Longtime Milpitas High School art teacher Irene Hentschke poses with works including school benches painted by her students. Hentschke will retire this year to focus on her own art work after 31 years at Milpitas High School. Photo by Aliyah Mohammed
After 31 years of teaching art at Milpitas High School, Irene Hentschke will retire at the end of the school year to pursue her own art.
Hentschke, who has taught all levels and types of art classes, including painting, has focused in the last few years on working with her students on public art pieces enjoyed by the Milpitas High campus and the city at large.
“I tried to make a program where the kids go from the learning of it, straight to the practice of it in the public sphere,” Hentschke, 56, said. “This year, we are doing benches for the attendance office and the library. We get commissioned by teachers to make paintings that they love, we also painted classrooms doors all around campus.”
Twelve electrical boxes around the city were also painted by Hentschke’s students in 2014. Her students painted all the building letters on campus last year, and are working on painting 20 doors and benches before the end of the school year.
“So I train them to paint faster with large size brushes and by second semester we are out and about doing our large projects,” Hentschke said.
She added the number of requests for work by her students has crescendoed this year.
“It’s gotten to the point where I just have to trust the kids. I find that if you have faith in these kids, they just perform beyond that bar,” Hentschke said.
One half of a teaching pair on campus, Hentschke and her husband, Eric — a 38-year high school science teacher in the district — will both retire at the end of the school year, as their youngest daughter graduates from the high school as well.
Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Irene Hentschke was recruited by Milpitas Unified School District after graduating with a degree in art education from the University of British Columbia in 1986. She met Eric after coming to Milpitas and the two married in 1988.
Irene Hentschke said she enjoyed doing art as a child but had not thought of pursuing it as a career until she got to college. She recalled being fascinated by sunsets as a child of 5 or 6 years old and painting what she saw using watercolors. This influenced her artistic style and love of colors.
She calls herself a “colorist” who can paint and create art in many styles.
Hentschke said she puts so much of herself in her teaching that she has been unable to work on developing and creating her own artwork. She said the role of wife and mother also occupied much of her free time.
She said with her youngest child graduating and her retirement that she will be able to work on a slew of projects she would like to work on including a children’s book, public art, and her own painting.