Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Art Collector

Mrs. Hartman taught third grade. She was perhaps the first teacher that I really liked -- liked in the sense of those crushes little boys have on their teachers. My mother facilitated our romance by giving me camellias off our bushes to take to her a couple of times a week. Mrs. Hartman seemed to appreciate them. I don’t think she thought much about it though because I only managed to bring her flowers when my mother was helping out in class. Things never really heated up between us. Besides, she was already married.

Third grade is when we got to practice our printing, do addition and subtraction tables, and learn about local government. Our highlighted project of the year was a giant map of our county that we drew on a roll of butcher paper. Onto this map we drew all the important things about which we knew. The map had fine drawings of the airport with a requisite plane, the museum and some representations of a few of the old buildings in Pioneer Village. (Pioneer Village, part of the Museum, was a unique historical park with many preserved buildings from our fine county’s early years.) There were pictures of oil derricks and movie theaters and the river and, of course, our school. Some of my classmates drew their own houses complete with their family cars parked out front. We had room for all of this detail because it was literally on a roll of butcher paper. While modern cartographers might applaud the effort, I doubt that they would be moved to praise its accuracy.

There were a couple things I learned while working on this mapping project, when I wasn’t trying to figure out why Bruce was taller than I was or why Jeanie was as crippled as she was. I had lost interest in Denise, and Terry Richardson had moved to the other third grade classroom. There were two really good drawers in our class. Both Mark and Cliff made drawings that looked like real things. Their pictures had detail, scale, and realism that are traditionally lacking in a third grade effort. For the rest of us, our attempts at drawing paled in comparison. Of course, most of us spent five minutes on our little scene and then we were done. We quickly found other things to do at our desks or outside at recess, but Mark and Cliff stayed at it and worked. Evidently, they had found their passion while the rest of us were still looking for somebody to play marbles with.

That they had found their true calling in the third grade is something that I have since been able to confirm. I know that they had found their true mission in life because they are both graphic artists today. They live three thousand miles apart and I doubt if they have even spoken to each other since. It is only through the magic of the internet that I know who and where they are. Whatever their recollection of me might be, they have survived all of their adult lives without any desire to refresh it. I don’t think that they would have much interest in how this little fragment of their lives contributed to my greater understanding of the world.

They both approached their drawing in two quite distinctly different ways. Mark drew in short redundant pencil strokes, back and forth, back and forth with a little more forth each time until he got to the end of his line. He often would pick up his pencil and start in a new place and bring all his lines together into the picture. They were both left handed. Maybe that was it. Cliff, on the other hand, rarely lifted his pencil. His lines were contour lines that outlined the objects and then filled in. Cliff would have been good on an Etch-a-Sketch. I was amazed at their differing techniques and thought that just technique might be the secret to good drawing. I tried my hand at both for awhile in my room at home, but “technique” didn’t seem to be the secret. I soon lost interest. I guess this lesson in left handed passion didn’t quite resonate yet. It would still be a couple of years before I took up the saxophone and got really confused about this passion thing.

Third grade passed without incident. After summer we reconvened in Mrs. Eckhardt’s fourth grade classroom. After a few weeks, I had occasion to go back to visit Mrs. Hartman to see if the flame still flickered, but when I got there, I realized that whatever magic she had held for me in the third grade simply had no appeal to an older, more mature fourth grader. I found myself suddenly without purpose, so I asked her about the County map we had all drawn. Surprisingly, she still had it and got it out for me to see. Once unrolled, the clarity of the Mark and Cliff contributions was startling compared to anything else on the paper. My own picture looked something a third grader would have drawn.

Mrs. Hartman offered to let me have the map, but I really had no more use for it than she did. It did remind me of how good Cliff and Mark could draw and I really wanted one of them to draw me a picture.

In the fourth grade we moved on to the study of cursive writing and early American history. The math got harder with multiplication and division added to the mix. Cliff was willing to sacrifice a little recess time. I asked him to copy for me a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that was printed in our history book. I liked the painting, we were studying American history and Cliff was willing. I was going to begin the first of my personal collection of great American artists with an original hand drawing by Cliff, a soon to be future great American artist.

There we sat, Cliff and I, during recess one day. I watched the drawing take shape. Cliff was so good and so fast that I was amazed at how he must look at a picture and break it down into outlines, shapes, contours, shadows and light.

At the end of recess, the drawing was almost done. Mrs. Eckhardt magically appeared over my shoulder and gasped and gushed over Cliff’s efforts. She heaped praise on his talents, and said that she simply must have that drawing to put up on the bulletin board for our history lessons. Before I knew it, my commission of Cliff’s drawing had been swept up from his desk and posted on the bulletin board for all to see. I was helpless to do anything about it. Cliff said nothing. For all intents and purposes, it was gone. Cliff wasn’t going to do another one for me and Mrs. Eckhardt wasn’t ever going to give it up. That drawing teased me from its special position on the board for several months before it just disappeared and a new poster on the finer arts of forming a capital cursive “G” appeared in its place.

I regret that I wasn't somehow able to keep that picture. I doubt that even if I had managed to keep Cliff’s drawing for myself, it would have survived in my possession to this day, having long been thrown away with everything else from elementary school. But, one never knows.

That one drawing could have been the foundation of a great collection of great works. It could have been the starting point to igniting my passion for appreciating the finer arts. If only Mrs. Eckhardt had not intervened, I might have had an earlier start on discovering my true self. Damn you, Mrs. Eckhardt.

© 2009 Mark Indermill - All Rights Reserved

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