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Sunday, May 5, 2013

What time IS it? Time to STIR WHAT YOU GOT

Yes I am still around. Been in the throes of some major adjustments in my world.

Since the beginning of this year, I have resigned as manager of Blues Alley, liquidated most of my better, higher–end merchandise on Ebay, moved and improved our Friday music jam to a new venue at the Filling Station Diner, installed a major bronze monument of Frank Hamer in front of the Navasota City Hall, designed another monument for another local public building, taught some outdoor painting workshops, begun to teach myself how to play the bass guitar, read eight or nine books on the Texas Rangers while researching future projects, started a whole new line of thought and creation in my art using action figures, (very significant!) and placed my major works for sale at Tokoly’s French Market in downtown Navasota.

This assembly of figures shows the current project I am designing... a major work featuring Jehanne d' Arc.

Yes, I have a GREAT life, am very blessed in many ways, and I know it. And in all of these things I have partners who help me achieve these goals, to which I will always be indebted. You know who you are.


I also spent several days repairing my murals and sculptures at Neal Elementary in Bryan. These are the works that really got the ball rolling for me sixteen years ago.  It was this high profile contract that lifted me out of the status of local Navasota artist, and eventually earned me several coveted projects. It was a real pleasure to reconnect with that school, its faculty and its legacy under the direction of Principal and visionary Linda Asberry. And it gave me a time of retrospection, and cause to think a lot.

Sometimes that is a good thing.

The school is nestled in a more or less “ethnic” neighborhood, and the theme of the art, six large installations  throughout the campus,  is Multiculturalism; Huge walls illustrating the various Continents of the earth, showcasing the peoples and wildlife of our planet.  Anchoring it all stands a thirteen foot- tall fiberglass interpretation of the Statue of Liberty. This project basically gave me a crash course preparing me for the coming projects of the next two decades in other schools, universities and museums.

And for sixteen years those sculptures and murals have been creating a wonderful, artistic, inspiring environment for the kids of north Bryan.  I sometimes wonder what my ancestors, all slave-owners, and buried just a few blocks away would say.  And I hope to have that celestial conversation some day. I have spent a good portion of my career trying to inspire and help educate many of the very descendants of the people my ancestors forbid to be educated.  And I pray this is symbolic of a regional shift in race relations, regardless of what I hear on television.  Hopefully the kids are receiving the blessing in spite of the perceptions of many of their parents.  

They are the kids who will grow up to be our next generation of Americans, proud of their cultural identities and hopefully proud of the country that has provided them a place to grow their dreams.  Every day for sixteen years Lady Liberty has thrust her torch right through the ceiling rafters, beckoning and pleading…  
”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

I will never forget when I finished that part.  It was one of my last tasks before I was done with the whole job. I went and got Mrs. Asberry to make sure it met with her approval.  I’m not sure if she was tearing up, but I was. She stood, as if she was an immigrant looking up at the one in New York. Somehow, it was breathtaking, if only because her dreams had actually materialized.  And it was just the beginning.  She has since had the prestige of her campus being recognized for its excellence more than once, by the folks that actually count… not to mention the love she shares daily with the most well-behaved children and loyal faculty I have ever seen. 

The teachers tell me many people rave about the overall look of the school, how they host an International festival every year with the murals as a natural backdrop, and how the kids are, for the most part very appreciative of the art. I know this is true, because they have always whispered sweet little adorations as they walk by me, hands clasped behind, as I work.

Most of the damage to the art was from everyday touching and the routine scuffs and wangs from janitorial activity. I built most of the sculptures out of steel and fiberglass, to reduce destruction, but failed to ever figure out how to successfully implement the highly experimental foam constructions as conceived by the architect.  He was determined to utilize new cutting-edge technologies that made foam durable and supposedly kid-proof, but I never, to this day have found such products on the market. Where there was foam, there was serious need for repair. Two-part epoxy putty has now made those areas the strongest links in this glorious chain of art on a campus that everybody still needs to see. This is what schools should all look like.

I was telling a friend the other day about a wonderful speech Linda (my wife) and I heard at our High School graduation. An esteemed educator gave a wonderful lesson about succeeding in life after High School, explaining that he had learned to follow his mother’s wise advice to learn to “Stir what you got.” It wasn’t education that would insure our success, but resourcefulness. We never forgot that advice.

Learn to be grateful for what you have, and wherever you find yourself, whatever the circumstances, assess your strengths and assets and make the most of them, no matter how bleak things appear, and MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT GOD HAS PROVIDED YOU. No pouting or blaming or seeking excuses. All of those things lead to failure. Take responsibility for yourself, be realistic and gather yourself and push yourself to your limits. That will lead to success, if it is attainable.

Mrs. Asberry, a young principal with a big dream, but trapped in a dingy inner-city school which was about to be closed down, was given the exciting task of building a brand new school, from scratch. She wanted lots of beautiful, inspiring art throughout her new dream school, but there was no money in the budget for that. She did not take no for an answer. Soon the architect found a way; Eliminate something else to make room for the expenses of the murals and sculptures, projected to cost around 10-12 thousand dollars. They redesigned and lost all the ceiling tiles and metal grid in the halls and the central library. They painted the exposed utilities in the ceiling space above with bright colors, making a gigantic, continuous, contemporary sculpture overhead. The plumbing was red, the AC ducts were ochre, the electrical blue, etc.  And with the fabulous walls adorned with life-sized elephants and Inca ruins and snow- capped peaks, nobody ever notices what is up there anyway. Mrs. Asberry had learned to stir what she got.  Sixteen years later, she still has the most inspiring educational facility in Brazos County, if not in all of Texas.

Soon the commissions lined up, and I was doing similar things at Mitchell Elementary and Cypress Grove Intermediate in Bryan-College Station, and at Washington on the Brazos State Park, and Houston Baptist University, Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, and Bluebell Creamery and on and on.

So as I am pushing Sixty, I am thinkin’… how well have I stirred… what could I, should I stir up with what I have got. The energy and time I have got… And so I am going to move into an arena where I have always belonged but never really went because of all the commercial gigs that have kept me busy (and eating)  for these past sixteen years. The recent sculpture projects have taught me one MAJOR thing, and that is I did not dream big enough. There was more to stir than I thought. I sold myself cheap… perhaps sold myself, and God’s plan for me short, because I did not dare to do what Mrs. Asberry did. Instead I settled and quit dreaming my own dreams, I focused on making other’s dreams come to fruition.

So there is no time like the present.  Actually there is no time BUT the present!

And dreams DO come true… Read on…

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