Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The article in a recent New York Times concerning an alleged rape of a high-school girl by two star football players on the Steubenville, Ohio high-school football team resurrected memories of my time living in Steubenville.

During World War ll my parents and I lived in Steubenville when I attended junior high-school  and half of my freshman year in high-school.  Steubenville and Weirton West Virginia across the Ohio River were a center for steel mills spewing out war materials for the military.  My father was an electrician for the Pennsylvania Railroad helping to keep the trains running smoothly, also valuable to the war effort.

The local newspaper, the Herald Star, was my first employer.  I had a paper route of more than a hundred customers.  This was before TV and everyone took the paper.  My route was contained in a few city blocks.  A group of us who had routes would wait each afternoon at the neighborhood grocery store for our bundled papers.  Often to pass the time, we would play touch football in the street, dodging the busses as they went by.  After the paper truck dropped our papers off, we would untie them and put our papers in a bag with a shoulder strap and walk our route folding as we went and throwing the papers onto the waiting porches.  There was an art to this.  A missed porch meant  regaining the paper and making sure it reached its chosen target.  Saturday morning was collection day, and we went door to door to each customer for payment, taking the collection down the hill to the paper office to pay for the papers we had received,   keeping a small portion for our daily efforts.

But about the NY Times article.  It’s point was that two local star athletes were likely to go unpunished for their heinous acts against a drunk and almost comatose young girl because the high-school football team was the main prideful organization in a now declining rust-belt community.  This team had won state championships in a competitive group of high-schools up an down the Ohio River.  Schools such as Martins Ferry, Akron, and Massilon, the home of Paul Brown who started a career in that high-school that ended as the coach of one of the greatest professional football teams, which is still named for him.  The local pride in the Steubenville team was more important than the wellbeing of that young woman to some, including the school officials and the coach.

What happened to me is minor compared to the experience of that poor girl, but it is indicative of the same attitude, and I have never forgotten it.

The high-school, when I attended it, was large and intimidating to me.  The event I remember took place in the gym.  It was the first gym class of my freshman year.  The gym was dark.  After the instructor took attendance he disappeared.  I later realized that he was giving the upper-class men a chance to haze the new freshmen.  I did my best to be as unobtrusive as possible.  I saw some of my fellow freshmen being worked over pretty well.  After a bit there was a very large person standing in front of me and I was certainly apprehensive.  He looked at me for a few seconds, took his right foot and swiped my feet from under me.  I crashed to the floor and lay there hoping nothing else was going to happen to me. 

I found out later that the large person was Don Joyce, the star quarterback of the football team.  When attending a game, I noticed that he was also was the punter.  It was a cold winter game, and he was punting with a bare foot.  He went on to be a lineman for the Minnesota Vikings.

I later moved to a smaller city near Pittsburgh and played on an inept football team. But even there several hundred fans would turn out on Saturday afternoon to see our attempts at the game.  As in Steubenville football mania existed because nothing else much happened in the town.  This kind of hero worship corrupts sports and results in the events written about Steubenville and Penn State and many other schools around the country and I am afraid it cannot be reversed. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Life in Art: The Army

The summer after college graduation I applied to Yale Drama School to study set design.  And was accepted. 

That summer I was invited to do sets at a summer theater on Long Island, the Gateway Theater.  It was a theater in a barn and a theater-in-the-round.  Not too many sets needed for that type of staging.  I did do some props when needed and also played a few bit parts. I was a clown in the “Little Prince”, and played a dual role in the “Mad Woman of  Chaillot.”  I was a rag picker and a baron, roles that required costume changes between the acts.  As a baron I needed to be serious while Robert Duvall, a fledging actor playing the part of a poor man, offered me all his money.  He was hilarious.  I don’t understand why he has never played a humorous role during his illustrious career.

When I got home at the end of the summer I received a notice that I had been drafted.  The Korean War still needed recruits.  Of course Yale had to be put off.  I don’t imagine they ever missed me.

I passed the physical and was put on a train to Fort Belvedere in Maryland, and then another to Fort Knox Kentucky, the home of the Third Armored Division, General Patton’s group.  But it was my misfortune to be placed in infantry basic training.  I was placed in an eight week training program.  They asked if anyone wanted to attend Officer’s Candidate School and if course I applied.  Thus, after three weeks of training I was transferred to a sixteen week training program.  This meant, of course, that it would take nineteen weeks to complete basic training.  That included two weeks on the rifle range with our M1A1’s, bivouacking in January, many hikes with our equipment on our backs, and other treats. 

At the end of basic, I was assigned to an eight week leadership school, in a holding pattern, until a decision was made on whether I was officer material. It turned out, I wasn’t.  But somehow the fact that I had had art training was known to those who ran the school and there was an opening in the Training Aids Unit. Thus, after completing the program, I was kept there, as permanent party, instead of being sent off to the front lines in Korea. 

For this I must thank Sgt. Jerry Allison, who was in charge of the unit. He would have a great influence on me.  He had studied with Frank Riley at the Art Students League and was an accomplished illustrator. Seeing his work, I began to think I would rather do that than make a career of  the theater.  I had taken a leave in New York City to see my friend Jon Jostyn and had visited a Mrs. Kelley, who produced shows at the Roxie and convinced me that to become a set designer was not an easy road.  My goal was changing.

 I was to remain in training aids  for the next year doing training aids charts, names on helmet liners, fancy desk plates for officers, and signs that said “Keep off the Grass”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Life in Art, Part2

My mother suggested that I attend a small religious college in southern Illinois.  My high school was in a rust-belt suburb of Pittsburgh.  The building had been condemned and the curriculum should have been.  I had taken four years of Latin because Miss Nessbit was the best teacher in the school and made that dry topic fascinating.  There were no art classes.  I never took a book home and got good grades.  I really hadn’t given college a thought and easily acquiesced to her proposal.

I spent the summer after high school loading baggage into Greyhound busses at the Pittsburgh terminal on the graveyard shift, three to eleven PM.  It is called that because one loses touch with the rest of the world.  You are out of sync with everything.  So I was ready, in September, for a new experience.  And I was more than ready to leave Carnegie.

I took the train to Alton, Illinois and disembarked with my meager wardrobe and no idea of what I was headed toward.  I was greeted by a small bus nick-named the Blue Goose.  A few students and their luggage were loaded on the well-used vehicle and we headed into rural Illinois. As we rumbled the twenty country miles to the campus, I, a city boy, became nervous about what I had committed myself to.   Alton was on the Mississippi River across from St. Louis and the college was also on the river situated on three hundred foot bluffs.  The view across the river into the farmlands of Missouri was spectacular.

Since my topic is art, I will briefly say that the small campus was inhabited by dedicated professors, and small classes, and an embracing experience enabled me to mature at a gradual rate, and prepared me for life after college.  I did find that my meager high school education had not equipped me for the intellectual atmosphere of college, and I bumbled through most classes.  I still have dreams about not being prepared for some mysterious class.  But I became dedicated to making art.

The art department was a small wooden building that was so fragile that the the floor shook when walked on.  The main instructor was a small dapper man named James Green who was a New England trained watercolorist.  He was facile with the medium and easily turned out paintings of boats and fanciful scenes the were reminiscent of Maine and Massachusetts.  He sold these pleasing paintings to alumni and parents, and was the only professor who drove a Cadillac convertible.  He created an atmosphere that let one create in their own way.  He had a collection of books and magazines that led me to admire artists like Lionel Feininger, John Marin, Graham Southerland,  and John Piper.

Watercolor was my first medium and is still an important part of my work. 

My first art class at the college was a basic one, and I tried to paint a man on a raft poling his way on an unnamed body of water.  A student assistant was conducting the class that day.  When I asked him what I needed to do with the painting, he said calmly, “Burn it.”  He wasn’t wrong. 

Being a small liberal arts college, I was able to take the usual courses in English, the sciences, history, and even logic.  Other activities included taking part in sports and singing in a quartet and the college choir.  Since school and the army did not permit me to start a professional career until I was twenty-seven, I have wondered if it would not have been better to have gone to a professional art school directly.  But since all of these  varied activities are still part of my life, I think it has enriched my life profusely.

If you remember, cartooning was my early goal.  Now I was introduced to painting.  I can’t remember any direct instruction I received, but found my own way mostly by looking at reproductions of other artists’ work.  In my senior year, I entered a juried exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum.  It was a large semi-abstract watercolor done on matt board.  It was accepted.  I think I surprised the art department.

One of the projects I was asked to do that year was a set design for “The Seagull”, the theater production that Spring.  When the curtain opened, the set received applause.  I thought, “I must become a set designer.”

I graduated with a BA degree prepared for nothing professionally.  When young, that doesn’t seem a problem.