I became fascinated with drawing when I was able to see over the armrest of my father's easy chair. I watched with awe as images of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck emerged from the point of his pencil. Other times the images were of real animals such as the cows and chickens he grew up with on the family farm in Central Illinois. By third grade I was selling drawings of Mickey, Donald, cows, and chickens on the playground for a nickel apiece. Decent money at the time.
As a teenager Dad dreamed of art school, but our family were Mechanized Amish, and education beyond our sixteenth birthdays was described as "putting on airs." Furthermore, art was close enough to Biblical graven imagery to make people nervous. So he developed a folk art style on his own and produced art all of his life.
When I became a teenager, I picked a different path. I chose to put on airs. I finished high school, submitted my portfolio to the University of Illinois' School of Art, and survived its ninety-percent rejection rate. I emerged four years later with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, a studio emphasis in ceramics, minors in Western literature and psychology, and a teaching certificate. I later acquired Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. Just to be thorough.
What a career putting on airs has given me. I make art, and I teach others to make it. I've shown kindergarteners how to make green from blue and yellow, and I've chaired Ph.D. dissertation committees. I've taught jail inmates how to draw. I have consulted for foreign governments and the US Department of Education. I've published three books. I've taught art, lectured about art, and made art in 19 countries. My work is in collections in six countries and 10 US states. Presently I teach art and economics at the Fusion Academy in Houston, Texas.
Dad exhibited only one artwork in his lifetime. When he was 88 he entered a painting of a Native American village in his retirement center's annual crafts show. It fetched $200, and for a while Dad put on airs.
He painted sitting on a folding chair at a card table set up in a closet. He bought his canvases at discount stores and found his frames at garage sales. I work in my own studio with its spacious drafting table, comfortable desk, art library, power tools, electric kiln, computer and printer, and large storage cabinets and shelves. My art looks nothing like his, and yet when I'm working, I feel his hand on mine. I wonder what kind of studio he would have had if he had chosen to put on airs.