The art and life of Carol Saylor and Armand Mednick
They’re 75 and 80, they met at an art class for the blind, and they see clearly that life is passionate and precious.
The sculpture class at Allens Lane Art Center in Mount Airy is in full swing. One student is glazing. Another is wedging clay to remove air bubbles.
Occasionally the group walks around to look at one another’s work, although “look” in this case means gently feeling it with their fingers. It is a tactile experience by necessity: All the participants in this class are legally blind or visually impaired.
While the class is a story in and of itself – it has been offered for 57 years, now in its third venue – this is not a tale about how blind artists find their way around an art studio. It is, however, about how a student and teacher found each other, “about falling madly, totally in love when I thought it could never happen again,” says Armand Mednick, 80, the class’ co-instructor.
He is referring to Carol Saylor, 75, a watercolorist until she started to lose both her sight and her hearing in her mid-40s. Saylor is now a sculptor. Both she and Mednick graduated from Tyler School of Art in Elkins Park, but at different times – Mednick in 1958 with a degree in graphics and ceramics, and Saylor in 1976 with a degree in painting – and they had never met until Saylor showed up for class in October.
Mr. Mednick, named “Avrum” by his Yiddish-speaking parents, was born in 1933 into a close, extended family in Brussels, Belgium. He grew up as a stranger in a non-Jewish neighborhood, often taunted by antisemites influenced by the fascist Rex Party. At age six, he was hospitalized with tuberculosis until May, 1940, when his father, an active political leftist, fled with his family to France. His father was drafted into the French Army, deserted and placed his son, renamed “Armand”, in a sanitarium at Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne Mountains. Armand’s father, mother and baby sister hid nearby in Volvic, where they passed as Christians. When Armand recovered, he joined his family and attended Catholic school.
Armand Mednick, 75 , with the book
“The Secret Seder” by Doreen Rappaport, who was inspired by his father’s memoir.
Artist Armand Mednick one of the best teachers in the world.
One of my favorite people is Armand Mednick. He is and artist and taught us how to throw pots on the potters wheel, glaze them, fire them up in a kiln and feel great about this. My pots made me happy, and Armand (yes we were allowed to call him by his first name) was one of the best teachers I ever had in my whole life!
Armand was very exotic, had a very dark curly beard, walked around in loose fitting, stained messy clothes, rough and ready, with bright shiny kind eyes, a smile speaking with a french accent.
Armand was probably one of the first older men who I trusted, because I knew he told me/us the real truth about how the world worked. Not the lies told to children to spare them the ugliness we know is all around us, but the truth that confirmed the realities of the world.
There were times when all we did in art class was sit there while he told us stories about his life in Europe during world war two and how he struggled to stay alive, and fought in the underground against Nazi’s.
I don’t remember any other adults telling us serious personal stories about people, places, politics, and war. Armand was genuine, he was sincere. I connected to a Culture Keeper, with the Oral tradition who told us the truth.
This was a teacher!
Philadelphia Inquirer article Daniel Rubin: History comes calling for boy in the woods
Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s almost impossible to have graduated from Oak Lane without hearing this story.
This was Armand Mednick’s signature tale. You can imagine how astonished he was to
get a phone call from his sister in Florida last spring and learn of a book called
The Secret Seder, about a boy who sneaks into the woods to celebrate Passover.
It’s Armand Mednick’s story. Author Doreen Rappaport had read about it in Mednick’s
late father’s 1997 memoir, Never Be Afraid: A Jew in the Maquis.
But many of Rappaport’s details are different from what Armand Mednick remembers.
That’s because Rappaport had been unable to track down the young protagonist,
who had shortened his last name from his father’s Mednicki.
Last spring Oak Lane music teacher Marlis Kraft-Zemel e-mailed Rappaport to tell her of
Mednick, who for 48 years has taught at the Blue Bell private school in an attempt,
he says, to recapture his lost youth.
At a reading of The Secret Seder held in the school last month,
Rappaport described her reaction to the news:
“I ran screaming through the house, shouting for my husband . . . ‘He’s here!
I’ve found him. The Secret Seder boy. He’s alive!’ “
I sat with that boy, now 75, one day last week in the barn where he
throws pots and teaches art history. <snip>
read Bernard Mednicki’s account that became the inspiration
for her children’s book, The Secret Seder.
She is known for writing about issues of social justice and the lives touched by this.
Doreen Rappaport will meet Armand Mednick who was the little boy she wrote about and honor his
For those of you who love a good story, here is one for the books-literally!
This is the story of a young boy who would grow up to become a beloved art teacher.
As a young child during WWII, Oak Lane Day School’s art teacher, Armand Mednick lived with his family in
France hiding from the Nazis under an assumed name. During that time, Armand and his father
attended a secret Seder, which Armand’s father would later describe in his memoirs.
Doreen Rappaport is an accomplished author living in New York whose books include the Caldecott Honor Book.
The Secret Seder
- Why does Jacques cross himself in front of the church?
- Why does Jacques want to go to the Seder?
- Why do the men have to celebrate in secret?
- What does the old man mean when he says, “This is a dark time for our people?”
- When the men say, “Next year in Yerushalayim.” what are they hoping for?
- How do you think Jacques felt walking down the mountain with his father?
- Was Jacques brave to go to the Seder? Explain why or why not.
- How do the illustrations help tell the story?
- What differences are there between the illustrations in the village and the illustrations at the Seder?
- Explain the meaning of: Seder; “black boot men”; prophet; matzah; Pharaoh; Holocaust.
Other Famous people associated with Oak Lane Day School
On December 7, 1928, Avram Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He attended Oak Lane Country Day School, and later Central High School.
About Oaklane Day School – formally Oaklane County Day School
The present-day Oak Lane Day School, located in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania,
was founded in 1916 in Cheltenham Township, under the name Oak Lane
Country Day School, by a group of parents and educators interested in
the Progressive Education movement. Originally organized as a coeducational,
non-sectarian, kindergarten through grade 12 school, Oak Lane evolved into
a pre-kindergarten through grade 6 elementary school. Initially affiliated
with the University of Pennsylvania as a “school of observation,” Oak Lane
was acquired in the 1930’s by Temple University, which continued the
school as part of its teacher training program, a relationship that would
last until 1960. The ideal of individualized education to serve a diverse
and inclusive student population has shaped Oak Lane to this day.
Our teaching heritage includes a strong emphasis on the arts and music.
In 1960, no longer associated with Temple, Oak Lane was renamed and
incorporated as an independent school by dedicated and tenacious parents,
faculty and staff at a leased building in Glenside, and moved to its present
30-acre site in Blue Bell in 1964. Oak Lane Day School is accredited by the
Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools, and is a member of the
National Association of Independent Schools and the
Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools.
Oak Lane is nestled on a 30-acre country campus in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.