Gil Ashby

2011 Distinguished Educator in the Arts Honoree: Gil Ashby

When illustrator and teacher, Gil Ashby, came to Detroit more than a decade ago, he did it for love. For the love of his wife, Maura, who was living in the Metro area when he met her, and also for the love of teaching art and helping young people realize their dreams.

In his role as Chair of Illustration at CCS, Ashby’s made an extraordinary impact on the school and his students. In ten years, he transformed the department, upped enrollment and raised standards. “The experiences I’ve had and what they bring to the classroom probably have more to do with my belief in myself,” he says. “And my ability to transfer that confidence and that faith to another person, because we all develop and grow by idea exchange. We’re all minds; we’re all spirits.”

As he speaks, in his gentle and thoughtful way, Ashby sounds like he’s spent a lot of time considering what it means to be an artist and how that fits into the bigger picture of being a human being. Giving back, contributing, and having a mission are recurring themes in conversation with him. “I think I’ve just always taken it for granted that people can sense and see truth. And that’s the basic premise and the source of my ability to communicate with my students. Because my belief is, ‘If I can do it as imperfect as I am, then you have a chance.’”

Because of his own experience and success, Ashby gives a lot of credence to the idea of intention, preparing oneself for opportunity by working with faith and a sense of purpose. These philosophies have carried him through a very interesting and rewarding career.

He grew up in Harlem and graduated from the School of Visual Arts. For years, he worked as a freelance artist and teacher in New York and Georgia. By the mid-90s, he’d done everything from courtroom drawings to illustrating the popular children’s book, Rosa Parks, by Eloise Greenfield. The latter helped fulfill Ashby’s wish to create and publish positive images of African Americans. “I grew up in the 60s,” he says. “When I was in elementary school, I didn’t see many positive images. I wanted to be part of that change.” 

In order to put more of his energies into teaching and his own work, Ashby recently transitioned from Chair to instructor at CCS. The move means a culmination for him, and it coincides with the prestigious award that recognizes the mark he’s made in the world of art and illustration.

Gil Ashby lives in the Metro area with his wife, Maura, and their two children, Madison and Matthew .

Norene Smith