Honoring Renate Poliakine

A Letter from Rallou Hamshaw, Upper School Fine Arts Faculty

What follows will be a meager attempt on my part to say a few words in honor of Renate who, as we know, retired at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. And it’s no easy task.

It is difficult for me to describe so many years of friendship and history in this school with Renate. Even more challenging is characterizing my profound, enduring collegial respect.

Our community feels such deep gratitude for Renate’s contribution of some 40+ years in service of the students of Rudolf Steiner School. In the end, it’s not enough to teach well, but to listen well and to teach with patience. Renate has had an endless reservoir of patience for each student she has taught, both in the Lower and Upper Schools.

As the art of sculpture moves steadily along into broader environmental treatments, and further away from an intimate artistic experience, presenting a student with a beautiful but amorphous piece of stone or wood and saying, “have a goal for your work and carve this,” is once again no small task. And yet Renate’s students manage to penetrate the hard surfaces of these materials and create free-standing, compelling pieces year after year. And when students have not been able to complete their work, Renate has given freely of her personal time, finding opportunities during off hours for them to finalize their projects. Like Brancusi—on a slightly reduced level, of course—she creates well-considered, individualized stands upon which to place each piece of sculpture. Renate’s understanding of every phase of child development has been inspiring.

Renate has served on the College of Teachers for the vast majority of her tenure here at the school. Her longevity has given her a bird’s-eye view, a full perspective of the many changes in our community. Throughout both turbulent and stable times, Renate’s dedication to working collegially has been one of her most dearly held objectives. Working together to solve problems, while also appreciating each person’s unique individuality, has formed her personal worldview within the school.

On May 30th, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, was a featured speaker at Harvard’s Commencement Exercises. Among many of her hopeful messages to an eager audience were her reminders of certain basic truths: namely, that anything can change, that nothing is written in stone, and that great value exists in maintaining a fluid and open mind. In my conversations with Renate through the years, she too embraces these goals. And while letting go of set methods and habits, and facing change with good spirit, can sometimes be daunting for all of us, I believe she considers Waldorf teachers and administrators uniquely positioned to find positive ways forward into the future, always inspired by the gift of imagination, curiosity, and a capacity to self-reflect.

I remember with great appreciation certain gifts Renate has given me through the years:

A wild rose plant from two birthdays ago, that is still flourishing on our 5th-floor terrace in the Upper School.

A beautiful, comprehensive book on German Expressionism, which proved to be extremely helpful during the years when I was teaching a main lesson to seniors on Modern European Art. An unusual book, as it includes a substantial chapter on Expressionist architecture, including the work of Erich Mendelsohn and both versions of Rudolf Steiner’s Goetheanum.

A book entitled Matisse at Villa le Reve, where he produced some of his most glowing paintings during the war years near Vence, in the South of France.

An exquisite orchid of quite some years ago, which all of a sudden….bloomed again just a few days ago near a sunny window in my studio.

There’s something to be said for gifts that seem to replenish themselves. The same can be said of time-tested associations that continue to deepen.

Apart from these gifts, wisdom, artistry, modesty, kindness, idealism, and compassion are among the many qualities Renate has brought to the School.

“Quiet I bear within me, I bear within me forces to make me strong,” is the opening sentence of a verse by Rudolf Steiner. I think it might best describe how Renate seems to have navigated her career here, as well as some of life’s challenges.

I have no doubt that these words have served Renate well; may they continue to do so in the years to come.

We thank you, Renate.