At a time when young children ought to be watching Sesame Street, building with Legos or learning their numbers, a young child of six, according to news reports, recently committed an unthinkable act against a respected teacher. Officials say it was not accidental. I wonder what on earth inspired that child to commit such a deed.
When I was six, I watched my father sitting in his easy chair doodling and sketching. I still have his “etchings,” as he called them.
When I was six, I was sitting on a fire hydrant watching a sign painter paint a new Sunbeam Bread advertising mural on the entire side wall of a nearby variety store. He brought “Little Miss Sunshine” to life, beaming away as she ate a slice of buttered bread. It inspired me to draw.
When I was six, on my walk home from elementary school, there was a house with a sign hanging on a post by the sidewalk that read “Commercial Artist.” Every day I would stop and sit on the curb across the street waiting for the artist to come out because I wanted to see what a real artist looked like. Though he never did, he inspired me.
When I was about 12, while my friends would be off sailing or cavorting on the beach or trying to sneak into the private tennis club to whack some balls on the manicured courts, I would be down at our town wharf watching a real artist paint pictures. Every summer he would spend his days creating images of boats and buildings, fishermen and lobster traps that he would later display in the local shops where he would sell one now and again. He never said much, his work spoke for him.
Every day I would sit by his side and watch him mix his colors and delicately stroke the canvas, creating a colorful world where once there was only a white. I was fascinated. I had done many drawings, but painting a picture was something new and wonderful.
Old “townies” would be there telling tales of lost catches or grumbling about how the town had changed. Joe Mello with his famous, long-billed fisherman’s cap was there. One wharf bears his name today. They would watch the artist in their detached way, spawned of familiarity but not without an echo of awe. I noticed that.
While they all had seen how this “art” was done, day after day, none could do it or ventured to try. But I was inspired, and I did try. I talked my parents into buying me a small set of oil paints … six tiny tubes and two brushes, and a little bottle of turpentine. I could not wait to stain the canvas with my view of the world.
My first effort was of the little bungalow across the street from our house. I ran out of white before the painting was finished. Some white housepaint I found in our garage had to substitute.
I still have that painting. It wasn’t very good, but it was the first of many. I didn’t show it to the artist … or the next painting, or the one after that. But I finally got up enough courage to show one to him. He offered some encouragement but then quickly went back to his own work. I knew then that if I wanted to learn, I had to watch … and practice.
That summer ended. The artist returned to his winter home. He came back each summer, and we painted together now and again, but I could never capture what he saw. I kept on painting, studied art in high school and went on to art college. Finally, the “real world” stepped in, and I channeled my artistic talents into designing, teaching and writing.
Years later in adulthood, I saw him again. He had permanently moved to town in his retirement … and stopped painting. I encouraged him to start again, just as he had encouraged me. We agreed that we’d paint together again sometime. We never did. I have one of his wharf paintings hanging on our den wall, thanks to the generosity of his nephew who gave it to me when I told him how much his uncle inspired me.
Now retired myself, I have returned to painting, drawing (no pun intended) on that foundation of exploration, creativity and inspiration I got from all those early influences, especially from Manny Sylvia, the artist on the wharf.
Engineers and scientists, mathematicians and doctors don’t practice their craft on park benches where impressionable youngsters can watch them, see themselves, and learn. I don’t see many artists at the town wharf, or in the parks, or any place where kids can watch and be inspired.
I cannot fathom what would inspire a six-year-old child to commit such a horrendous act of violence. I’m not sure I want to.
Editor’s note: Mattapoisett resident Dick Morgado is an artist and retired newspaper columnist whose musings are, after some years, back in The Wanderer under the subtitle “Thoughts on ….” Morgado’s opinions have also appeared for many years in daily newspapers around Boston.
By Dick Morgado