny-peculiar. This connection came before I learned of his talent. Like it or not, my first taste of his type of fun was when I discovered the latest copy of Surfer magazine I lent him, on the floor in the back of the classroom. There were drawings in it and paint all over it. Mutilated, torn and generally trashed, I wasn't laughing. But, I also make surf art, some of it for the pros and this helped to get his interest, eventually which would lead to the most important aspect of our relationship, the one in which we were most alike, the one which held immense sway in our talks and arguments: Mutual recognition that we were both artists. He finally understood I meant what I said when I told him I would champion his artistic pursuit. He began to trust me and I became his mentor.
     He was a writer extraordinaire, and we shared an affinity for "aerosol assault". The misinformed are not aware how many "Writers" are good artists too, and have contributed to an continuing historical perspective by making their art form a part of contemporary urban art. His work as a writer far excelled mine, but by our common experience, we were able to communicate on yet another level.
     He listened to me and took my advice more often than not. I taught him working knowledge in composition and the relationship of the elements and principles of design. We had heated conversations about devices to make color work, the interweaving delight of line, how to create space, and perspective... a personal favorite of his. I introduced him to old masters and weighed in about how art changed everything and everything changed art. He would meet Caravaggio and Cezanne, who were both instrumental in the monumental change in the dynamics of presentation. Their work turned the art world on its ear.
     He learned from tales I shared about my life experience as an artist. Art was an integral part of our make-up. His understanding about our shared lifestyles allowed him to accept explanations I gave for solving problems he faced while growing up, including the knowledge about himself that comes with discovering ones emerging talent. He respected my views but he didn't always share my opinion. Sure, in the beginning I had to call him on his behavior and most times, he accepted that I was right. The time came when I wouldn't have to pay attention to him, we both knew what he wanted to do and I let him. I pushed him into competitions, many of them prestigious, and he won enough of them to prove his competency. I assured him that it was O.K. to disagree and to be different. And believe me, he was different. For real different. Gee, I haven't even mentioned his name yet, have I?
     There is a saying, "Only the good die young." I've been hearing it all my life. What does that make those of us who live on? I like to think those good ones who don't get taken from us too early are the ones who can sustain their commitment to their purpose and will morph into great ones throughout their lives.
     Before we met when I heard about him, I had this feeling-I don't know why, but when I heard his name for the first time, I knew one thing for sure. This was a one of a kind guy who might have something special to offer... his name announced him. Roll it around in your head; it's true. You might be thinking about what I just said, and you'll crack a smile because he grabs you when you hear his name, or say it. That special name was Rosco. Rosco Takamoto, bless his soul, I'll never forget him. Great art oozed out of him, and he is forever imprinted in me. It was my great fortune to be able to walk a little ways along the road with my young artist pal, Rosco.