He Was My Teacher

Photo: Crista Cloutier

He was my Teacher.

It was nearly 20 years ago that I first came to this small village in France to live at the art school for American students.

I studied with him, and him alone.

He was a well-known novelist, a respected archeologist, and a celebrated poet. Creative writing. Poetry. Archaeology. One person taught all of my favorite subjects.

Why would I study with anyone else? I had found my mentor.

He taught me about language. He taught me how to listen to the ever-present echoes of history. He showed me what it is to live a life dedicated to wisdom. Dedicated to art.

He was my Teacher.

When my year of study was finished, I was consumed by the idea of coming back to this village. I wanted to keep learning from him. I wanted to share the joys and challenges of my journey and ask for direction. I needed a Teacher.

But it took me several years to return. And when I arrived, he was dying.

I never saw him again.

I collected his books and dove in deep. His vocabulary made archeology sound poetic. His novels, sumptuous and rich, left me breathless as I lost myself in the stories.

But poetry is difficult.

And his poems were profuse and challenging to decipher. I plowed through, regardless, feeling dumb and lost, but determined. It was on the third book that it finally happened. Patience has its reward.

I was reading one of his poems about the Provencal landscape and something clicked. It was as if I was given a key that opened a door.

And it changed everything.

Now I devoured the poems, each one splendid and clear. Each one touching my soul, leaving me stunned.

He was still my Teacher.

I’ve continued my friendship with his children. And now they have their own children. And he is in their eyes. And he is in their voices. And in their sweet questions I can sense his presence, which always makes me smile.

The other day I ran into an American artist.

He too had studied with Gustaf Sobin as a student at the art school. He too had returned to find something, a piece of this Teacher who had electrified his mind and touched his soul.

And as we stood together, remembering what it was like to have known Gustaf Sobin, grateful for the tremendous influence this gentle man had on our lives and work. We saw that we too are his children.

And when I take photographs, I can see him in my eye. And when I write, I can hear him in my voice. And when I have questions, I can sense his presence.

He is still my Teacher.