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My Story - The Beginning

Every artist has their start in art. There's a spark, a moment of discovery when one realizes that making art is what you really want to do. This memory is important because it give you some clues into identifying your WHY. Why you wanted to become an artist in the first place.

I've answered that why question several times over. My why has shifted and morphed as I have exited and entered new chapters of my life. Though, pinpointing that initial artist spark, for me, is impossible. Like many artists, I've never identified as anything other than an artist. As my oldest friend Rachel says, I was born an artist. It's so cliche! But for me, it's true.

No date on this photo so hard to pinpoint. I would have been maybe 5 or 6yo - 1973 or 74.

One of my earliest drawings is one that my mother has kept all these years - The Balloon Man at the Crucifixion. (we're looking for it and I will share when we find it) I'm sure you're like, what?!! LOL. I went to catholic school until 8th grade and religion has had a huge influence over my visual life. I probably made that drawing in first grade because that's when you make your First Communion and we would have learned about the crucifixion. And even though it's a bizarre image, I find it prophetic. I've always felt like I see things a little differently. And, ooo-wee, that drawing was so different from all the other first grader's drawings that it made the nun's head spin! Though I can't explain what I was thinking when I made this drawing because I don't remember, I think it for-shadowed a life long love for expressing my unique way of seeing the world with the visual image - no matter how different or bizarre.

High school painting. Sometime between 1983-1986. Exhibited at the Albright Knox Art Museum.

From that early age up until college, I was the artist. Not only did I identify as such, everyone in my life, from my parents to my friends and all of my teachers, labeled me as such too. I was the go to person for posters and theater backdrops. I gifted drawings and paintings to all of my friends on their birthdays. My girlfriend Rachel, who I've known for fifty years, still has the drawing I made for her sixteenth birthday hanging in her house. It is no surprise that art class was my favorite class. My high school art teacher, Mr. Granditz, was my favorite person in the whole world. He gave me studio space in the back of the art room that I could use any time I wanted. I even had one of my high school paintings exhibited at the Albright Knox Art Museum in Buffalo which was written about in the newspaper. Exciting stuff for a teenager! I knew, in every fiber of my being, that I was an artist and was going to be a professional artists. I saw no other path.

All of that came to a screeching halt once it was time to go to college. I wanted to go to art school. My parents said "no". You need a career, they said. Something that you can always fall back on, they said. Art is a nice hobby but it's not a career, you can't make money as an artist, they said. An unfortunate prevailing thought that still exists today despite overwhelming proof of the contrary.

The next question my parents' asked me was, what happened to being an architect? I never wanted to be an architect. It wasn't even a thought in my mind but one small moment when I was little sealed my fate. One Christmas, when I was about seven or eight, I received a set of Lincoln Logs. While building log cabins with my Dad Christmas morning, I arbitrarily ask what the person was called that made buildings. For many parents, being a doctor or a lawyer is THE thing to hope for and push onto your kids, for my parents it was being an architect. Their answer to that Christmas morning question was the answer to the ubiquitous question, "what are you going to be when you grow up". For my parents, they had gotten their answer and they decided there was no other path for me.

College project - bas relief model.

I was not happy about being denied art school, to say the least, but I resolved myself to the fact that architecture school was happening. I reasoned that architecture is design, which is an art form, and I could anagram art in the word, which is how I made my current situation palatable. Though I had a plan. Once you claim your major, and in my case it was architecture, you get to choose several electives that are outside of your chosen program. Here's where I was going to get my art study in. Unbeknownst to anyone, I prepared a portfolio of my art and submitted it to the art department. Regardless of whether you were an art major or not, you had to apply to be able to take art classes. I could not wait to get the letter that said welcome to the art department. The waiting was torture but I was confident that I would be accepted. I was itching to delve into drawing and painting and art history and all the amazing art I would make. Finally, the letter came. With shaking hands and a pounding heart, I opened it and started to read. It began, "we are sorry to inform you". My heart sank and I felt the hot tears starting to fall down my cheeks. It went on to say that my portfolio submissions did not meet the standards of the art department. What I read was - you are not an artist.

To say that I was crushed would be an understatement. That letter imploded my entire world and my identity in one fell swoop. All these years later, just thinking about it, it still stings. Though as my current self, and specifically as a mother, the thought of that letter gives me rage. I don't understand how, that assumed artist person who made that decision and penned that letter. could be so cruel. The language used was meant to destroy. It's intension was to make sure that I understood that I would never be accepted into the world of art and it was successful. For seven years after I received that letter, I didn't pick up a brush. In fact, I threw all of my art supplies away. I wasn't an artist, I would never be an artist so, I didn't need all of my supplies any more.

It's such a sad story. I didn't tell it to you for pity but to illustrate how killing someone's dream is so destructive. It was a harsh and painful experience. It made me adrift in a vast ocean. I no longer knew who I was. Feelings that prevailed for many years. The only thing left to do was to wipe away my tears and get down to the business of being an architect. I didn't hate it, in fact I enjoyed it quite a bit and excelled at it too. It showed me my love for architecture and design that I didn't know I had. It gave me a solid foundation in design which has served me well up to present day. And even though I performed at the top of my class, deep down in my gut, I had this uneasy feeling that something was missing. After I graduated with my undergrad in Architecture, I continued on to get my masters because of that missing feeling. At the time, I believed that I wasn't quite ready to practice architecture as a professional. I thought that missing thing in my gut was telling me that I needed more education. Plus, I really didn't know what else to do. In my heart, I knew I didn't want to be an architect but I was an excellent student. So, I decided that I would continue to be an excellent student.

College project - hand drawn with rapidiograph ink pens.

That feeling I had of not being ready to practice architecture nagged at me. I was taught to make design decisions taking into consideration the specific site where the building would be placed with no consideration for the larger environment. To me, not taking into account the larger environmental context of what you are about to plonk down into the landscape didn't make any sense. That feeling I had that something was missing, I thought I could fill through more study which would eventually answer all these questions that I had. I decided the thing I had to do was to not only get my masters in architecture but at the same time, get a masters in urban planning too. In my mind, getting both would answer all my questions and prepare me to be an excellent architect. As an added bonus, it would remove the feeling that something was missing.

I approached the Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and asked if I could take both masters' programs at the same time. No such program existed at the time so I was making a big ask. After laying out all of my reasoning and presenting my arguments, he said that if I could put together a program of study that would meet the requirements of both departments, he would consider it. I just graduated with a design degree so I was confident I could design a program of study. To the chagrin of the most orthodox professors in both the architecture department and the planning department who believed that I needed to choose one or the other, the Dean accepted my proposal. I graduated with both a Masters in Architecture and a Masters in Urban Planning and I did it in less time than it would have taken to get both degrees separately.

That was January 1994. I didn't attend graduation ceremonies and my dad actually handed in my thesis. I couldn't stay in Buffalo one second longer. On January 7th, the day after my 26th birthday, I jumped into a moving van with my boyfriend (now husband), my dog, and all of our stuff and left Buffalo. We started down the road and within ten minutes were in a white out blizzard. It was scary but there was no turning back now. Our new life in San Francisco, California was waiting. Three thousand miles away from all the pain and everything I had ever known. I was liberated!

Up next: My Story, Part Two - San Francisco

Read Part Two of My Story and other stories about my early years:



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1 則留言

Rachel Webb
Rachel Webb


Wow, your ability and vulnerability in your writing is yet another faction of you as an artist. Your storytelling is excellent and as your oldest friend, I'm flooded with memories of your stages of growth. You truly are remarkable. I am so proud of you and can't wait for part 2.



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