Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I was born and raised for the first 14+ years of my life in a small mill town in Northwest South Carolina near the North Carolina border.  Gaffney was located in an area known as the Piedmont, or more commonly, the foothills of the Smokey mountains.  Cotton was grown on the farmlands surrounding the town and fed the local textile industry.  It was a self sustaining industry from the production of raw materials to the production of finished consumer products.  The people of the area either worked directly for the textile industry, or were in some service industry in support of it or the people who worked for it.

My father was an auto body mechanic who worked for Stephenson's Motor Company, the local Ford dealership.  My mother was a homemaker and sometimes worked in the textile finishing industry doing piece work. Our family was at the lower end of the economic scale.  We went without many things, but my mother managed the household frugally and was able to provide the basic needs of the family.  Both of my parents were school dropouts – my father only finished the sixth grade and my mother the tenth.  My father was a natural leader and managed to do well despite being under educated. He eventually became foreman of the dealership's auto body shop.  He had also distinguished himself as a squad leader during the Italian campaign of World War II – receiving two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in two different battles.  Though we probably teetered on the brink of economic disaster, my parents gave us the security we needed to explore our own worlds.

My older brother, Mike, and I were less than two years apart in age.  We were, in every sense of the words, brothers and friends.  Together, we explored our environment (Gaffney).  Life for a child was much less politically correct in those days – the 1950's and 60's.  There were two unbreakable rules – be home for dinner (lunch) and be home for supper.  Otherwise, we were free to roam as far as our feet could take us in the span of time between meals.  We lived our lives outdoors, close to the things (good and bad) that enriched our life experience.  Mike and I lived and played hard in those early years in Gaffney.  I'm sometimes surprised at the abundance of memories I have from that place during such a relatively short period of time.

So, what does this all have to do with making art?  Everything, if I believe what I've written in my “artist statement”.  I also believe that there are two distinct forms of life experiences – those experienced as children and those experienced as adults.  More succinctly, those experiences from before and after obtaining a driver's license.  As children, we move through life more slowly and with greater opportunity to gather our immediate world with all of our senses.  We are immersed in the natural world and we are able to experience it up close.  We experience many things for the first time – hot/cold, soft/hard, beautiful/ugly, good/bad, harsh/kind, et-al.  These things are indelibly imprinted consciously and subconsciously in our psyche.

I've chosen to use “obtaining a drivers license” to illustrate and delineate the point at which this immediacy of life experience changes to something less immediate.  When we get behind the wheel of a car, we have put ourselves in a kind of insulated space – zooming through the world at a pace too fast to absorb much of what's outside our sealed cocoon.  After a while we resign ourselves to using less honest stimulation for experiencing life.  Consider kneeling on the cool ground beside a slow running stream to quickly plunge your hand into the water to retrieve a small minnow and have it flutter in your hand until you allow it to splash back into the stream to continue its life and you yours.  Consider then, flying by the same stream at 70 miles per hour and hardly even noticing the stream.  This doesn't necessarily mean that we don't continue to have a rich life experience, it's only to say that it has changed.

As adults we begin to think more abstractly.  Sometimes gathering sensory information becomes subordinate to gathering money and pursuing a career.  I sometimes think art is a rebellion against that – a way to plunge our hands back into the stream to capture the minnow.

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