(This is a multi-part post, in part to save your eyes from the strain of having to read paragraph after paragraph of white type on black backgrounds.)
Several of you (ok, TWO of my huge subscriber base of fifteen) have asked me, after the last post which mentioned my lack of self-confidence as a painter, to expound on that. So, I’ll try. I might even be able to find a picture or two to go with this post, although I’m thinking this will be mostly verbal.
“When did you first start to paint?” That’s a question I’ve been asked forever, and my answer, lucky for you, usually skips my very first painting, an attempt in my crib to express myself with anything handy that would make a mark on the wall.
Ahem. Well, don’t blame me! I don’t remember anything about that first piece of art – my sisters told me about it! (They probably had to clean it up.)
Moving on, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make art of some kind, whether it was a paint-by-number painting, a rhino sculpture out of the blue salt play dough Mom made, or a scene made out of a mirror for a lake and brown clay shaped into a deer drinking water from the shore.
I also helped my mom make Christmas decorations. I remember the time she reproduced a Christmas arrangement she saw in a magazine: a small cabinet with a bible on a stand, candlesticks, a multi-colored fabric wallhanging and a mosaic tiled picture of the Madonna and Child. I did the mosaic out of squares of colored construction paper (after she drew in the figures) and she did the rest. (The cabinet now stands in my living room – it was one my father repurposed from an old china cabinet by sawing off the legs and painting and hand-waxing it with no fewer than 7 coats.)
Art was everywhere in our household. Daddy had a workshop where he made all sorts of things; mom drew custom paper-dolls for me along with their clothes; my sister Marilyn was a ‘real’ artist in that she made real paintings on real canvases; my eldest sister Donna and mom made all their clothes, mom decorated our home with draperies and slipcovers she sewed in the middle of the night, after the five kids were in bed. And one of my parents’ best friends owned an art school in Cincinnati, where I lived.
Bill Gebhardt Academy of Art, which later became Cincinnati Art Academy. Bill was a locally famous portrait painter whose day job was running the school, employing other talented artists as teachers (John Blackwell, a well-recognized printmaker in Cincinnati was one) and selling art supplies at his school in a rickety old building on the fringe of downtown Cincinnati above an Empress Chili Parlor. The school smelled deliciously of turpentine and chalk dust, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and chocolate thrown in (ingredients in Cincinnati chili).
Bill and his wife, Gladys were frequent visitors to my parents’ cocktail parties. (Yes, they all dressed up, wore pearls, and smoked cigarettes they picked up from a cigarette box on the coffee table. We were Mad Men.) At these parties Bill would often ask me to sit for him as he sketched my portrait. I still have them. All signed and dated. All drawn on any scrap of paper that could be quickly procured for him.
So you see, I never was without art. It was just something I lived with, every day of my life. My kindergarten report card has an end-of-the-year notation from my teacher: “Ginny was our artist for the year.”
I was five.
At around ten my parents let me take the bus downtown by myself to attend classes at Bill’s school. My father did his books in exchange for our art lessons. My sister Marilyn had been attending for years. She was, as I said, the “real” artist of the family. I was dabbling. But Marilyn was serious, and her talent showed up in her school years – she was always called upon to paint the sets for her school plays and musicals, and she always had pieces in the art shows.
My first art show was in first grade. The picture was a colored pencil rendition of a cardinal, Ohio’s state bird. I was sure I would win first prize – hadn’t I been “artist of the year” just the year before? Apparently Sister Delores didn’t get the memo. She gave first prize to Michael Aylward, my nemesis. (He used to chase me up the jungle gym at recess. I know, I KNOW!)
He drew a page out of the Curious George books – “Curious George Flies a Kite.” I thought it was cheating. Sister Delores thought it was brilliant.
I was crestfallen. Heartbroken. I wasn’t really an artist after all. It was the first of many rejections.
TOMORROW: Part Two – how Mrs. Huggard changed my life forever…