For decades, my parent’s basement was the source of many chuckles, curses, and quandaries, along with considerable consternation. My mother, an only child, and my father, the only surviving child, seemed to have inherited not only their own parents’ belongings but also those of many of their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Dad was a sentimental pack rat, attributing value to the slightest item that was somehow linked to his childhood. Mom was constantly busy with her own intellectual and civic pursuits and had little interest in arguing nor in sorting through the piles that accumulated beneath her beautiful, mid-century-modern floorboards. My sister, Nancy, and I knew that this latter task would someday fall to us and indeed it did when in 2015, my widowed father fell down his basement stairs and with one calamitous tumble, forever lost his independence.
The stories of my and Nancy’s attempts to care for and clean up after my dad could probably fill a book but here, I want to focus on one tiny slice of that endeavor. Amidst the furniture, magazine stacks, books, drafting tables, sets of china, chests of ancient tools, hunting paraphernalia, cases stuffed with letters and photographs, mason jars, silverware, old appliances, canceled checks and registers, surveying equipment, architectural plans and renderings, and (thankfully) de-humidifiers, we came across a thick stack of poster-sized watercolors that Dad had painted while studying architecture at Ohio State University in the 1940s.
A Colorful and Competitive Formation
I don’t recall ever seeing my father paint, but I knew he was a competent artist. He’d occasionally pull out a sketchbook and whip off a drawing, displaying a proficiency that I deeply admired. As a self-employed architect, he often produced detailed and precise watercolor renderings to dazzle prospective clients. I’d sometimes see the end result hanging in his office or briefly in our home before being squirreled away somewhere. Art, however, was not something that Dad actively pursued. When flattered, he would quickly scoff at his abilities and claim they were quite lacking when compared to those of his father or brother. So, we were delighted when we came across the invaluable stockpile.
A diehard Buckeye, Dad always spoke fondly of his days at OSU. My mother, sister, and I all attended OSU’s arch-rival, the University of Michigan. Dad staunchly defended his decision to attend his father’s alma mater and throughout the 1970s when the two football teams faced off at the end of November, he’d invite his Michigan and OSU friends to gather in our living room and watch Woody Hayes give Bo a good pounding.
On several occasions, Dad talked about a fine arts class that he’d greatly appreciated. The students were given a subject and then had 15 minutes to produce a light sketch. The rest of the class time was spent hastily applying watercolor. The tempo of the exercise silenced Dad’s inner critic while the challenge fortified his competitive spirit. After a lifetime of hearing my father tell that story, I was now, at the age of 55, seeing the fruits of that formative semester for the first time.
A Daughter’s Curation
I love the paintings not only for their artistry but for what they say about my father as a human being. When I look at these pieces, I see not only a pleasing arrangement of color but also the fingerprint of a young man putting the finishing touches on the course he plans to take through life. Still in his early 20s, Dad was already the man he would become.
Below, I’ve created a gallery to display a portion of Dad’s work. If you’re interested, I’ve provided a brief annotation of each piece but to access my interpretation, you have to click on the image and then click on the circled i to read what I’ve written. Once in this mode, you can cycle through the pictures and annotations without returning to the main article. Each painting also provides a place for you to add your own comment. My sister intends to weigh in so you’ll also be able to read her remarks as well. If you have time, I hope you’ll share your impressions.