Dear Montecito: Frankie Fairweather

By Stella Haffner   |   February 25, 2021
Frankie Fairweather, an MUS alumna and current student at the State University of New York

Among the reasons I enjoy managing this column must be those moments when I read someone’s letter and think, “yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about.” From Walker Kemp and his desire for a change of scenery to Hope Saxon and her farm cake, I often get the feeling that our Montecito bubble affords us all many shared experiences. 

This week we’re taking a trip back into Ms. Atwill’s art room. Our tour guide is 19-year-old Frankie Fairweather, an MUS alumna and current student at the State University of New York. Frankie moved out to New York to pursue the study of dance, but today she’s reminding us of what it felt like to be back in elementary school.

Dear Montecito,

You smell like clay. Did you know that? Well, to most, you probably smell like the crisp Pacific crashing onto Miramar sands. Or like the grand oak trees lining Hot Springs Road. Maybe even the warm waffle cones fresh from Scoops ice cream, or a delightfully thin slice of margarita pizza from Via Vai. You smell of all these things. But to me, you wear clay’s scent best. Clay… with subtle notes of oil paint, watercolor, and Chinese marker.

I can still feel the wet clay in my hands, molding into a (somewhat) resemblance of my imagination’s muse. The remnants of clay sticking to my hands would dry, casting my fingerprints and filling my nail beds. Wait another two weeks for the next class and my wet model would appear before me as a new, fire-baked creation, ready to be clothed in layers of bright and colorful paint. I can still hear the way my paintbrush would clink against the tin cup holding a bath of water for my brush to continually be baptized in. The words of Gary Paulsen or Roald Dahl humming in the background, setting a steady, focused pace for my work. It wasn’t always clay, you know. Some weeks it was paint. Other weeks it was chalk, wood, or ink. I remember carving a sheet of rubber with the tiniest tools, making sure to imitate the beautiful Japanese stamp as closely as my trembling hands could manage. Growing up, there were few things quite so challenging, quite so intense, and quite so fulfilling as Ms. Atwill’s art class.

I feel beyond fortunate to have grown up attending Montecito Union for so many reasons. One of the greatest of these is the fact that MUS is unlike any other school when it comes to elementary school art programs. Looking back on my time in Allison Atwill’s art classes, I am actually a bit astounded at the caliber of teaching and the kinds of materials we were so fortunate to be working with. I feel a profound sense of gratitude for Ms. Atwill and the lessons she taught me every other Friday for six fundamental years of my life. Her deep appreciation for beauty, keen attention to detail, high standard for excellence, strict class expectations, and deep care for her students have molded me into the person I am today. I would by no means call myself a visual artist (my more recent attempts at sketching are nothing to be proud of), but I am a dancer, and I do strongly believe dance to be as much an art as any other form of expression. I am intensely passionate about the art form of dance. It gives me purpose and a place for me to express my inner-most emotional experiences. It, like Ms. Atwill’s art classes, guides me to always be refining and improving my work – until it is the time to momentarily let go, and take a sweet moment to enjoy the beauty of what’s been created. I relish the process of creating art, which Ms. Atwill instilled in me so many years ago. I feel greatly indebted to her for all that she has unknowingly done for me. To Ms. Atwill, I would like to say, thank you.

And to you, Montecito, I am so thankful for the space you gave me to create. The people who inhabit your schools and beaches and restaurants and homes, enrich lives. So I would like to say, thank you.

With love, 


P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me,


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