Beginnings

This is my first blog on my new website.

As always, beginnings are tricky.

One way to address a new beginning, is to revisit a past beginning.

Second grade. 1962.  Just north of Charleston, South Carolina.  My parents and I at the Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture park founded by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, Archer Huntington. 

My mother, because this is what she did, reading aloud every word of every exhibit’s signage.  My father, because this is what he did, taking pictures with his “spy camera” – a Leica that was about half the size of a large Snickers bar and created negatives about half the size of a postage stamp, rendering any landscape, which was his subject that day, indecipherable.  And, there was me, wondering how these gigantic animals and humans had been frozen in mid-motion, trapped in stone and metal.  I discovered sculpture.

One of my many, many characters and the sort of drawings I sent to Mrs. Huntington.

I don’t recall a time when I hadn’t drawn – pirates, monsters, spaceships — an only child  inventing imaginary siblings.  But, this was something different.  A walk-around-able drawing.  Imagine the possibilities! 

At first I tried a bar of soap, attacking it with the pointy end of bobby pin.  It did not go well.  So, clay entered my world – permeating upholstery, the seams in the floorboards, the hollows of Lego bricks and the paint on the windowsill on a hot South Carolina day.  But, at least with clay I could shape something that looked like something. 

My mom, because this is the other thing she did, wrote Mrs. Huntington, who was then in her very late 80s.

Mrs. Huntington wrote back. She couldn’t have been nicer or more encouraging of a skinny kid’s wanting to figure out this art thing.  Letters from her primary studio in Connecticut often included books on drawing animals and Polaroids of work in progress, including some larger-than-life figures that she said had her climbing a ladder.  Not bad for late 80s.

Mrs. Huntington also sent me a small cast aluminum bear – a sketch for a much larger piece.  And, she donated a statue of a Scottish Deerhound to my school, Heathwood Hall.

Once we also visited her at the summer studio she maintained at Brookgreen Gardens.  I suppose it really wasn’t much used, but it was my first art studio.  Now this was a place a person could come to work in every day.  The wet clay smell in the large sea-aired room.  Armature with bits of bear, dog and horse in progress.  Drawings scattered about, mapping out the possibilities.  Wet clay scenting the stone walls and tile floors.  The breeze added a touch of salt.  At least, this is what I have decided to recall fifty years later.

After third grade, we moved to Annapolis, Maryland and I lost touch with Mrs Huntington.  While I didn’t continue sculpting – I found drawing full scenes populated by large casts of characters more interesting, and pen and paper a bit more easily managed than clay and kilns – because of her, my career as an artist had begun.  And, who knows, maybe I too will be able to get up a ladder at almost 90.  I hope so.