childhood

Lost Books and the Selfless Motivation of Art

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The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook is the best-loved book of my childhood.

Never heard of it?

Well, you’re not alone.

Unlike the works of Dr. Suess, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein, this storybook has slipped away into oblivion. Just another lost book that could not withstand the test of time..

but not really.

I loved this book so deeply and completely as a child, but as I grew older.. I started to forget.

I forgot the title. I forgot the stories. I forgot the name of the author..

but I never forgot the illustrations.

Those pictures haunted me.

So, I began a search that would last for 20 years.

I prowled endlessly through the children’s section of every used book store I could find. I had no information on what I was looking for other than the memory of the wondrous images that were burned into my heart.  When eBay came along, I spent thousands of hours searching in the middle of the night.. desperately plugging in keywords in an attempt to describe the pictures I cherished. A pine tree with golden leaves. A dragon and a monkey.

It seemed impossible… but I refused to give up.

To make a long story short, I found the book.

Nowadays, it seems that practically everyone on earth has written a children’s book. In the era of self-publishing and user-friendly illustration programs.. there are authors out there churning out children’s books by the dozens. But, the difference in quality is obvious. I think most people (and children) instinctively know when someone is just “phoning it in”. Nevertheless, by working the system, these savvy authors have helped their books find their way to the top of Amazon’s best-seller lists.

I suppose I could do this too.

But, unlike those masters of marketing and self-promotion, I am not motivated by money.

The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook was originally published in 1958, and the author and the illustrator of this beloved book are probably long gone.

Maybe they never achieved fame and fortune. Maybe they never realized that their book could create such a lasting impression.

And maybe they never knew that they inspired a child to become an artist.

This is my hope for The Secret Kingdom, and for any other books I plan to create while I still live and breathe.

Every time I see my book in the hands of a child, I am reminded again and again that this is not about me..

and success is not measured in dollar signs.

baby

 

 

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Picture Books and the Shelf Life of a Faraway Aunt

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I am fortunate to have 2 of my sisters living just a few miles from my house..

but, my third sister lives over 2,000 miles away.

So we stay in touch with phone calls and video chats

and I watch my nieces and nephew grow up through pictures posted on Facebook.

I click “Like” and “Like” and “Like” – but, it’s just not the same as being there.

Recently, my sister posted pictures of my niece, Angelina.

Angelina had taken The Secret Kingdom off the bookshelf by herself and started looking at the pictures..

She said, “Night night!” to each one.

Staring at those photographs, I must admit I choked up a little..

Not because I was sad, but because it was a revelation.

Although I am far away, I am still there with them.

I have become a part of their childhood in the form of a well-loved book.

 

Volunteering and the Art of Time Travel

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Evidence of time travel captured in the background…

Recently, a friend told me of an exercise he read about several years ago. It had to do with empowering oneself within the memories of childhood. Basically, if you had a bad experience when you were a child, you could somehow change the outcome of it. It is an act of imagination – the Now You returns to help the Little You.

An interesting idea.

Naturally, I found myself roaming through the memories of my own childhood

Now Me, looking for Little Me..

And then I stopped.

In a way, I am already doing this.

At the center where we volunteer..

I see myself in some of the kids in our art class.

The quiet ones.

The introverts.

The lonely and the ignored.

I seek them out

and I think that the words I would have spoken to Little Michele

are the same words that I share with them.

Time travel is possible, but it is not an act of the imagination..

it is an act of love.

 

The Return of Boo Radley

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In “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Boo Radley left gifts for Jem and Scout in the knothole of an old, oak tree.  He wanted the children to be aware of his presence, to understand that he cared for them, and to know that he was watching out for them.

Now, I am going to tell you a story that will explain why I call this painting “The Return of Boo Radley”.

Once upon a time I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my dog, Gunther. In the center of the complex, there was a large grassy area surrounding a sandbox where the kids could play.  Scattered on the ground, I would find some of the largest and most beautiful pinecones I had ever seen. Whenever I took Gunther for a walk, I would grab a couple and bring them back to my apartment to marvel over.

One day, I noticed a little girl playing alone in the sandbox with a large pile of pinecones. I smiled to myself. This child and I shared a love of pinecones. Later, I noticed a pile of pinecones on the open patio of one of the nearby apartments. I knew that was where the little girl lived.

That night, in a frenzy of inspiration, I took one of the pinecones from my collection and painted it. I took my time, sitting at my easel – intent on turning the pinecone into something magical. At about 3am, I grabbed my dog and took a walk over to the girl’s apartment. I left the painted pinecone on the top of her pile and went back home.

The next morning, I walked my dog past the apartment again – and the pinecone was gone.

This is where I got really creative.

To make a long story short, the pinecones got much more elaborate. I bought glitter, rhinestones, small plastic animals, ribbons and other assorted materials to incorporate into my pinecone masterpieces.  Every week or so, I would leave one on top of the pile of pinecones at the little girl’s apartment. The next morning, it was gone.

My story ends anticlimactically… I moved away.

I never knew the girl’s name, and she will never know mine.

We never met.

She will never know where those pinecones came from.

Like Boo Radley – I wanted to show her that I cared about her. I wanted her to know that I shared her love of pinecones.. and that something as simple as that is enough to join two lives together…

But most of all, I wanted her to experience a beautiful mystery in her life.