The joy of being an artist

 ... one has to measure success by other definitions

by Don Norris

Ipswich River bridge.

I didn't make a million dollars on my art. Maybe $5000 over a lifetime. But that doesn't mean I'm not a success. At least in my mind.

That's because I enjoy art so much. Both as a spectator and an artist. There was a time that, at age 50, my membership at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was as "Working Artist". Ironically I made my living with another love: writing -- I also got into the stockmarket, and that was fun too.

I burned my first novel. One rejection slip and I burned it. It was also my last novel.

But in the meantime, lots of publishers have paid nicely for my stuff. But I'd love to have the same notoriety as an artist.

My older brother used to draw when we were kids, and I guess that's why I picked it up. We drew pictures all through schools, and both of us eventually became the favorite of most of the art teachers. Teacher's pet. The right end on the football team was the art teacher's pet.

Once, during my senior year at Melrose High, my dad told me I was headed for college. No question, it was a statement. I expected it, because I was in the college course. A 'B' student. So I offered that I'd really like to go the the Museum School in Boston. And he had a fit. So I ended up at Tufts where I studied, um, government and international law, three or four foreign languages -- and attended night classes at the Museum School.

Six years ago a new writer on the Mirror staff, Natalie Thomson, wanted an illustration for a poem she had done. It was a good poem, and it made one laugh. So I spent an afternoon coming up with this piece. It dealt with an afternoon travelog, from Melrose to North Woburn, by bus.

But then most of us were amateurs then, although I had already spent twenty years on various publications, learning the trade. So it was a fun thing to be asked to do a cartoon. I think I enjoyed creating it more than Natalie had in receiving it.

Trouble was, we didn't have much circulation in those days, so not many people got to see my work, either written or drawn. In 1996 there were computers in maybe ten or 15 percent of Melrose households. And our sponsor, MIT, was shooting for a world-wide audience.

Back in 1980, I thought I'd try my artwork again. I joined a bunch of really good Melrose artists (we called ourselves the Atelier) and we worked together, out in the field, and we supported each other. That was when I sold a pile of paintings and in four years I managed to pay taxes on $4000.

I don't think I ever quit drawing or painting. There was a time in the eighties when I had a Volkswagen Kombi, and I'd take off by myself, up to New Hampshire or Maine or Vermont, and paint for days on end. I even won a $400 grant from the Melrose Arts Council one year to paint where many of the old Gloucester painters stayed in winter -- northern Vermont.

Boy, that was great. The council had told me that my stuff was good, and that they would support me and my work. That support was so important, to me, and to dozens of other recipients.

Well, I'm in my seventies now, and my paints have dried out, my brushes are all brittle. Although the set-up is still right where I left it 20 years ago, I just don't have the drive to paint anymore. In spite of the fact that my wife, Lorry, pushes me now, more than ever, to go back to painting.

I am surrounded by my work, however. At least I am surrounded by the pieces that I never sold -- there must be 20 or 30 around here. It has been a good full life, and I'm really glad that I took up art as a kid. It gave me a whole different outlook on the world; I just wish I had pushed my children in that direction.

The old Rowe Quarry works in Saugus is gone now.

August 6, 2004

You can search below for any word or words in all issues of the Melrose Mirror.
| Return to section | The Front Page | Write to us |

Write to us