In the Beginning
Saturday mornings at my father’s first architectural office on Huron Avenue. Happiness. In bliss. Typewriter, refillable drawing pens, mechanical pencils with removable lead, jars jammed full with colored pencils, designers’ special markers, and reams of blank paper. My chair pulled up tight to a makeshift drafting table, while I balanced on a stack of Boston telephone books. There was excitement in watching letters, and then words, multiply on the paper’s virgin landscape. At my fingertips, too, were interchangeable typeface balls that clicked into place in the heart of the electric IBM. These variations on 10- and 12-point type could easily satisfy fickle preference for fancy or plain, serif or sans serif.
Shoeboxes loaded with crayons and paints were staples at our house. Standard entertainment was practicing the alphabet, my early written vocabulary, and drawing, drawing, drawing. Remnant survivors are colorful reminder of the artistic nurturing that is a part of my parents’ legacy.
In spite of this early orientation to paper and what could be put on it, when asked the inevitable adult question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I answered at the age of five, “A nurse.” At eight, although I was the only dancing “leaf” to flutter stage-left instead of stage-right, I dreamt of being a ballerina en pointe. By the age of twelve I had devoured dozens of biographies for young girls about famous women. These included the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, our country’s first woman doctor. It was Elizabeth’s unerring commitment to her heart’s desire that most captured my attention.
A drawing pad and pen soon proved to be my adolescent sanctuary of choice: an 11″x14″ spiral-bound, blank-page notebook and Rapidograph pen went with me everywhere. Those were silent years; my conversations were on paper, in an abstract language of geometrics.
I conjured up a mission for myself: to study the shapes of crab claws and horseshoe crabs. Nantucket winters can be brutally damp, cold and windy. The loneliness of the abandoned beach suited me. And the beach was littered with subjects for my study. Before long I had filled pages in my notebook with pen-and-ink and ink brushed recordings.
Drawing without looking at a page, I could dissolve into the shape of any one of my treasures, give myself to it. Feel the circumference. Its dimensions. The lines. The line. I was in love with the elegance of a gently curved line. A devotion to finding a relationship between pen, paper, hand, eye, and shape had become the center of my life.
Psychologist and Jungian analyst, James Hillman, writes about the “acorn theory” of the soul’s code, or how we might settle upon meaningful work in our adulthood. This meaningful work, or that which gives one a sense of “what was meant to be,” manifests from those playful activities that so totally engaged us as children.
Shape and color on paper were my childhood play and then the safety net that gave me a focus during adolescence. Now it is a means of my livelihood. It is as if I were an apprentice in training all those years, experimenting with composition and design, learning to recognize visual balance. There is a gut-level gratification each day. I have searched for the ‘right job’, exploring a myriad of vocational possibilities and finally landed right back where I started: with paper, ink, and pages full of colorful arrangements.