In retrospect, Francie Riddle wishes her high school guidance office hadn’t focused only on 4-year colleges as her next step after graduating from Northampton High School in 1995. She quickly learned that she was not college ready and her brief semester at one of the Five Colleges resulted in a decision to move to Maine to attend boat building school. An outcome she is now glad about, because she credits the experience for both her strong work ethic and sense of the possibility of art.
It was that experience, along with working a series of service jobs and some travel, that led to her “aha moment” of knowing that she wanted to be an art teacher – a field that combines both her parents’ vocations, as Mom was an elementary school teacher and Dad is an art preparator for museums. She made the decision to enroll at GCC and is clear that she could not have been happier with what followed, noting that the professors were enthusiastic, inspirational and encouraging.
“I looked at the GCC Art faculty as people who were living the life I wanted, teaching Art at a community college,” said Riddle. The die was cast and she began the journey that would bring her to serving as Chair of the Art Department at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC.)
The faculty at GCC still stands out in Riddle’s memory and she quickly names the various ways they informed her art and impacted her life. “I still use the color wheel I developed in Penne Krol’s Color Theory class,” she said, “and John Bross’ 3D Design class ended up being the first college course I ever taught.”
And it was Budge Hyde who she credits for the moment when she could really see herself as an artist and a teacher. “I was in a drawing class with him when he told me that people were impressed by my drawing and asked if knew why. I said I had no idea and he said ‘you should pay attention to that.’ I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher who gets you, even when you don’t,” she recalled.
Hyde’s last influence on Riddle was to set her on the next step to her dream. After completing her Associate’s at GCC in 2000 and being accepted for transfer to UMass Amherst Fine Arts Program, she confided in Budge that she was afraid to start there and wanted to stay at GCC. He replied, “If I see you back here, I’ll shove you out the door.”
With that encouraging threat, Riddle transferred and completed her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting at UMass in 2002 then later completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Painting/Installation/Community Arts in 2006 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She found her way to installation art because of the joy she found in being able to “jump into my work.”
After returning, she began first as an adjunct Art faculty member at STCC in 2007, eventually moving to full time and now serving as Associate Professor / Chair of the Visual & Performing Arts Department. She also spent five years as Coordinator of the Amy H. Carberry Fine Arts Gallery at the College.
“I really love my job!” she exclaimed. And apparently they love her back, as Riddle received the College’s Award for Outstanding Faculty in Academic Year 2015-16 after being nominated and selected by her peers for the distinction. One of her proudest accomplishments was painting the mural in one of the campus buildings. It was a community-wide process that is represented in the thoughts, quotes and images incorporated in the installation that she pulled from the hundreds of people on campus solicited to provide input. “The mural represents as many identities on campus as possible,” she said.
Nearly twenty years after finding her way to GCC and ten years after beginning at STCC, she is settled, content and passionate about education, especially public higher education. She lives in Florence with her daughter, Brittany, 15, who she adopted from foster care when Brittany was seven years old. Riddle’s priority is spending time with her daughter “the most amazing person you will ever know – she’s an avid reader who has always wanted to be a writer and who loves adventures, especially to famous writers’ homes.”