Updated: Aug 27, 2018
Throughout my childhood, I spent a lot of time looking at a particular small, framed drawing in my Dad's workshop. He'd told me that he drew it when he was a young boy, lying in his hospital bed recovering from thyroid surgery. He was probably six or seven, just before the Stock Market crash of 1929.
What struck me about the drawing was its amazing quality and attention to detail. It was of a construction site, evidently right outside the hospital window, and possessed incredible depth. This was not the drawing of a typical child, but something much more. In order to draw something of that quality, it required an understanding of spatial relations, perspective, depth of field, composition, not to mention a mastery of pencils and rulers. And on top of that it was drawn, I imagine, while lying in bed. This piece fascinated me to no end and fit with my Dad’s persona of a man of exactitude.
It’s funny because my Dad never called himself an “artist,” nor really considered himself one, though in many ways he was brilliant. He spent much of his life producing art, from oils to acrylic to graphite drawings. Some of his work was quite risqué, pushing the edges of the day’s “civilized society.” Our house was a gallery of some of his pieces, yet he never took his work out into the world. Most of it sat in his workshop or in a storeroom. I could never quite understand that, though now that I am producing my own art it makes sense. One can be shy about one’s own art until one realizes that art is, first and foremost, for one’s own meaning making and healing.
Perhaps my Dad just needed the solace that the act of creation provides. Perhaps because he was so meticulous and demanding of himself and his work he never felt “ready” to expose himself in that way. Or perhaps he never received the encouragement he needed to “go public” with his art, or maybe the environment didn’t feel open and embracing.
I grew up in Old Lyme, Connecticut, a beautiful village, first settled in the 1600’s, that sits on the East side of the Connecticut River at its mouth. Old Lyme’s artist enclave was unofficially established in the late 1800’s and has received significant renown as a retreat for some of the famed and emerging artists of the day. It remains a community that deeply values art and artists, and is the home to the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, and the Lyme Art Association.
Perhaps it was in the shadow of those great painters that my father felt his insignificance. Perhaps the rotating exhibits at the Lyme Art Association that our family so regularly enjoyed, just down from our house, offering so much inspiring work, proved too much for a man who had been shunned by his parents for even wanting to become an artist. Or maybe it was the quiet nagging of a spouse who’d had dreams of joining the social elite of the town yet whose husband held a low-paid draftsman position at the submarine facility in nearby Groton that wore down his dream.
Whatever the truth, in seeing the breadth and depth of my father’s work, it’s a pity that a man with such undeniable talent remained invisible to those around him.