The Backstory

I mentioned in my last post that one of my few regrets is that I never got a 4 year degree in Fine Arts. I tried, but I didn’t make it. And it was totally my own fault.

My daughter is among several who tell me that a degree is over-rated. Just a piece of paper. Not relevant. And I believe that on one level.

Still, from the time I was a little kid, I wanted an art education. A real one. With a framed diploma that said I had it.

You see, I discovered I could draw when I was in second grade. My school class (in Chillicothe Ohio) had taken a field trip to a local historic home, Adena. After the tour, the teacher set us up on the front lawn with large sheets of drawing paper and pens and paints.

I focused on drawing the front of the building and to my utter surprise, the lines just seemed to flow out the end of the pen. The mansion took shape before my eyes as though someone else was doing it. I was mesmerized.

As a finishing touch, I found a small sponge and dabbed in the shrubbery. And as I stood staring at my handiwork, the teacher came by and gasped out, “Did you do that by yourself?”

I looked at her through my own amazement and quietly replied, “yes.”

It was one of those defining moments of life you never forget – and I was all of 7 or 8 years old.

After that I was obsessed with drawing. The only thing I wanted for birthdays or Xmas was drawing sets or paints. I devoured everything on sketching from the library. And from there I would scour books for illustrations I could copy.

I desperately wanted art lessons but that was forbidden. “People like us don’t spend money on those kind of things,” my dad decreed. And there was no changing his mind. Even worse, we had moved to such a small town that even the high school did not have an art program. I got into music and cheerleading but my heart was literally starved for art.

Finally, we moved again and I was able to enroll in a local branch college of Ohio University. In the Fine Art program! I was so excited that I stayed up the entire night of my first assignment going over and over it to make it perfect.

Sadly, it went downhill after that. This was school year 1969-70. The art world had been taken by storm by Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans. All of our assignments were to come up with conceptual pieces that were wildly non-mainstream. There was nothing close to the principles of realism, the reasoning being… if you want something realistic, take a photo.

I went with it but my heart wasn’t in it. And it was very difficult to work, pay rent and pay my own tuition and book and supply fees. My room mate and I had a list of potential “dates” we could call who might buy us a pizza so we could eat!

By the time I was a junior I also had to commute 45 minutes to the main campus because the branch did not have a full program. That meant less time to work and more money for gas and parking.

Plus, I finally had a serious boyfriend who was not the college sort. At first he humored me about it, but eventually he resented the time and expense of my education. We fought about it and I made the decision I’ve always regretted… with four quarters left to go to get my degree, I opted to “take a break” from school. It was meant to be for just one quarter, but life happened and I never went back.

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my daughter, Ellyn, age 14

I never stopped drawing and painting. I worked it in around the husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs, house and yard. I was happy enough with my life, but art was a hobby, not a focus. I got odd jobs doing sign work and murals. I did some portrait commissions. I won some prizes and got some local recognition. But it still wasn’t the art I dreamed of. And because my husband didn’t approve, my drawing board was actually in the garage – right between the car and the deep freeze.

After an unexpected divorce in my early forties, I got a government grant and went to a community college for graphic design. I finally got a 2 year degree but that was the limit of the grant. Now I had 5+ years of college… and a 2 year degree. I felt half-baked.

I checked on getting the 4 year degree but it just wasn’t financially possible. Worse, I couldn’t get a graphic design job. Supposedly there is not discrimination out there, but no one would hire a woman in her forties who was fresh out of school – and I tried for over a year.

Meanwhile, I was working as a secretary at a local company and was well-liked there. My colleagues helped me get hired on in a “real” capacity and suddenly I was in the steel business. But it was a very good living with great benefits and it meant I could keep my house. That’s life.

But now the kids were grown and I could afford to travel to better art classes. I took vacations to study with prominent artists for a week at a time and painted in my spare time in my home studio – which was actually a whole room inside the house! However, this was still “hobby” level, even though I did some pretty nice stuff.

Then life struck again – which I’ll detail in the next post…

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