The Making of an Artist

Brian J. Sullivan

After receiving an inordinate amount of emails concerning my earlier childhood, I've decided to dispel some myths about my formal schooling.

It's funny how we remember certain things from our childhood and how the course of events may have influenced us to become the persons we are.

Take me for instance: my earliest memory of any creative significance was when I was in the second grade. I don't remember my teacher's name or any of my fellow classmates. However, I do remember the old metal desk with the wooden top which would lift upward and allowed storage of one's books inside it. When in the up position, two large hinges opened which I had turned into a crayon compressor. Throughout the day I would collect stubs of differently colored crayons. At an opportune time, I would raise my desk top, place several pieces of crayons between the hinges, and then close the top. When I opened it up again, "voilĂ ," a single multi-colored crayon! I made them for all the kids since they could not figure out how to make them themselves. After a while I was caught by the teacher and made to stand in the corner. There would be no rogue creativity in this classroom! Can you believe I almost flunked 2nd grade because of this!

Much to my disappointment, there were no wooden top desks in 3rd grade so I channeled my creative energy into making masks and cereal box advertising items. While the other students were entertained by my forte, the teacher was not impressed. Her idea of an art project was to mimeograph some animal pictures once a week and have us color them in. Then for the next several weeks we had to look at them as they were taped up all along the walls. Those who expressed dissidence were given a thorough washing out of the mouth with a bar of soap. This quickly silenced any more idle talk of creating real art.

During my 4th and 5th grade in school, I had the misfortune of being under the Nazi commander, Mrs. Yeager. She was a stout German lady of over 250 pounds with more body hair than I had at the time. Her diplomacy tactics were legendary. She instilled fear by sheer intimidation, and if that did not work, she had compliance methods which left no marks. One of her favorite techniques was to grab you by the upper ear and twist it while she walked you around. Everyone cracked under the "twist" and she got her results.

For all her rigid disciplinary tendencies, she was also very supportive of the arts and did art projects which would last all day. For one Mother's Day project, we each made a nice stained wooden jewelry box which we felt-lined and to which we added glass cabochons. During one such art class, a boy named Steven decided it would be funny to place a tack on someone's seat. Needless to say he did not think it so funny when Mrs. Yeager placed a chair up in front of the class, placed a tack on it and with her full body weight proceed to set Steven down into the chair. Wow! Upon Mrs. Yeager's recommendation, my parents were convinced to send me to art summer camp at the Milwaukee Art Museum for two summers in a row.

So now you know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on how I became an artist.