I was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan where water flows from Lake Superior to the lower lakes and basso-profundo steamship whistles echoed through the elms. Our only riches were the books in the attic. My favorite: Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, whose drawings and antique prose won me to chivalric romance. N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Scribner’s glowed with color and life. Both won me to swordplay. We also swam in local history, sleeping with the peaveys in a loggers’ bunkhouse on Sugar Island, paddling pulp-log rafts out into the ship channel.
I was not built to spectate. I conducted 78 rpm symphonies, took awful risks with lath swords, and imitated Walt Disney on paper. I studied the old masters in a black-and-white print catalog until the “Art Train” came to town with real Canalettos, Claude-Lorrains, a Turner. That was it: I would be a painter, getting my first oils at 15. The facts of life said otherwise.
During the fifties the industries closed; by 1960, unemployment stalked the streets. “The Soo” shrank to a tourist town. Above hung the draft and Viet Nam. I was told “Go to college and get a real career… somewhere else.” Accepted by five colleges, I couldn’t afford any.
But a last-minute full-tuition scholarship got me into the local two-year “Soo Tech.” I did free-lance art, re-created the the college paper, taught the journalism course and won a scholarship to the University of Michigan. But after one year, I transferred back to what was now the four-year Lake Superior State College. I minored in theatre, designed a restaurant and a tourist mall, sold two paintings in a campus one-man show, got deeply into fencing and lost my shirt in an “olde-tyme” print shop/newspaper. I finished my BA in 1969, but the draft and Viet Nam were still waiting.
I enlisted for four years in the Coast Guard, having finished college with five big problems. The Coast Guard solved all of them. During two years as an electrician on a West Pacific freighter, I learned the love of the sea and a thousand things one can only learn on shipboard or climbing Mt. Fuji. Back home I finished my hitch as a journalist while helping coach fencing at LSSC. The Coast Guard even sent me to the 1973 Nationals.
Finally free to pursue my dreams, I went to U-M art school. I did well but the GI Bill wasn’t enough to finish the BFA. Resolving to work in art if only on the ground floor, I was soon doing advertising design, illustration, photography and writing. I became Creative Director of a small Ann Arbor agency, hiring artists with BFAs. I fenced hard and co-founded the Ann Arbor Sword Club. I went deeper into photography, touring Scotland. In the SCA I did manuscript illumination, fought in armor and played leader. I became a medieval scholar, giving papers and getting published.
In 1989 things got tough; I went free-lance. In 2012, when commercial work slowed again, I tried painting full time. Did a couple of small shows before getting into the big Ann Arbor fair. Doing five shows a year for five years, I didn’t sell as much as I had hoped. Now, in 2017, I have re-evaluated my approach.