Memories and Musings – On Gratitude

Mosaic artist/Photographer Nina Tisara muses on gratitude and the people in her life that she's grateful for. Who are you grateful for?

A smiling, much younger Nina Tisara holding two award certificates from the Virginia Press Association with Packet editor Jim Coldsmith behind her. 1982
(All photos: Nina Tisara)

Alexandria, VA – At this Thanksgiving-time of year, I am remembering with gratitude the people who have taught me and encouraged me along the way.

In New York City, in those pre-Advanced Placement days, some students completed the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in two years. Selma Glachman was my homeroom, English, and Social Studies teacher for those two years. I think she treasured her students. I certainly treasured her. She created some of our English lesson texts using a mimeograph machine. (Do you remember mimeograph machines?) I can still envision her sitting on the edge of her desk reading aloud to us T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I still remember my favorite lines from that poem:

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet

Selma Glachman edited the school newspaper and I wrote a column for it. Writing this column makes me feel close to her again.

In my more recent life, I am grateful to Jim Coldsmith. Currently, the Converging Paths/Witnessing Worship exhibition of my1985 photographs of worship in Alexandria is in the James Coldsmith Gallery of The Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum.

Jim died of leukemia in March 1990. According to his obituary in The Washington Post, “Coldsmith was editor and publisher of the Alexandria Port Packet in the late 1970s and early 1980s …and as chairman of the Alexandria Bicentennial Commission, he was credited with making possible state funding of acquisition of the Alexandria Lyceum as a bicentennial center….”

That the exhibit is in the gallery honoring Jim is particularly meaningful for me. When I was very new at photography, a fellow student at Northern Virginia Community College mentioned that the Packet might be short a photographer. I went to see Jim, carrying my Photography 102 portfolio of plants at the D.C. Botanical Gardens.

Succulent plant at the D.C. Botanical Gardens.1981

Jim examined them carefully through his Coke-bottle thick glasses and asked, “Can you photograph anything that moves more quickly than a plant growing?” He reached into his desk drawer, handed me two rolls of Tri-X film, and said, “Let’s see what you can do. If I can publish anything, I will.”

The next week I photographed the Alexandria City birthday celebration at Market Square and handed in a stack of photographs, some of which I thought were particularly creative. He chose to publish one (not particularly creative, I thought) on the front page, a crowd scene. He later told me people like to see themselves in the paper and that sells papers.

Over the next weeks and months, I photographed children at the Ramsay Nature Center (now the Buddy Ford Nature Center). The children, when they were spellbound (bound is the operative word) by what they were watching were moving slowly enough for me to photograph. Jim published a shot almost every week. Eventually he published a full page, sometimes a double truck, of my photographs regularly. What a gift to an emerging photographer.

I am grateful to Ann Zelle. Ann, with whom I am still in touch, now lives in North Carolina. She was head of the Photography Program in American University’s School of Communication for many years and also taught photography at Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria campus, where I was fortunate to be one of her students for Photography 101 and 102. She gave me my first one-person show—of the plant portraits I brought to Jim Coldsmith.

Girl watching turtles at Ramsay Nature Center, 1981

I am grateful to retired archeologist Gene Sterud, my first and only mosaic teacher. One of the things I treasure about Gene was that he didn’t try to mold me (or any of his students) to his goal of recreating ancient mosaics. He encouraged me to keep on doing what I was doing. Gene moved to Oregon and sadly, I have lost touch with him.

I am profoundly grateful for my children, Julie, David, Steven, and Lynn. David died of cancer in 2008. He was in large part the reason behind the Converging Paths/Witnessing Worship project. When the children were little, I was a single mom and we were fairly poor. They were the stars I navigated by. I focused on keeping them together and keeping them fed. Now, they are my support system, from daily check-in calls, to computer and smart phone support, to website and graphic design. They encourage me and celebrate my accomplishments. I can’t imagine doing what I do without them. Thank you, guys.

Mosaic artist/Photographer Nina Tisara is founder of Living Legends of Alexandria

ICYMI: Memories & Musings – On Discoveries

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