The Coronavirus Isolation has put a lot of new limitations on our lives. But, I happened to have an unused Gingerbread House kit. So, for Art Day, the Princess and I decided to put it all together with supplies we already had on hand. Here, then, is the Beyer Family Gingerbread House 2020.
But, it wasn’t a total disaster. We can use our inherent craftiness to rescue it at least a little bit from total wicked-witch-housiness. Though I am sure Hansel and Gretel would still eat it.
I entered the classroom silently. Death doesn’t have to make any sound when it enters a room, but I remember many times when I entered a classroom in a fully enraged-lion roar. Probably too many times.
This time it was a small lesson to a small class. Little Mickey, ten years old, was sitting there in a front-row desk. He was wearing that stupid purple derby hat that he always wore in his imagination. And he was wearing nothing else besides.
I gave him that old death-eye stare of disapproval. He grinned and shrugged. “Hey, I like to write about nudists, okay? They tell the truth more than most people.”
I simply nodded.
Sitting the next row over, in the front seat also, middle-aged Mickey was slumped in his seat like the cynical, world-weary teacher-thing he actually was. I nodded disapprovingly at him too. “I know, I know,” he said. “My time is running out. I have to get started on my writing plan for real this time. My stories will never get written if I don’t.”
The third seat in the third row contained Old Coot Mickey with his wrinkled clothes, his long Gandalf-hair, and his frizzy author’s beard. He grinned his goofy grin at me and nodded at me cheekily. “I’ve got fourteen novels written and published now. Taint my fault that nobody ever reads ’em. They are mostly good stories, too.”
I rolled my eyes at the dark ceiling.
On the chalkboard I wrote out. Today’s Lesson Is…
“I know! I know!” shouted little Mickey, naked except for his purple hat. “The next novel is A Field Guide to Fauns. It is all about nudists in a nudist camp. I am definitely down with that!”
“Is that really a good idea, though?” asked middle-aged Mickey. “I think I was meant to be a writer of Young Adult novels, like the ones I taught so often in class. I know how those books are structured. I know their themes and development inside and out. I know how to write that stuff.”
“But the little naked guy has it right. You have ta be truthful in novels, even as you tell your danged lies.” Old Coot Mickey made his point by punctuating it with a wrinkled hand thumping on the top of his desk. “You have written novels with characters forcing other characters to make porn films in The Baby Werewolf, and sexual assault of a child in Fools and Their Toys, and lots of naked folks, and betrayal and death… All of that is the kinda stuff kids really want ta read. And them stories don’t glorify that stuff neither. Stories can help fight agin that stuff.”
“Remember, that stuff is hard to write about because I actually went through some of that stuff in my own life. It’s possible for even a fiction book to be just too real for a YA novel.” Middle-aged Mickey had entered fighting mode with his fists on his hips.
“But the underlying truth is why you had to write those stories to begin with. You have truth to tell… But in fiction form,” argued little Mickey.
“And horrible experiences turn into beautiful survival stories and heroes’ journeys with time and thoughtfulness and art,” said Old Coot Mickey.
I agreed with all three of me. I nodded and smiled.
“But you are Death, aren’t you?” asked middle-aged Mickey.
“And you’ve come to take away at least Old Coot Mickey!” declared little Mickey.
“You’ve got me all wrong,” I answered all three of me. “I am not Death. I am Nobody.“
I did it again. What did I do, you may ask? I executed a plan and finished a project that I have been working on for some time.
Princess Persimmons’s Castle is the remains of a plastic children’s play-set, the brand and name of which I do not know. It was purchased for a quarter at a Goodwill store. I repainted the purple, pink, and blue plastic castle, and added snow.
The Princess herself is an unpainted D&D figure purchased in a game store at the Music City Mall in Lewisville while waiting for the start of a movie, Black Panther, I think. I painted her with enamel.
The three minstrels below are bard figures for D&D, purchased from the same place on two different occasions. They are painted with the same paints.
The background is an old Christmas card, altered with my computer’s paint program to fit the picture-project I had in mind.
And I will be able to place the castle and all the figures in other pictures in the future, as well as use them all for future games of D&D.
There is something very satisfying about completing a project. The picture you had in your head when you started all comes together. And it doesn’t match the original idea. But, still, you have accomplished an act of making art. Of course, when I say, “You”, I really mean, “Me”. But, I’m betting you probably know exactly what I am talking about
I had been promising my daughter for a while that we would build the gingerbread train. I was looking forward to it as an art project. She was impatient to eat it. So, on December 27th, I was finally feeling well enough to do the deed.
So, we prepared the work space on the kitchen table. We laid out the items that we could use for assembly. I made my daughter promise to stop eating elements of the train before we could actually put it together.
I started decorating the Christmas trees that go into the baggage car. My daughter ate several of the sugar-ball decorations.
The baggage car was assembled first. I call it the baggage car because even though it is in the tender position for a steam train if we called it that, that would mean that the engine burned Christmas trees instead of coal. My daughter snuck a few more decorations as we argued about that.
It was encouraging that the first part came together without looking too incredibly terrible.
My daughter decorated a majority of the engine and only ate a few more of the decorations while doing it. This was no small thing given how much she loves to eat gumdrops.
It ended up looking vaguely like the picture on the box. We had a great deal of fun making it. And the last time I checked, portions of it still were uneaten… something I am confident won’t be the case for much longer.
The Rowan Public Library has a storm sewer drain near the parking area on the west side of the building. How do you prevent cars from parking on top of it and risking significant damage to two different things? The librarian’s solution? Make a rock garden around it so that only extremely stupid people would still consider parking there. And what better summer activity than to invite kids and senior citizens to come in and paint the rocks for decoration’s sake.
The goofy spotted frog and the Star Wars rebel flying goose are the rocks that I chose to paint. You can see that I had more fun than I did artistic epiphanies. But that is the thing about art. Bob Ross says that it can bring good things to your heart. And it does even more so when you share it with kids and other people.
So I had a relatively good time just painting rocks for fun and cracking simple, stupid jokes to make little kids laugh.
Mom had fun painting flowers and smiling suns on a rock next to her good friend Annie and Annie’s great grandson. You see them in this picture taken by the little boy’s grandmother.
And my daughter really got invested in the zen experience of putting paint on rocks. She took the longest of anybody to finish her second rock. And, of course, her little dragon-obsessed creation was easily the best one of the day.
Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has his Batcave. Every Superhero needs a place of his own to reflect on the trials and struggles of the never-ending battle for truth and justice and the American way. I achieved another dawn today, waking up at sunrise on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm place. It is for me a place of safety and quietude where I can rest and regenerate, plan, plot, and create the story of my life.
It is a place far older than me, a family farm that has been in the family for more than 100 years. It connects me to the past and the people who’ve come before me, not only the family I have known and loved, but those who came before them that were gone before I was born.
It is possible that it is unwise to reveal my secret lair and my connections to such an important place. Will my enemies take advantage of the fact? No, probably not. Most of my enemies are ignorant people who do not read, and so, will never uncover this secret I have now shared with you.
Being a sort of amateur artist with extremely artistical tendencies, I naturally love to paint. My daughter also likes to paint. So one way to combine our love for sloshing colors on stuff with paint brushes with our love for playing nerdy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragonsis to buy and paint our own miniatures to play with in the game. I used to do this a lot when I was a single goofer with time and money on my hands, so I have boxes and boxes of painted little people and little critters made out of lead or pewter or plastic.
When doing these dastardly deeds of nerdling paintery to little metal people, we have to choose how we are going to go about it. Different paints work in different ways. I like to use brightly colored enamels like the Testors stuff I have used since the 1960’s. The Princess prefers acrylic because it is less permanently messy. Once you laminate your fingertips with enamel, you have to wear blue and green and brown on your hands in school for most of a week as it wears off. Acrylic is less socially mortifying, in that it is removed more easily as a water-based paint. Even after it dries on your hands, it still comes off with a little scrubbing and you don’t have to use turpentine.
Finding new figures to paint is not as easy as it once was. You used to be able to locate such things easily in the nearest comic book shop or game shop. Hobby Lobby and Michael’s used to have sections where you could find the figures as well as the paints. Now that those things are becoming extinct and increasingly rare, you have to take advantage of serendipity. We discovered a magically preserved and timeless game shop in a dying mall next to the movie theater where we recently went to watch Jumanji. I bought the elves above in that shop from the young elf running the place all by himself. An elf bard with a fiddle and bow, and another elf with a crossbow. I also found two exquisite sculpts of children which I haven’t even removed from the card yet. All that is left to do now is argue over who is going to paint what. And that can be a difficult thing. I am older and cannier than her, but she outweighs me by ten pounds. The decision has not been made yet.
I am finishing this essay on painting nerdling painter-deeds with a look at two finished works from my glorious nerd-painting past. Ganser the Wizard of Gansdorf is actually painted in acrylic, while Anya the Amazon is painted in enamel. I did them both in the 1980’s. We shall soon see if I can still do as good as I used to do. And if the Princess can match me or surpass me. It is not actually a contest, but I still hope I win.
After years of being stored away, I discovered that my mother had hidden a hoard of my old artworks in the upstairs closet in Grandma Aldrich’s house (now my parents’ house).
This oil painting was done on an old saw blade at the request of my Grandpa Aldrich. He wanted a farm painting on it, like the one he’d seen in a restaurant during a fishing trip in Minnesota. I chose as the subject Sally the pig. Sally was a hairlip piglet that had to be bottle fed and raised in a box by the stove until later in life she became a favorite pet. Believe it or not, pigs are smarter than the family dog. She became a pig you could ride. And Grandma had taken a precious old photo of my mother and Uncle Larry riding the pig. I used that photo to make this painting. It was also the painting I wanted to find on this trip to Iowa. Searching for it led to finding all the others.
These two are among the earliest paintings I did. They were both done on canvases that I stretched over the frame myself in high school art class. The purple one is a scene from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The blue one doesn’t have a title, but you can see what it is. It is an ancient shibboleth water monster lurking under a dock, fishing for young boys to eat.
This drawing was done on the front porch in the house in Rowan. It would be years before mom framed it. It is another example of what I could do as a high school kid. In fact, I composed it from art-class sketches I did my senior year in school.
The Boy in the Barn was painted on the remains of an old chalkboard that my sisters, brother, and I had used in grade school.
Grandma Aldrich asked for this picture to hang over the sofa in the farmhouse living room. It stayed there for many years.
Great Grandma Hinckley passed away in 1980. I created this portrait from a combination of photos and memory. It was too good. It was never hung anywhere because it always made her daughter, my Grandma Aldrich, tear up.
This pencil drawing won a blue ribbon at the Wright County Fair in the late 70’s.
This picture is called First Years are Hard Years. It was painted in 1982 after my first year of teaching at the junior high school in Cotulla, Texas. I painted mostly the good kids. The girl on the lower right would later go on to become a teacher for our school district. I can’t claim to be the one who inspired her, but she did make straight A’s in my class.
This is called Beauty. It is done in oil crayon on canvas. I did it for my mother to hang in the hallway in the house in Taylor, Texas.
So, it turns out, I unearthed art treasures by searching for the one painting.
Still being under the weather and filled with sinus head-pain, I decided to go back to a subject I love so much that the post will simply write itself. You know I love Norman Rockwell and his art, and I fervently believe that kind of mass media oil-painting does not put him in a lesser category than Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Raphael or any other painter with a ninja turtle namesake. He is a genius, and though he is not a realist in so many ways, his work is more truthful than practically any other kind of painting. If you are taken by surprise and didn’t know I had this passionate obsession, maybe you should go back and look at this post; Norman Rockwell
Now that I got that out of my system, here is another Saturday Evening Post artist that is often confused with Rockwell. His name is Amos Sewell.
Sewell was an amateur tennis player who was talented enough to win tournaments. He was an employee of Wells Fargo who was headed towards anything but an art career until he decided to make a leap of faith in 1930. He started as an illustrator for Street and Smith pulp fiction, and soon caught the notice of the big-time magazine markets for his art. He published art for Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentlemen Magazine, and Women’s Day.
Like Rockwell, he was able to find the funny in everyday scenes, like the dance party to the right. That young man at center stage is trying so hard not to step on the feet of the red-headed girl, that you want to laugh, but can’t because it’s obvious how embarrassed he would be, and the charm of the picture leads you to shun the thought of interrupting. The scene is so real the boy would hear you laughing as you looked at the Post cover.
More expert on this kind of art than I am is the Facebook site that I first got turned on to Sewell by. Children in Art History
There is no doubt that Amos Sewell belongs in the same pantheon of artists as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, or Paul Detlafsen. They are all artists who achieve in their work exactly what I have always striven for. I want to be able to hold the mirror up to our world the way they did. I want to capture both the fantasy and the reality in the subject of everyday family life. I also want to share this work with you because I cannot stand the idea that such artistic ambrosia could one day be forgotten in archives where no one ever looks at it and feels the message in their heart.