We can inform them…
I asked my 12 year old granddaughter if she thought it might be useful to know anything about my younger days. She sent me a list of serious questions to which I reponded …
How nice to find your delightful letter in the mail. Having a granddaughter is The Best!
As to your fourteen well chosen questions…
Here we go.
Who was the most influential person in my childhood?
The person who taught me the most between 4 and 12 years of age was my step-mother, Florence Duford. For much of that time, I lived with her on a little mountain farm in Paradise, California. She taught me much of what I know about raising animals, caring for orchards, gardening, canning and drying food, cooking, how to make things, fix things and most of all, how to work real hard.
I spent a lot of time alone as a child in nature… I think I was influenced far more, as a spiritual and thinking person, by nature and the great many books I hungrily read than I was by any one person. They were different times. The people around me were older and not fond of children. I was expected to be quiet around adults, to do what I was told, to work hard and stay out of the way. Nature, on the other hand, always seemed to welcome me and to love me. So I spent a lot of time observing and enjoying her… Everything of value that I have learned of a scientific nature I learned from observing natural processes both as an adult and as a child.
When and where was I born?
Like I said, things were different… I don’t know for sure where or exactly when I was born. There are two stories that have come to me. One says I was born in a no longer existing hospital in San Francisco. The other says I was born in a tin shack in a migrant labor camp somewhere near Fresno, California. Both stories agree that it was in November of 1937. My half sister who is 8 years older than me told us the tin shack story. She says she was there.
Who encouraged me to pursue art?
Nobody, until I met Izzy Sher when I was a young teenager. He brought out the best in me. Your Nana knew Izzy. Roz encouraged me a great deal. When we first met she encouraged me to go to art school. And to this day I have always felt that she is appreciative and supportive of my art as she is of yours and your mom’s.
My earliest memory?
How about my earliest happy memory? That was pretty cool. I was 4. We had driven seven hours from San Francisco to Paradise and it snowed heavily all the way up the mountains. We barely made it. We were towed by a big bulldozer the last few miles. There was so much snow that winter that we had to go into the place we were spending the night through a second story window. Somebody carried me up a ladder. I don’t remember much until they dropped me onto an old fashioned feather bed and it was like sinking into a cloud of happy warmth and I was asleep before I stopped melting into the bed. Doesn’t sound like much, but gliding into that feather bed is still a very happy memory and probably the first really good night’s sleep of my life.
Where did my love of the arts originate?
From nature and the arts… Beauty begets beauty. I have had various favorites through the years: Favorite trees, flowers, writers, artists, landscapes, colors, dancers, guitarists… but they all had one thing in common… beautiful! I think that just being in nature with an open and appreciative mind brings out the artist in us. Something in us wants to give thanks for the way the beauty affects us, and so we echo it… reflect it in a way. What do you think? What fires you up?
My favorite subject in school?
I’m not sure I can separate that question from “favorite teacher.” I have always loved history as a subject, for example. Any history. But I usually hated history in school because it was so often simplified into meaningless quack, boringly presented, that gave no flavor or understanding of the people or the times they were living in. Often, what was presented as “history” I later learned, were simply lies. The teacher probably thought they were true, but they were lies. Takes the fun out of it. To actually study history I have usually to seek out brilliant writers who research well and remain at least somewhat impartial, presenting facts instead of a silly story glorifying the historian’s beliefs.
(Two very different examples of what I call good history: Will and Ariel Durant’s 12 volume “Story of Civilization”, a sweeping general view of the whole picture of this round of human civilization and James Thomas Flexner’s “Washington, The Indispensable Man.” a tightly researched, detailed account of one key historical figure).
Of course, when a teacher loves their subject and gets excited because you show interest in it, your favorite subject, for a time at least, may well be whatever they are teaching, because their teaching enlivens your mind… and with people like us, Beatrice, as you well know, we like being awake and learning good stuff!
A richer answer to your question, perhaps, would be that my favorite subject in or out of school is the subject of learning and exploring the human experience as fully as I can. I want to be the best me I can become and I will still be doing that the day I die! Life is way too full of possibility to stop learning ever.
Was there a teacher… in school… who influenced me?
Many “teachers” have influenced me. And one of them was a schoolteacher. Mr. Burns was the 8th grade teacher and the principal of the Scotia school. Scotia is a mill town in the heart of the redwoods, 300 miles north of San Francisco. Everybody in town worked for the mill except for the few needed to run the little store and the hotel and so forth. Mister Burns was a tall, handsome man, always dressed impeccably in suit and tie, his silver hair shining like the moon. Everything about him was dignified, proud, correct… like that.
I don’t remember a thing he taught us in class.
He was also our Scoutmaster though, and I remember what he said in that capacity. There were 8 of us boy scouts. Mr. Burns took us one day deep into the forest along the Eel River and stood us in a circle inside the burned out remains of a gigantic redwood tree. There was plenty of room for all of us and 8 more could have fit in there too. He told us that we were standing in the very heart of what takes care of us and everybody in our town. He said this tree was 22 feet in diameter abh (at breast height), had probably lived for three thousand years. He called it a Mother tree. He said when we grew up and came into these woods with chain saws, we must never harm a Mother tree because they were the heart of the forest and without them, the forest would wither and die. Then he took us over to where a baby redwood about two inches tall was just poking up through the duff in the shadow of the mother tree. He made us all get down on our knees and he showed us that the baby tree was coming out of a root leading back to the mother tree.
So he taught me to be a gentleman by behaving like a gentleman. He taught me to be grateful and considerate by being grateful and considerate. He so clearly loved the forests and the rivers that because I respected him, my own love of forests and rivers was validated and reinforced by that good man.
Was pottery always my favorite medium?
No. I’ve only been doing pottery for the last 6 years, thanks to Penny. When I was young we all assumed I would become a career graphic artist of some sort. Well, I do a bit of pottery and graphic art these days, but for most of my work life I saw to getting things built. However, I have always played music and usually practiced poetry and drawing even if I was in some foreign country building something. I do as many drawings as pots even now.
What was my first job?
Depends how you look at it. My stepmother certainly treated me like an employee from a very early age, but my first job where I got paid money was fruit picking… mostly berries in summer and apples and walnuts in fall… You could pick berries as soon as you were tall enough to reach the top of the berry cane for 5 cents a basket. I started a year early by using a wooden box to stand on to reach the top berries. I guess I was 5 or 6. My first pay check job was a bicycle messenger for Western Union in San Francisco when I was 12. That was cool. I couldn’t believe somebody would pay me to race through the streets on a bike all day delivering telegrams. The pay was pitiful but the tips and the rides were great, as was going up and down the elevators in the big buildings and exploring them.
You know, Beatrice, what we have here in your 14 questions is kind of an outline for an autobiography or something. Are you sure you want to know all this? I don’t want to bore you.
Anyway, you ask “How has your career as an artist and a teacher created value in your life?”
Well, I’m certainly an artist. Teacher? In some ways. Penny is a teacher. She’s a pro. I’m more of a sub rosa or behind the scenes teacher.
Artistic expression, as I understand it, is not confined to the doing of art. Practicing art has taught me that. Learning to draw, for example can be a lifetime pursuit. One can never reach the limit of possibilities latent in a blank sheet of paper and something to make marks with… Art teaches me to observe more accurately, which in turn calls me to be more present in the moment, which in turn enables me to see more clearly and calmly, which leads me to open wider and look even more deeply… you see?
I’m saying, that to me, the activity of artistic practice is of value in and of itself because it enriches my experience of being and expands my capabilities, not just in art, but in any area of life requiring acute powers of observation, hand/eye coordination, etc. If the thoughts and feelings found in the art thus produced be noble, inspiring or entertaining, so much the better! But art has already repaid one generously in the doing of it if it be done with loving attention.
That others find benefit in our work gives me great pleasure. We make functional pottery because it’s more about love for us than art. To hand build a bowl and hold it in my hands that will be held in other hands to nourish someone… That’s a privilege for me. To make a bowl that adds a little beauty to your breakfast, feels good in your hands, is nice to your eyes. That definitely puts a smile on my face.
Who is my favorite student/apprentice?
You know, Beatrice, I am 80 years old. I have been a plumber, a shoemaker, a farmer, a carpenter, a very fancy carpenter, an artist, a printing plant manager, a musician, an international trader, a citizen diplomat, a project manager, a worm farmer, an orchardist, a building contractor, a hazardous waste contractor… I could go on… the point being I have a taught a lot of people a lot of stuff, so it depends… But in general,
My favorite student is the apprentice; by which I mean the one who makes themselves totally present to the teaching and wants to know all about it. I think anyone who teaches would share that sentiment. And the real cream for a teacher, in my view, is the student who dives in to learn all about it and then goes out into the world and does something good with it.
What is my happiest memory?
Are you kidding? I have been so blessed. Do you think I could point at one thing and say, “The Best!”? They keep on coming, Beatrice. In a way, in my old mindstream, a myriad of “happiest memories” swim all around my thoughts… the first time I saw you, the first time I saw your mom, the first time I saw a great ballerina do magic on a stage, or when I learned a war was over, or some other great good thing happened… a myriad of happiest moments and you have given me a great many of them, thank you ever so much!
Oh? What is my greatest hope/dream?
Excellent question! Let us never lose sight of our best dream! MIne is that people will be nice to each other. That being nice to other people will become a main priority for a great many people in every situation of life; that we will as John Lennon put it, “Give peace a chance.”
Beatrice, I love your questions. I do hope my long winded answers are not too boring. Please write again soon.