Tales of a Traveling Airbrush

When I write up one of my more memorable masterpieces, or some of my various memories, I will post them here for you to enjoy. Comments are welcome; I'll try to reply.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008


“What’cha doing?” I asked innocently in an effort to start the phone conversation.
“Oh, David,” My mother replied, “I’ve been having the most wonderful time.”
She went on to explain that during a recent visit, my sister had bagged up a bunch of clutter from the attic but before the bags were carted off to the dumpster, my mother wanted to have a look inside. If her enthusiasm was any clue, the discovery she made was significant. Next came the announcement that she had found all the sheet music from when she was in the quartet “The Melodears” in Chicago back in the mid-forties, before she met my dad. Walking on air, she was leafing through the cherished musical scores, reliving memories of her youth and singing those wonderful songs.
“What timing,” I thought as I listened to her happy story. She went on to tell me that she had also found a music professor at a university that was interested in having the antique sheet music for their collection.
“That,” she said, “is much better than having all this wonderful music landing in a dumpster.”
The pleasant surprise of finding my mother so elated heightens my gratitude. I am very fortunate to have such a sweet, joy filled mother, looking for the beauty that surrounds her everyday. My interest piqued, after a moment I asked when her love for music began and about some of the memorable achievements along the way. Perusing the thought, she then giggled and began to tell me a story.
The first official announcement of her career intentions occurred during the height of the great depression in her homeroom class. The teacher went around the room asking each student what he or she wanted to do with their life. When her turn came she said “I want to sing” and the whole class burst out laughing.
Starting with voice lessons, soon she was in both chorus at school and choir at church and sang occasional solos. Soon with her long time friend Amy, she was part of a duet.
After High School she attended the Sherwood Music School where she had received a scholarship. At the first FM radio station in Chicago she was the program director with an emphasis on selecting peppy, vocal free music for her program “Music for War Workers” from a library of 78rpm records and even larger commercial discs.
While at the radio station she sang in a trio at church. Encouraged by one of her friends, an audition downtown secured a position for a rigorous season with the Municipal Opera of St Louis, where the company performed a new operetta every week.
After that, a tour with the Chicago Popular Opera Company took her on the road all over the country and to Denver where the company fizzled out.
Back in Chicago, an audition with an agent started a tour of state fairs and school assembly programs with the “Charm Quartet,” a trio of vocalists with a piano.
Becoming independent, the group became the “Melodears’ and at a church mortgage burning celebration she met the student intern assistant to the pastor who ended up also being invited to the choir party later on, but he would need a ride, so since my mom had a car, the girls went to pick him up and the rest is history.
As the wife of a pastor, my mother also became the choir director of the church. During thirteen years with the Civic opera in Springfield, Ohio, she sang the lead roles in two operas: ”Samantha Southwick” and “Old Maid and the Thief” and supporting roles in all the others. One of my favorite memories is that of waking as a child to the sweet melody that slowly drifted upstairs and into my waking consciousness every morning. Mom would arise early to practice her scales at the piano each morning. This early imprint must surely have something to do with my continual enthusiasm for the morning and the attitude of expectancy for all that the new day brings.
She taught piano as head of the junior piano department at Wittenberg University for eleven years and later when we moved to Bloomington Indiana she taught piano and voice as well as when we lived in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
When my folks built their retirement home in the Ozarks of Arkansas, piano playing and singing continued. She remembers her voice teacher back in Chicago telling her “if you take care of yourself, you will still be singing at sixty five” At sixty six she started her role as the paid soloist at the Christian Science church and continued in that role for twenty years. She is still singing, as a testimony of the joy in her heart, at eighty-six.
My mother provided a tremendous amount of encouragement for me. She still does. When I was a child it was my mother that noticed I had a gift. I never had coloring books; she bought blank sketch books, and signed me up for drawing and painting workshops. Busy with creative projects, realizing that I was gifted never occurred to me. When the other kids in the neighborhood would ask if I would paint a “thus and such” for them, I’d say “yeah,” but the whole time I was painting for them, I’d be thinking, “Why don’t they just do it themselves?”
My mother’s example makes me think back and be grateful for the sequence of events that molded my career. As a teen, I apprenticed the sign painting trade, a trade that is extinct today, but it gave me the wet blend brush painting techniques, lettering and layout skills that are part of what sets Letterfly apart from the rest today. The years as a carnival painter gave me a unique outlet to paint large entertaining scenic displays, fanciful enticing designs and food art of all types and, perhaps most valuable of all, effective marketing savvy at the grass roots level.
My goal of becoming the best sign painter in Jackson, Michigan was realized with the last three jobs being gold leaf signage on window glass coinciding with the computer beginning to take over that trade twenty years ago.
Fortunately, having a hand with an airbrush qualified me to excel in another genre; the fad of painting murals on motor homes had just begun. I moved into my RV full time and chased motor homes all over the country for nine years, completing a large body of work and accumulating the reputation that attracted the attention of the largest RV dealership in the country, which was in the midst of creating the “Disney World” of RV destinations. Having an artist in residence was part of their vision.
The endless stream of motor home customers lead to other opportunities. One had a Harley-Davidson dealership in Iowa. I was asked to travel and create mega murals inside and outside of their store. That started a series of motorcycle dealership mural painting projects across the country. While at these state of the art retail motorcycle dealerships, the art of hand painted pinstriping, a skill I had been trained in as a youth, was rekindled and started an endless stream of old school bike designs, flames and brush painted images of all kinds.
As the years go by and I grow artistically, spiritually and emotionally, my motive changes. At one time I was ego driven to be the greatest I could be. Now I realize that true satisfaction is the byproduct of being of service to others. My passion for painting is evidenced by the amount of completed work that continues to this day. With each passing year, the old time pinstripers and airbrush artists diminish, leaving a market to an elite few artisans that thrive creating art in the centuries old tradition to an audience that has been heightened to appreciate its uniqueness by the reality motorcycle TV shows. Like my mothers career unfolding one decade at a time, a sequence of events continues to unfold into mine.
Noticing my mother’s relentless singing, optimism and efforts to inspire others around her provides me with clarity. My goal is to be a true blessing to others and to have fun, while interacting with them and sharing the gift I have received from a heavenly source and strive to create memories for other people to cherish and enjoy. As I pause this day to appreciate the beauty I am surrounded with and the wonderful people I am of service to, the peace increases the level of joy in my heart and I feel like singing a happy tune, just like my mother.
I am glad I called.


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