Skip to main content

Pembroke High School art instructor helps students to succeed beyond the classroom

By Traci Turner


(Photo: Eric Johnson)

Eric Johnson, visual arts instructor at Pembroke High School, strives to teach his students principles of design so they can apply it to real world experiences. 

Johnson has been teaching a variety of art, design and photography classes at the school for 14 years. He rotates teaching different art classes with Rebecca Schuler, the school's other visual arts instructor.

"I try to tie things they learn with the work world so they don't think art lives in a bubble," Johnson said. "I want them to realize most of what is around us has been created by someone in the art field in some capacity."

A recent project Johnson assisted his students with was designing the new Village of Corfu signs. Last school year the village board asked the school if they would be willing to have students complete the project. Johnson first introduced the project to his advanced drawing and painting students and they came up with sketch ideas. After narrowing down 50 sketches he received from the students, he gave 30 sketches to the village board to review over the summer. The board selected different designs for the four new signs. Emily Verdaasdonk, senior, created three of the designs and Nicole Franclemont, senior, made the fourth design.

In September, Verdaasdonk and Franclemont, and four other seniors, Sabrina Sanner, Nikita Harding, Morgan Smykowski and Bailey Groth, started drawing and painting the signs. The project was not a part of any class so Johnson helped the girls, who worked on the signs during lunches and study halls all year long.

"The students were invested in their designs," Johnson said. "The project was like their baby so they came and religiously worked on it."

The signs were just completed a few weeks ago and will be up soon.

In addition to the sign project, Johnson selects students' art projects to be showcased in seven or eight local art shows every year. In the last few years, Johnson has noticed his students have been winning awards at local art shows.

"I think Pembroke has created a reputation at some of these art shows because students have been taking first and second place for two and three years in a row," Johnson said.

In this year's GO! Art Show, 12 students had their work featured including Verdaasdonk's ceramic tree. The ceramic piece was fired in a kiln Johnson and his students built out of a garbage can.

Johnson's favorite part about teaching is knowing when one of his students is truly in love with their artwork and is proud of it. He has been passionate about art since he was a child. He grew up in North Tonawanda with his parents and two brothers. 

"My father and I would make books together," Johnson said. "He would help me write and I would illustrate them."

One of Johnson's professors encouraged him to become a teacher so he could help students practice art. He holds an associate degree in the visual arts from Niagara County Community College and a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Buffalo. He earned his master's degree and teaching certification from Buffalo State College.

He currently lives in the Town of Tonawanda with his wife and two children. In his free time he enjoys creating sculptures and digital photography. In the future, he would like to have his own art show. 

Authentically Local