Assistant Editor of Production
After 37 years of teaching at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, and a combined 49 teaching at schools around the area, art teacher Carl Wenzel has plans to retire at the end of the 2017 school year. Mr. Wenzel’s teaching career may be coming to an end, but his second passion, as an illustrator of children’s books, is still in full swing, as he recently illustrated his third book in eight years.
His latest book, titled “Flossie Flies Home” was just introduced this fall. Written by Penelope Colville Paine, the book includes Mr. Wenzel’s hand-painted illustrations on each page.
Mr. Wenzel says the illustrations in his most recent book are his best yet. “I am really proud of my illustrations in this book. The colors of the book turned out extraordinarily and the designer did a great job of placing the artwork on the page,” says Mr. Wenzel. “Everything flowed together perfectly.”
Though for most artists the illustration process is long and strenuous, Mr. Wenzel says it comes naturally to him. “To me, the process is easy because I have been illustrating for such a long time,” says Mr. Wenzel.
Mr. Wenzel says he was given a lot of freedom to create his own artwork, within the loose parameters set by Paine. “The author will send me a creation of the book in a very raw form. There will be a script on each page, and the author gives me an idea of what she imagines would be on the page. Other than that, I’m given a lot of liberty to design the page on my own,” says Mr. Wenzel.
Although Mr. Wenzel hasn’t worked with Ms. Paine for all three of the books he has illustrated, he has worked with just one publishing house, Paper Posie, based out of Santa Barbara, California.
Mr. Wenzel came in contact with Paper Posie eight years ago through a Manlius friend who knew he had a background in illustration. “i just wanted to illustrate one book before I died,” says Mr. Wenzel. Mr. Wenzel’s friend contacted the publisher for him, and he began illustrating books for the publishing house. “Everything has just grown from there,” says Wenzel.
Mr. Wenzel is very proud of his latest book, as is the J-D community. English teacher Connie Myers-Kelly was one of many teachers who purchased Wenzel’s book. “My kids know Mr. Wenzel and I think that makes his illustrations that much more meaningful. We love his books; we’ve bought every one of them,” says Mrs. Myers-Kelly.
J-DHS art students also show support for Mr. Wenzel’s illustration career. Senior Emily Maar, a recipient of Best Landscape for her painting at last year’s Scholastic Art Awards, admires Mr. Wenzel’s use of color in his book. “He’s so talented in watercolor. He has a very unique style and it makes his work really memorable. I’m glad Mr. Wenzel has found a second passion in illustration,” says Maar.
After many years of illustrating and teaching, Mr. Wenzel finally made the choice to end his teaching career in 2017, when he turns 70. “Mr. Benedict is thinking of going at the end of this year. We’ve worked together for so long that I think it would be nice for us to go out together,” says Mr. Wenzel.
Before becoming an educator at J-DHS, Wenzel attended Syracuse University, where he studied art. However, as a freshman, Mr. Wenzel didn’t treat art as seriously as he does now. “I was almost kicked out freshman year for my bad grades,” says Mr. Wenzel. Mr. Wenzel “worked (his) butt off” to improve his grades and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration. He completed his master’s degree in 1975.
Though he was proud of his degree, at the time he had further inspirations to work for Hallmark Cards. Immediately out of college, Mr. Wenzel was one of two students selected from his class to work for the company, as an illustrator. “I was just about ready to start my job, the people had shown me the design space where I would work,” says Mr. Wenzel, “then Hallmark said to me: ‘We really want you here, you’re very talented, but you need to get your military obligation out of the way.’”
What Hallmark was refering to was the draft for the Vietnam War. At the time, every man of a certain age was entered into the draft. “I was very angry and upset. It had been my dream to work at Hallmark, but the Vietnam War stood in my way,” says Mr. Wenzel. If Wenzel took the job at Hallmark, he would be placed in the draft.
However, teaching occupations received deferments from the draft. In 1968, Mr. Wenzel began teaching art at Jordan Elbridge Junior-Senior High School. “Sometimes I feel a little bad I didn’t go, I have a lot of respect to the guys who went. “A lot of my friends never came back, and others are really mixed up because of the war,” says Mr. Wenzel.
Three years after Hallmark’s first offer, Hallmark asked Mr. Wenzel to illustrate for a second time. Because he had started teaching and joined his wife in marriage, Wenzel declined their offer. Although not his initial passion, Mr. Wenzel soon fell in love with teaching and the relationships that grew with his students.
Outside of school, Mr. Wenzel began working on artwork that has been featured in private and corporate collections across the United States and Europe, as well as in magazines Woman’s Day and Better Homes & Gardens. Locally, his pieces are represented in Crouse Irving Hospital and Syracuse Savings Bank, among other places.
In addition to his position at J-DHS, Mr. Wenzel is an adjunct professor at Syracuse University, Onondaga Community College, and Cazenovia College.
In retirement, Mr. Wenzel says he hopes to carry on his passion for art through the illustration of more books. “Just to be able to create something, little characters for kids to enjoy. When I get the book in my hands and see it come alive, it’s just the best thrill,” says Mr. Wenzel.