When I was eight, I decid­ed I would be an artist because I real­ized that’s what I was. As far back as I can remem­ber I loved draw­ing. It was a nat­ur­al thing for me and I took to it imme­di­ate­ly. I received a lot of atten­tion for it and enjoyed the praise. It made me feel spe­cial. Dur­ing the dif­fi­cult years ahead when life became tough, I always had my art; it was my hope, my way out, my answer. I decid­ed then I would some­day go to art school.

By kinder­garten, I felt chal­lenged by what­ev­er any oth­er kid did in art class. I could do it too and would try to do it bet­ter. The kids who could draw each spe­cial­ized in a cer­tain sub­ject mat­ter… Scary mon­sters, robots, cats, etc… There was a girl (isn’t it always?) in the class who could draw hors­es real­ly well, you know, the pret­ty kind stand­ing around in a field of daisies. I stud­ied real hors­es on Bonan­za and soon my hors­es were run­ning and you could see their mus­cles bulging and their manes blow­ing in the wind. Even­tu­al­ly I drew cow­boys on my hors­es, some­times even fat ones like Hoss Cartwright, las­so­ing steer or chas­ing a cat­tle rustler. No daisies! My land­scapes had cac­ti and rat­tlesnakes and a moun­tain range in the back­ground below a col­or­ful sun­set.

Yeah, I was a lit­tle com­pet­i­tive.

I wasn’t exposed right away to the world of art his­to­ry, but when I hap­pened upon a good art book in the school library, I was absolute­ly tak­en by it. I poured through it, drink­ing up the paint­ings thirsti­ly. I formed a bond with artists long past. They were my peo­ple, just like the Lenape were. Art was in my blood. The artists of the Renais­sance were my favorites. I won­dered if all the great art was done for the glo­ry of God. In the church I saw pow­er­ful images and sculp­tures, exquis­ite in their detail and emo­tion that affect­ed me deeply. The expres­sion of agony and ecsta­sy depict­ed in the faces, in the hands, in the con­tor­tion of the body of a saint in the throes of mar­tyr­dom or the suf­fer­ing of Christ at the cru­ci­fix­ion was intense.

Fan­tas­tic art was also cre­at­ed for the glo­ry of Children’s books. My father had a great col­lec­tion of clas­sic Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, many from his own child­hood. It was a door­way into a world of imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty that was pro­found in the same way reli­gious art was for me. Before I ever read the big books, or tried to, (many of the books were above my read­ing lev­el when I was eight) I searched out the illus­tra­tions and gleamed the gist of the sto­ry through the art­work. Arthur Rackham’s ele­gant line art and water­col­or illus­tra­tions in Alice in Won­der­land and Rip Van Win­kle absolute­ly mes­mer­ized me and have always been my favorites. N.C. Wyeth’s roman­tic sun­lit paint­ings of pow­er­ful, moody pirates in Trea­sure Island and Kid­napped inspired me to no end and still do. I still have many of them stored in a box in my base­ment along­side a few Charles Dick­ens nov­els, Mary Shelly’s Franken­stein and a col­lec­tion of The Hardy Boys.

I watched Sat­ur­day after­noon TV re-runs of Jon Gnagy, a New York painter who gave draw­ing lessons. Jon was my first art teacher. He was a com­pe­tent artist and a good instruc­tor, teach­ing you the basics of anato­my, tonal val­ue and per­spec­tive among oth­er things. You’d fol­low along and learn to draw and paint. Gnagy was from the beat­nik gen­er­a­tion of the 50’s when his shows were orig­i­nal­ly taped. He was a dap­per dress­er, always in a plaid shirt and sport­ed a black goa­tee and occa­sion­al­ly an art­sy beret. He was a true genius, not nec­es­sar­i­ly as an artist but in mar­ket­ing his art kits and books. That Christ­mas my par­ents gave me a Jon Gnagy Art Stu­dio, one of the best presents I ever received. It was like open­ing up a trea­sure box. It was filled with a pot­pour­ri of pen­cils, pas­tels, chalks, water­col­ors and brush­es. There was also a jam-packed 64 page Learn To Draw book, as well as Oil Pas­tel and Water­col­or Paint­ing book­lets.

I faith­ful­ly drew every­thing more than once and went through the sketch­ing paper real quick and start­ed scroung­ing my dad’s typ­ing paper and sheets of rolled up newsprint paper saved for our next move. I was inspired as I drew and paint­ed under the tute­lage of the Mas­ter, draw­ing and paint­ing cones, pump­kins, barns, light­hous­es and dogs. It was mind-bog­gling to dis­cov­er what you could do with a knead­ed eras­er and a paper stump. With­in a month my sup­plies were deplet­ed, but not my desire to con­tin­ue to draw and paint. For two weeks I took art lessons in the base­ment shop of a woman in town, but that sucked. We made stu­pid snow­men out of Sty­ro­foam balls and tooth­picks and the next week, she care­ful­ly posi­tioned a knot­ty gourd on the table and said, “Draw this…” Bor­ing! I pestered my par­ents for more art stuff and occa­sion­al­ly was bestowed a sketch­pad. I filled it with draw­ings as I faith­ful­ly watched repeats of “You are an Artist.”

Yes, I was.

The Price Is Right

My father man­aged to get tick­ets to a pop­u­lar TV show, “The Price Is Right.” He and my mom drove up to New York City to attend the show at the Hud­son The­ater. Three con­tes­tants plucked from the audi­ence, joined the return­ing cham­pi­on to bid on a vari­ety prizes rang­ing from fur­ni­ture, appli­ances, trips and maybe a car. Clos­est bid to the cor­rect amount would win the prize.

True sto­ry… an ele­phant was offered as a “bonus prize” to a con­tes­tant who had won a grand piano. The “Extra Ivory” as they called it, was a joke. The actu­al prize was $4,000. But the con­tes­tant insist­ed, he pre­ferred the ele­phant. Even­tu­al­ly, a real Kenyan ele­phant was deliv­ered to the guy. That show was spoofed lat­er in an episode of The Simp­sons called “Bart Gets an Ele­phant.”

Any­hoo, Dad was a clever strate­gist and came dressed in his pressed Navy khakis, buffed shoes and officer’s hat. As he expect­ed all along, he was picked from the audi­ence. We watched the show on TV and clapped as he took his place behind the podi­um. We were in awe as the always-charm­ing host Bill Cullen intro­duced our father. Dad was also pret­ty charm­ing, def­i­nite­ly the hand­somest con­tes­tant that day, and smiled his dim­pled grin and played with enthu­si­asm and panache.

We sweat­ed it out as he valiant­ly bid unsuc­cess­ful­ly time after time on this and that, until bin­go! His bid won. He won! It looked like a lot of…stuff. Per­son­al­ly, I would have pre­ferred he had won an ele­phant, a pea­cock or a Black Angus steer. Black­ie would have appre­ci­at­ed it. A mov­ing van pulled into our dri­ve­way a month lat­er and unloaded the win­nings. It includ­ed a set of dec­o­ra­tive wrought-iron green pati­naed out­door fur­ni­ture with a rose motif. It con­sist­ed of a glass-cov­ered table, four chairs, two cush­ioned patio chairs and a cof­fee table. Two plas­tic-leaved fruit trees, orange and lemon, stood six feet high and sat in red­wood bases filled with dry moss. If that wasn’t enough, we got six huge sil­ver bas­kets crammed with fruit and can­dy.