MOCA Jacksonville | Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville

Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award

Ashley Westphal, an art educator at Chaffee Trail Elementary, has won MOCA Jacksonville’s 2014 Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award.

“As you walk through our hallways and offices, you encounter Ashley’s creative inspiration in murals and student artwork at every turn,” Chaffee Principal Nancy S. Carter wrote in a nomination letter. “There are many places within our walls that look more like an art gallery than a school.”

Jennifer Herig, a fellow art educator who attended the University of North Florida with Westphal, said her colleague finds fun ways to connect the arts to academics.

“Whether it’s painting stripes on her face for the school book parade or dressing up as a famous artist, Ashley really goes the extra mile to ensure that her students are engaged and exciting about reading and the arts,” Herig wrote in a nomination letter.

Carter also wrote about Westphal’s ability to incorporate the arts into a holistic learning experience for students.

“She never looks at her work as a disconnected series of ‘projects,” but rather, it represents a long history of commitment and focus toward relaying the importance of art in our everyday lives,” Carter wrote.

Her principal called Westphal a leader among art teachers. “Even though she may be less experienced than some of her colleagues, they turn to her for ideas and training.” She said Westphal hosts monthly training in her classroom for other art teachers in Duval County.

“I have been inspired to be a better person and a better teacher just by knowing Ashley, and I know that she has had the same impact on her students,” Herig wrote.

Carter said Westphal has mentored two at-risk students on her own time, helping them link their artistic abilities to their academic work. She said Westphal understands the varying needs of learners and adjusts her teaching to fit.

“Ashley’s greatest achievement is her ability to gently nurture the creative talents of even the most resistant child and then usher him or her into a lifelong relationship with the arts,” Carter wrote.

MOCA will hold a ceremony for Westphal on May 3 to celebrate her accomplishments alongside an event honoring Memphis Wood and the Museum’s ninetieth anniversary as a institution. Westphal will receive a check for $1,000, a gift certificated for a tour of MOCA for her class, and a MOCA family membership!

The annual Memphis Wood: Excellence in Teaching Award is generously sponsored and supported by the Board and Members of MOCA Friends

Known as Jacksonville’s “First Lady of Art,” Memphis Wood (1902-1989) was a well-known Jacksonville artist for more than sixty years, working in many media — drawing, painting, pottery, ceramics, sculptural fiber art, and jewelry design. As a studio art teacher in local schools for 33 years, she taught many budding artists and was a major influence on art education in Jacksonville. Wood made an astonishing contribution to art and art education in Jacksonville that is still felt today.

Wood was born in 1902 in Dacula, Georgia. She studied at the University of Florida and received her MFA from the University of Georgia. She was a member of the Florida Art Group, Florida Craftsmen, Jacksonville Art Association, and the Southeastern Art Association. She exhibited at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Jacksonville Museum of Art, Ringling Museum of Art, and Stetson University. Her work is in the collections of the University of Georgia, Murray States Teachers College, and Stetson University. Wood left an endowment and much of her collection to the Museum more than thirty years ago.

Memphis Wood had a knack for seeing the beauty in things that would otherwise be cast off as by-products. The longtime Jacksonville artist and educator, who died in Atlanta 15 years ago at age 87, taught art in Duval County from 1929 until 1962. There was little money for art then, so she found herself digging through trash heaps for teaching materials like bottle caps, corks, wires, and scrap fabrics — things that could be shaped into art and, in turn, shape her students’ ideas about possibilities.

“We had 25 cents a term [per student] for art supplies,” Wood told The Florida Times-Union in 1985. “I used to walk down to a junkyard near the school and find discarded lumber. Some of it was cut in beautiful shapes. Oh the things we made out of that were lovely!”

In her honor, MOCA Jacksonville began offering the annual Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award for outstanding contributions to arts in education in 2005. The award honors a First Coast educator with a $1,000 honorarium and a guided tour of the museum for 30 students.

Special thanks to the educators and administration of the First Coast County School system, The Education Committee of the Board of Trustees, the generosity of MOCA Friends, and all of the nominated teachers who participated. Thank you for your passion and dedication to arts education.


Mary Ann Bryan Portrait of Memphis Wood, 1977.
Acrylic on canvas 1985.012, Gift of Ms. Memphis Wood.

Julianne French, Fernandina Beach High School

2013 Memphis Wood Excellence in Teaching Award Winner