On Beginnings


Dark wood paneling. That’s what I remember first. The staple ornament of a million homes in the early 70’s, behind a green couch of some industrial-grade fabric, next to a bulbous and gaudy lamp.

I was just a child when the curtain raised on the artistic stage of my life — a full three decades after dad’s. A canvas curtain, that is, placed there in front of me by him after months of work in his studio downstairs. And raising in front of me, I felt the stirring of a seed turning over under six young years of soil, introducing me to artistic intrigue and frustration all in the same moment.

He placed the painting on the couch and turned his attention to conversation with the grownups. They arrived with their congratulations to share in the unveiling of his first painting. Their voices faded into white noise while I silently mouthed the big red words painted on her starboard side.

“…Tashmoo.” What a weird word to my barely-reading mind.


My eyes moved over the painting until they fell over something that wouldn’t release them: the shadows from her funnels. Or, rather, how they rested on her smoke stacks (intrigue). “…how did he do that?” (frustration).

As I remember it now, this was the first time in my life I parlayed with Creativity. It would leave its indelible mark and increase its iron grip, establishing itself as a thing forever just out of reach. I’ll never forget that moment because I feel it every single time I wrestle with an illustration, a sentence, or a design. It’s not critical — not in the negative sense anyway. It’s evasive. It’s a cat-and-mouse game to this day, and has the unmistakable energy of something that wants me to succeed.

That was the beginning of his professional career as a Great Lakes historian and maritime artist. It was my beginning too.

All that from shadows.