A Conversation with Educator and Illustrator, Dana Catharine ‘63


Dana Catharine ‘63 has always had a passion for art and languages. As a student at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, she drew inspiration from her teachers, including her art teacher, Sister Eleanor, C.H.S., and her English teachers Marion Armstrong and Madeleine L'Engle, who of course would go on to write A Wrinkle in Time. “Our teachers encouraged us to approach life as a banquet of possibility!” she reflected.
After St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, Catharine pursued drawing, engraving and lithography at La Escuela de Artes Plásticas de la Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, and studied Spanish and French Literature at Hunter College in New York. Catharine went on to become an educator in New York City, teaching language and service learning for 16 years at Poly Prep and teaching Latin for Prep for Prep on the weekends.

Over the last year and a half, Catharine has turned her attention full-time to illustrating and writing. Her illustration credits include the 2018 book, Eating with Peter, by Susan Buckley, and she is currently illustrating another book for the same author. Catharine has also published numerous books, including her newest, Speak Up, which pays homage to her former teacher Madeleine L’Engle. Some of her other works include La Causa: The Migrant Farmworkers' Story and To Fly with the Swallows: A Story of Old California.

Read our full conversation with Dana Catharine below.
What did you study in college? What drew you to illustration? 
I started 'illustrating' very young, by copying Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons, and the drawings of Garth Williams, found in Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.
Copying works of art is exactly how many of the great Medieval and Renaissance artists got started! I drew all the time, making cards for my friends, and posters for events at St. Hilda's & St.Hugh's. I love languages, so when I was learning French or Latin or German, I would draw the definition of a vocabulary word, rather than write the English for it! I still have some of those drawings! When I lived in Mexico, I continued drawing, making cards for family and friends, and posters for different events that I was involved in. I taught English at the University, and used my drawings for my students.

I began my serious art studies at La Escuela de Artes Plásticas de la Universidad de Guanajuato, studying drawing, engraving and lithography under the great landscape artist, Jesus Gallardo. When I returned to the US, I completed my degree in Spanish and French Literature at Hunter College right here in New York, but of course, I didn't stop drawing! I have used my drawings in all the language classes I have taught. When I taught eighth grade language, I wrote and illustrated a series of booklets for my students.
What excites you most about your craft? 
People who run talk about being “in the zone,” and that is what happens when I draw. I feel very happy when I am drawing and lose all track of time!
How did St. Hilda's & St. Hugh’s influence your career path? Were there any teachers or classes in particular that shaped you? 
My most influential teachers were Marion Armstrong, who taught English lit, history, and grammar; Madeleine L'Engle Franklin, who taught speech, creative writing, and drama; and Sister Eleanor, C.H.S., who taught art. All three of them were tremendously supportive of creative endeavors. I have just written a little book about meeting Madeleine for the first time in class. It is called Speak Up!, a reader for fifth graders, part of a Fountas and Pennell series.
What advice would you give current St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's students? 
I can't say it any better than Van Gogh, who said "If you hear a voice within you saying 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.' Draw and paint all the time! Carry a little sketchbook with you and draw anything that catches your eye. Try drawing an element of your day, instead of keeping a journal, and don't worry about whether it's 'good enough'! The secret is to keep on drawing!
What's the best piece of advice or life lesson you received at St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's?
Our teachers were always supportive of our furthering our education. They encouraged us to study for advanced degrees, and to have a career. They encouraged us to approach life as a banquet of possibility!