“You do art as your JOB??”
Today I read this wonderful interview of Pamela Wilson, a truly gifted and fascinating artist I admire greatly. In the article, she is asked to recount her favorite art memory from childhood. Click on the link to read her answer. As for me, a memory jumped to mind when I read the question, and has been in my thoughts all day. So I thought I would share it here.
I was artistic as a kid, always drawing. And my parents supported and nurtured that the best they knew how. They paid for and drove me to classes, where I underachieved, much as I did in school. I enjoyed it, but at some level I didn’t ‘get’ it. I didn’t see the point. I worked on specific things, how to draw with pen and ink, with charcoal and chalk, graphite. I worked on how to draw from photographs, from objects or places in front of me or from imagery in my head. But, big picture-wise, I don’t ever remember thinking about being creative, or what that meant.
One day, a Saturday, my Dad headed into his office at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC. He asked me to come along, and I jumped at the chance. Never mind that he never asked me to go to his office before, and never mind that he never went into work on a Saturday. Any moment with my Dad was relished back then, no questions asked, and though he died long ago — far closer to that day than to this one — all those moments are cherished still.
The Department of Interior in, say, 1974, was grey. Inside and out. Floor to ceiling. We walked down long corridors under bands of yellow, flickering fluorescent light. The first office building I was ever in. I wondered why my Dad spoke to some people, ignored others. We passed door after door and saw empty offices with grey filing cabinets and grey metal desks. Then we stopped at an open door and my Father spoke. “Bob? I want you to meet Eddie.”
I caught up and peered in the door as a man turned around to greet us. Not from a metal desk, but from an easel. The fluorescent bulbs in his office had been removed, and he had warm, bright floor lamps in their place. Covering the cold linoleum was an ornate area rug. He listened to music.
As I shook hands with wildlife artist Bob Hines, my Dad said he’d be back in a bit and continued down the hall. I was shy, not to mention confused. But it didn’t take long for my attention to turn from the empty doorway back to Bob and the easel.
I will never forget the painting he was working on. I didn’t know at the time what a bighorn sheep was, but he had several photos of them clipped to the side of the easel. His painting showed a mature bighorn not in any of the positions depicted in the photos. I was confused for the severalth time since breakfast. His words broke my dumbfounded trance. “Your Dad tells me you’re an artist too.” I remember being embarrassed, for some reason.
We talked, and I got more comfortable, and started looking around and soaking it all in. “You don’t have a desk.” He laughed, and threw a nod toward the easel. “It’s just different than everyone else’s.” As slowly as those flickering tubes of gas in the cold hallway first thing in the morning, I started to figure it out. “You do art as your JOB?” Another laugh.
Bob Hines, artist for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife at the time of our meeting, produced a huge volume of work. From conservation stamps to illustrations for dozens of books and pamphlets. It took me a while to figure out that the meeting was of course set up in advance. Why my Dad chose to play it off as a chance encounter I never asked, it’s just kind of how he did things. I continued to draw, and to some extent to underachieve, and I certainly never became a renowned wildlife artist. But until today I’ve never thought back to that day in enough detail to write about it, which is noteworthy in a couple ways. First, it points to the value of writing, I had no idea I remembered it in as much detail as I do. And second, maybe I didn’t follow down Bob’s path. Maybe instead of an easel in my office I have a desk. Maybe I never could study photos of animals and construct and illustrate a pose from that knowledge. But you know what? I’m a graphic designer. I do art as my job. And how many people get to say that?