By the time I was ten, I received my first set of oil paints, and lessons too! I can't remember the old gentleman's name, but my parents learned of a man who offered beginning oil-painting lessons, and for a time, I studied with him on Saturday mornings producing a few simple, yet lovely, still-life paintings. In fourth grade, my favorite school teacher of all my years in public school, Carol Baker, noted my artistic potential and passion, and she paid for after-school oil-painting lessons for me with her friend and fellow faculty-member, Mr. Maxwell. She took the lessons with me, and it was great fun to create the same painting with my favorite teacher. At about thirteen, I was introduced at our church camp to Mrs. Leah Rowland, a fine oil landscape painter who lived in Monterey, California. She was happy to give me a few lessons as well, and I felt I was finally beginning to understand some time-tested techniques for painting in oils.
I made a bee-line for Mrs. Toni Anderson when I registered for classes as a sophomore at Hoover High School in Fresno, California. I was a straight-A student who loved to read, and I was a bit competitive about my grades. (For example, I wasn't a bit happy just earning an "A" on a class test, or for the final semester grade. If it wasn't the HIGHEST "A" in the class, I felt I had failed. Goodness!) I felt I could finally afford to "coast" a bit when it came to my studies in high school, and at last put time and energy into my artistic efforts. Fortunately, Mrs. Anderson loved me as much as I grew to love her! I took the basic drawing class from her that year, 1976, the year of the Bicentennial.
One assignment however, bothered me. We were to sketch a patriotic design on a large sheet of paper on which a city bus was already printed in thick bold lines. We were asked to create designs for both sides, and the back of the bus. I thought the assignment was "lame" and decided not to put any effort into it. That is, until we arrived in class one morning two weeks later, and were told our bicentennial bus designs would be REQUIRED at the end of class the following day, for a major grade. (Gulp! How had I not understood that?) I ran to the Library, developing a design idea on the run ... literally. I made quick but carefully rendered drawings of famous American buildings, in the shape of the word: "A-M-E-R-I-C-A" on one side of the bus, and put a large beautifully billowing American flag on the other side. It was all I could come up with on my self-imposed "short notice,” and I was pretty relieved when I turned it in, however, I surely did not expect a good grade by any means!
Had I not been listening when the assignment was given? (Probably not! I was a bit “boy-crazy" at the age of sixteen, and I think I missed a "bit" of instruction from my educators!) It turned out, this assignment was not just for a grade ... it was a Fresno City school-wide competition! The winner would have their design painted on a city bus that would be featured everywhere, all over the city of Fresno during the entire year of the Bicentennial celebration!
Several weeks passed, and one day I went to school as usual, no big plans for the day. Imagine my shock, as I sat quietly listening in my 1st-period advisory class to the announcements from the school's administrative office over the intercom system: "And big congratulations go to Ruth Andrews for her big win in the Fresno City Schools Bicentennial Bus Design Contest!" I just about fell off my chair. (Mrs. Anderson informed me of the details once I got to my art class, and she gushed all over me. I had won first place out of 7,000 entries from schools all over the city! Oh my! It was my very first introduction to the "fame circuit." I had breakfast with the Mayor, received a key to the city, and a very nice U.S. Savings Bond which I used to purchase my first SLR-camera a few years later in college. I was all over the news and the newspapers. I guess you could say I knew that, yes ... yes indeed, I was born to be an artist!
Even Mrs. Anderson paid a bit more attention to me after that. When I registered for my art class at mid-year of my sophomore year, I had begged her to offer an oil-painting class. She told me she'd think about it. Watercolor was her forte and she urged me to sign up and "try it!" She just knew I'd love it. I did, but only because she taught it, and I adored her. I really did not care for the medium of watercolor, and sadly, I was at a stage of life many teens journey through. It's called the “I-know-everything-and-you-don't" stage of life. I knew I wanted to be an oil-painter. Watercolor was for other people. Not me.
Oh, I did the work. I learned the basics. I was even awarded special recognition for one of my watercolors, when it was submitted to the California State Governor's Exhibit. My watercolor painting of a barn hung for several months inside the private office of Governor Jerry Brown, whom I then got to meet at a big reception in Sacramento. My oils were my first love though, and I would rush home after school to paint, and gratefully breathe in the linseed oil and Turpenoid. (I had allergic reactions to actual turpentine which gives me wicked headaches.)
Finally, at the start of my junior year, as I was registering for Mrs. Anderson's art class, she surprised me: she was actually offering an oil-painting class -- the first she had ever taught! I was elated! By my senior year, her oil-painting class had become so popular, she had to rearrange her teaching schedule to accommodate two oil-painting classes every day. She also moved me to 7th-period: "Independent Study Oil." Why? Because I loved creating very detailed, highly realistic "Trompe l'oiel" still-life paintings, depicting water-drops on pieces of fruit ... and other art students would often come into the big art class-room, glance over at my painting and despair that "someone had spilled water on my painting." Seeing no-one around, they would then wipe off my still-wet painted water-drops! At that, Mrs. Anderson began storing my paintings in the back storage/office room overnight. I still laugh at that memory!
I love my remembrances of becoming an artist! I had the perfect parents as a child, people who took the time to notice the hopes and dreams of their children — their individual gifts and talents — their desired wishes to learn and become unique. My older sister is practically a piano-virtuoso, and my younger sister is a fantastic flute-player, and studied under a flute-teacher who had been a student of Jean-Pierre Rampal! My older brother taught himself to play a 12-string guitar, and wrote fantastic music and lyrics. Our younger brother was also very musical, and exceptional with "numbers." It was our parents who discovered all of these abilities, and helped us to make the most of them. I praise my Mom and Dad for truly helping to shape the people they brought into this world, with financial backing for lessons of all sorts, constant encouragement, love and support, not to mention the “taxi-service” our Mom provided, taking their five children to and from many types of lessons, and events. Oh, and the art supplies I received for Christmases, birthdays, Easter, “whenever!” I never lacked for any art tool I wanted to try. Thanks, Mom and Dad! You're wonderful, and you get all the credit for helping me realize my childhood dream. I AM an artist!