Forsyth Tech Art Teacher Retires After 20 Years Leaving Behind a Tight-Knit Community of Art Students

by staff

When artist Mary “Molly” Lithgo started teaching the “Drawing In Color” class in 1996 as part of Forsyth Tech’s Personal Enrichment program, she had no idea she would still be teaching the same class 20 years later. After much deliberation, Molly recently decided it was time to retire and return to her first artistic love: being a studio potter.

“Pottery is my passion, and it was time to return to it full-time,” she says. Molly and her husband own Earthworks Pottery in Greensboro.

In making the difficult decision to retire, Molly leaves behind art students who will deeply miss her guidance and insightful critiques. Last Thursday, 20 of her current students held a retirement party for Molly at the Miller Park Recreation Center where the class is held. Many were in tears, expressing their gratitude to Molly and vowing to continue to meet as a group throughout the summer until Molly’s replacement is announced.

Shriely, Molly, Shirley
Art instructor Molly Lithgo (center) retired after 20 years of teaching the Drawing In Color class at Forsyth Tech with two of her students, 88-year-old Shirley D. McElwee (left) and 86-year-old Mary Lib McCachern

Two of the students who will miss Molly most of all are 88-year-old Shirley McElwee and 86-year-old Mary Lib McCachern. They have been taking this same class for more than 22 years and have been studying with Molly since the artist-potter took over the class in 1996.

Shirley lives in a retirement community in High Point and drives herself to the Thursday morning class each week. Mary Lib, who also still drives, lives in Winston-Salem and is often the first student to arrive to class every Thursday at 9 am. Though reluctant to admit it, both are artists in their own right.

Shirley majored in art at Mary Grove College in Detroit, MI, near where she grew up. While her art reflects all subject matter, she specializes in landscapes and portraits of her grandchildren and older people and has worked in the mediums of oil, water color and sculpture. The mother of six, including twin girls, now lives in Pennybyrn at Maryfield Retirement Community and is a member of an art group there. She regularly contributes her work to art shows that change out every few months.

During her last class with Molly, Shirley is working in colored pencils, reproducing a landscape of a scene in a photo taken by her son-in-law at a Tacoma, WA state park. She is anxious to obtain a final critique from Molly.

“Molly provides the finishing touches,” says Shirley. “Molly is the best teacher I’ve ever had. “This class is a wonderful experience. We see the same people each week. We are old friends.”

Mary studied art in college, too. She transferred to Salem College as a biology major and art minor but got married before she earned her degree. In her mid-60’s, after her husband died, Mary discovered an aptitude for drawing.

“I don’t play bridge—I had to have something to do!,” she says with a smile and twinkle in her eye.

Shirley, Mary
Shirley (foreground) and Mary concetrate on artwork they are creating in color pencil as they prepare for a final critique from their instructor, Molly.

Mary has nurtured her passion for art with visits to 75 Elderhostels (now called Road Scholars) in such picturesque places as Sedona, AZ, Jamaica and a monastery in Idaho. Despite her vast experiences, Mary has looked forward to Molly’s feedback for the past 20 years.

“Molly is so patient—I’m not sure I’m always doing it right,” she says. “This class has meant everything to me—it has helped preserve my sanity and has given me something to look forward to. I will continue taking this class as long as I can see and drive.”

“It is wonderful to see people discover and develop their talent through instruction,” says Sarah Griffenhagen, coordinator, Community Service Programs, Forsyth Tech. “This Personal Enrichment class and others like it at Forsyth Tech have become places where a camaraderie develops. People come to know about each other’s lives—it’s more than just about art. The people in this particular class have become close and are really going to miss Molly.”

Mary summed up everyone’s feelings about their beloved art teacher while the class picture was being taken at Thursday’s retirement party. When asked to smile for the photo, she responded, “How can I smile when my heart is breaking?”