My Personal Board of Directors: Charles R. Marriott

One of the best moves I made on the 17th of October 1972 – the day I decided to start keeping a journal, and though I’d had several false starts during high school I’ve been able to keep writing ever since that day forty-seven years ago. I started out using a blank book, then switched to typewritten pages during my bicycle penance and eventually made the jump to digital media in 1986. At one time I would write at least weekly but since I started blogging I add to my journal maybe once a quarter. I’ve never begrudged the time and effort in all that writing, my only regret being that I didn’t start and continue when I first got the idea in the fall of 1969; had I done so I would have had more information with which to write about Charles Rodney Marriott.

Thought I only knew him for nine months, Marriott definitely holds a seat in my personal Board of Directors, and by that I mean that group of adult men who advised and coached me through the rough spots and junctures in life and in general made up for the lack of guidance from my own family. I shy away from the word “mentor” as the only Mentor I knew of was a member of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents – a Tower Comics character of minor interest, being one of the second string of heroes ignored in favor of everyone’s favorite Dynamo. I learned the meaning of the word when I reached college but the definition was confusing – the idea of someone actually taking time with me was utterly foreign. It was also a word used overmuch and without a lot of real thought by people that I should have been able to trust, so I’ve adopted the “board of directors” to use instead.

Charles Rodney Marriott was a former Marine hired as an English instructor at Kenai Central High School in the fall of 1969, having served for thirty years and retiring as a warrant officer after having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a service brat I was happy to have him as an instructor but looking back it was an unusual choice on the part of the school district given the unrest over the war in Vietnam and changes in society in general.

It was a time for interesting changes in our own little academic world as well: that fall the English classes were radically re-organized for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that, students were free to put together their own program. Marriott was my instructor for two classes: Newspapers & Magazines during the second nine week grading period and Motion Pictures for the fourth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Newspapers & Magazines class other than we each would be getting copies of Time magazine and the New York Times national edition each week. I assumed that we’d just be reading articles and making reports on what we read so I was surprised when he showed up for the first class pushing a film projector into the classroom. We then spent the next week watching movies about the production and dissemination of propaganda. The films were ‘50s era productions made by the Department of Defense to counter Communist propaganda but despite the hyperbole they were effective in teaching us about propaganda techniques such as “Glittering Generalities”, “Jumping on The Bandwagon” and “Poisoning the Well” that are found in propaganda from both sides of the political spectrum – but I was truly baffled when the films stopped as I had no idea what we’d be doing for the other eight weeks of the grading period.

That’s when we went back to those issues of Time and the New York Times; we took the propaganda techniques we learned about in the films and tried to find examples in the news stories…and were collectively horrified to find those tricks and techniques in all the stories. We expanded our search to other publications and found that the pattern continued, and Mr. Marriott would have us discuss what we found while managing to stay fairly objective about what we found.

It was at this point in my life that I stopped taking news reports at face value and started to analyze each message as best I could as a sixteen year old from Sterling, Alaska. Even now I mentally filter every new story I watch or read through those analytical tools, tools that eventually got me starting to seriously think about intelligence and security careers in the military.

(OK, OK so it really all started with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriyakin from The Man from UNCLE but Marriott’s class was a BIG plus!.)

As he was one of a team teaching the Motions Pictures class took from him later in the spring he didn’t have quite the same impact but he still would take time to talk to me personally about my life and my future plans involving military service – I think my status as a Navy service brat made it a little easier for him to be candid with me. Unfortunately a low grade classroom scandal about R-rated cartoons a student drew on a chalkboard prevented him from gaining tenure and he left KCHS rather precipitously after just one year, not even leaving a photo in the yearbook at his departure.

I saw him just one more time when he stopped by the locker room during two-a-day football practice the following August and for the next almost-50 years I had no idea what happened to him until I started research for this post. It turned out that he married Ruth Kilcher (pop star Jewel’s grandmother) and ended up living less than twenty miles from me when we lived in Knoxville until he passed away in 2005. Finding that out was a little tough to deal with, knowing that as I was teaching my teen-age sons about analyzing news stories for propaganda techniques the guy that taught me literally lived just over the river and through the woods. I would have loved introducing my sons to him.

…and I hope that as he read those local newspapers, magazines and watched local TV coverage he may have seen the stories that were written about our “family of artists”. I hope he was able to connect the dots and figure out who I was, and able to feel a measure of pride and credit for the contribution he made in my life.

     (Special Thanks to Glenn Tauriainen for assistance in research for this story)

2010: Aces High

2010-02-01a Aces High 2010-02-01b Aces High 3D

This is starting to take on psychoanalytic significance. Three of my best cut-paper sculpts involve a platinum-tressed beauty rejecting/striking/spurning/ignoring a male. It’s a mystery – I grew up as the only son in a family of seven and I’ve been happily married for over forty-two years so as a rule I’m comfortable around the double X component of the human race. I am baffled to think that some unresolved gender-related issue is chipping away at my subconscious mind.

This composition dates back ten years ago when I was teaching at Nossi College of Art when it started out as a demonstration for an alternative mediums class. I really didn’t set out with a set composition or theme other than poking fun at the whole 1960’s macho secret agent motif.

( …mostly I just wanted to make something that looked cool!)

 Technical notes: cut-paper sculpture measuring 14”X20” (my favorite format/size for CPS). The red bustier is made from paper I’d marbleized during a previous class demonstration. The image on the left has been shot in the anaglyphic process so if you have a pair of those red/blue glasses the image will appear dimensional .This work also has the dubious distinction of being the last CPS I was able to make without worrying overmuch about paper stock. While the Nashville metro area is much larger than Knoxville the smaller city has better sources for paper – it was only after we’d lived her for three years that I started running low on my favorite materials.

 

More Workshop Stuff!

timeline photo extract

If truth-in-advertising laws applied to higher education only twelve of the thirty-six months I spent earning my Master of Fine Arts degree would judged as being worth the tuition I paid –  oh, I was busy all the time and made great strides in my work but that success was due primarily to faculty members from other departments, visiting professors and my own hustle. The regular tenured faculty members I had to interact with on a regular basis were less than effective – one professor in particular took great pride in scheduling office hours for the most inconvenient times possible in order to  (and I quote) ” avoid being bothered with those pesky students!”

….however there was one time when she actually did come up with a decent idea when she tasked the members of the graduate seminar to create a autobiographical allegory of our lives in a design motif. I came up with a pretty nifty solution to the assignment and while I don’t have an image immediately available I have a copy of one of the components on hand.

Make that “partial image”.

I’m still trying to get used to this new printer/scanner and I was able to get only a portion of self-portrait time-line from that 1991 project. Hopefully I will quickly get that issue resolved and find a place that still can make a print from a 35mm slide.

…so why am I going to all this trouble? A couple of months ago I wrote that in the wake of not having my contract renewed at the college I was considering conducting workshops just as I did after leaving Nossi College of Art in 2010. I am considering a year-long series of on-line sessions documenting the creation of another allegorical artist autobiography, starting with the initial research and ideation through the construction and display of the final project. As I know just a smidgeon about the way media works on WordPress and even less about Patreon the project won’t be starting for a while yet  – but I think it’s going to be fun.

I look forward to your comments and concepts!

Cathaphract

Cathaphract

…when is a cut-paper sculpture not a cut-paper sculpture?

 That’s a question I answered during the spring of 1989 while teaching an introductory illustration course at Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) in Soldotna, Alaska. One of the last assignments I had the class do illustrate an historical event using cut-paper sculpture. I had fully intended on working alongside the class members  and illustrating a cathaphract (armored horseman) from the Romano-British period  of the 5th century but got stalled on the concept and finished it off in my regular airbrush/paint/pencil illustration technique.

 This painting is the result. It measures 9″X12″ and was rendered on illustration board, I still wince a little when I see it – I had this great idea about using plastic window screen mesh for the chain mail but it would be another fifteen years before my cut-paper skills would be up to the task.

2019: Found Words

Art Appreciation was the class I was least interested in teaching when I first took on college art instruction in the fall of 1988, but as luck would have it was the class I taught most often and eventually my favorite subject to teach. Looking back it should have been no surprise as the course combined two of my academic loves (history and art) but I also enjoyed it for all the new information I picked up on technique and philosophy.

One concept especially interesting to me was the use of found objects – everyday consumer goods, packaging and cast-off items – in work by creators such as proto-Pop artist Joseph C. Cornel. I adapted a modified version of this idea in my own work by recreating combinations of everyday objects from wood, paper and resin and the general idea continues in my work to this day, but since I am more prone now to word-crunching than paint-sloshing I look for found words instead of found objects to use in artistic expression.

Many of these found words I’ve borrowed from foreign languages. While my two sons have been blessed with the gift of tongues, my own foray into linguistics has been tentative at best. I started with German in fifth grade after listening to Wehrmacht troops growl their Teutonic lines on Combat!  and college entrance requirements herded me into Spanish and Spanish II classes in high school. In 1974 my pride earned me a borderline B- in a university Japanese class but for the most part my use of other languages was an occasional word or phrase that added emphasis or humor when needed.

As a teenager and young adult most of those individual words were swear words, and not surprisingly many of them were bogus words that someone had invented1 then passed off as part of another culture’s lexicon. However in the last few years through the debatable miracle of FaceBook I have learned a couple of colorful terms so useful that if not actually part of another language should be declared to be so.

One is kintsukuroi,  a Japanese term that translates as “to repair with gold” and refers to the art or repairing pottery with precious metals with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for being broken and repaired.  Growing up on a frontier meant using things until they wore out and fixing them when they broke and that mindset has stayed with me throughout my life. When we were first married My Beautiful Saxon Princess could never understand why I prized my patched Levi 501’s over my $502 designer Hash jeans with the star embroidered on the butt pocket. It wasn’t until we went through lean times of our own that she began to understand the concept when she saw how I treasured the cut-off jeans I wore every summer in the late 1990s, shorts that I wore not for comfort but for economy  when I took the money I would have otherwise spent on new trousers and used it in getting our sons launched in life.

Hiraeth is a term I’ve just recently discovered and as I understand it comes from the Welsh or one of the other Celtic tongues. It refers to homesickness for a place that you cannot return to, a place that no longer exists or perhaps never was. As we cope with a heat wave that is excessive even for Tennessee while our current society  warps more and more into a condition that I struggle to understand, this word comes to mind quite often, and I long for a place and time that is much cooler in both temperature and temperament.

As for crapulent; yes it is an English word, but is has a Latin root so I include it with my list of found words. I first heard it years ago on a Simpsons episode and while technically it refers to physical suffering from excessive eating or drinking it’s much too useful in describing a general dissatisfaction with daily life – when I wake up to find the last bit of milk left for my Trix has gone sour, my shoelace breaks when tying my shoes and there is a tax audit notice in the mail nothing describes my situation better than to say I’m having a perfectly crapulent day.

Unfortunately one found word that I wish I could un-find is cultural appropriation, a term used in a pejorative manner when referring to the use of words of items normally associated with another group, as in “only a Japanese person should wear a kimono”  or “only a Native American should do voice-over work for an animated Comanche warrior.” While I understand the importance for respect for all cultures I came of an age when more effort was put into being inclusive  rather than divisive – if certain current social trends continue I wonder if there will come a day when I’m judged too melatonin-deficient to love old school R& B or in possession of one too many Y chromosomes to be a true Joni Mitchell fan.

Whatever.

Until that day comes I will continue to borrow and tailor words from all sources to better communicate with and sometimes bring a smile to those around me.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. When I was in fifth grade I was convinced that my sister Robin had invented the word “barf” while my best friend Mark was convinced his older brother had coined the word.

 

  1. …which was serious money in 1977

1973: Main Flare

“How big are the bolts – and while we’re at it how many bolts are there? 12? 16?”

“I dunno Dave. I musta left my calibrated eyeball at home.”

I turned toward Lowell Dean; his red-head’s complexion and twenty + years in the New Mexico sun had transformed the regular features of the young man’s face into an unreadable map of creases and freckles but any scowl I may have glimpsed vanished in a flash. He growled on: “Don’t matter much what size they are – they still have to be changed out and I’d just as soon get ‘er done sooner than later!”

As for me, busting my knuckles with a set of wrenches was no sweat but working right underneath an actively roaring fire was…well, sweaty, and as usual it got me to thinking back at how I managed to end up in this situation.

…three months earlier

I had never anticipated the ending of a school year with as much relish as I did the Spring ’73 Semester at Ricks College. While I had performed well academically, my personal life had been a train wreck in slow motion as my engagement crumbled under intense pressure from my parents and family, and as I have written earlier the transition from the lax standards of a state school to an academic environment with strict dress, grooming and conduct expectations had been stressful enough to trigger hives at one point.

What had been just as difficult was the social stratification issuing from that part of the student population who’d grown up in upper- middle-class white-collar families. Overhearing comments like “It’s just the innate nature of some types of people – something they were born with that keeps them at that lower level” was difficult, but when proto-yuppies would twist scripture to justify social Darwinism (“the poor will always be with us”) my ability to suppress a vomit reflex was sorely tested. However, at this point, none of that mattered. I was home in Alaska and ready to lose myself in work for Chevron USA out at Swanson River.

“ I can’t hire you.”

It was one of maybe three times in my life I failed to have a witty rejoinder locked and loaded and I meekly drifted out of the oil-field office to the car and started the long trip home. I drove most of the way in silent shock: every summer since my fifteenth birthday I had worked through a truly amazing list of job titles starting with “janitor” and running through landscaping, grocery clerk, museum attendant, roofer and construction worker before hitting the jackpot by getting hired as a roustabout for Chevron at the Swanson River oil field the previous summer. Getting rehired was not an automatic thing but when I left the previous August there was no indication that I wouldn’t be asked back and I looked forward to at least four more summers slinging a 36-inch adjustable wrench.

The field foremanWayne had been vague about his reasons, and several times touched on federally mandated minority hiring quotas – and as the composition of the Swanson River workforce rivaled that of Ivory Soap1 I found it hard to fault him. Dad was much less forgiving and viewed the action as payback for his role in an unusually acrimonious contract negotiation earlier in the year. Personally I could care less about motivations – I needed money to go back to school so for the next eight weeks I bounced between rototilling gardens, mopping floors, clearing brush and stocking shelves until I was unexpectedly hired by a general labor outfit supplementing regular Chevron efforts out at the field (Translation: doing all the nasty jobs the regular roustabouts balked at doing.) The job drew a much more rough-around-the-edges kind of guy than usual, but I needed the money and showed up bright and early at the field the next morning ready to work with anyone.

I hadn’t been far off with my estimation: my foreman was a middle-aged Norwegian with limited fluency in English who pushed a crew consisting of an alcoholic ex-convict, a silent middle-aged man who never set down the same grimy June 19652 copy of Playboy, myself, and another young man named Lowell Dean. We rumbled around the field in an elderly winch-equipped crew-cab truck held together with wire and rust, while we periodically performing vital maintenance duties such as:

  • Collecting all the derelict barrels on the lease into one of three staging areas.
  • Digging post holes, then using cement to set welded pipe parking barriers in place.
  • Cleaning wellhead drainage sumps, which routinely contained dead animals.

I’d worked with Lowell Dean on a construction job two years earlier: he was from New Mexico and if not a literal cowboy was ‘cowboyish’ with that sunbaked look that comes from spending his life in a sunbaked locale. He was a couple of years older than me and took great delight in taunting me as a ‘college boy’ but we worked well together and were quickly made into a permanent sub-team trusted with more complex tasks …which is how we ended up at the main flare. The Swanson River operation pumps oil by gas-injection so there aren’t any ‘bobbing elephant’ pumps most people associate with oil fields. The oil is situated under an impermeable shale layer and is forced up by propane pumped down through holes drilled into the barrier, a process much like blowing bubbles through a straw in your milkshake. Oil from a dozen wells was then collected to a tank setting where it was measured, filtered, then pumped via another line to a terminal where it was sent on to the refinery at the coast twenty miles away. Each tank setting had a ‘flare system outlet’ flare pipe – a large diameter fifty-foot pipe that would occasionally belch fireballs of propane gas when system pressures had to be regulated.

….but the biggest and potentially most hazardous flare outlet was the main one located not far from the compressor plant that pumped the propane into the ground3. At some point in the past the bolts securing the bottom of the pipe had been changed out for a slightly smaller but very unsuitable size and had to be immediately replaced. The work order had gone to the senior production operator, who had passed it to his junior partner, who gave it in turn to the roustabout crew. Citing a heretofore forgotten trap-valve that suddenly needed replacing at the other end of the field, the Chevron crew drop-kicked the assignment to our company, where it made its way through the ranks, and finally came to a halt with the most junior crew, namely us.

 The ball kept on rolling: citing language difficulties, a hangover, and the mysterious loss of that battered issue of Playboy, the other three members of the crew begged off, which is why Lowell Dean and I were slowly creeping up to the flange at bottom of the main flare outlet pipe on that cloudy August afternoon. There was a moderate flame at the top of the pipe – nothing to get worked up about, but the power had been going out several times that morning with a major flare following each power bump, and we were both silently (but frantically) calculating frequency and average duration for flares that day.

Stress and my limited experience would normally bring on a severe case of fumble-fingers, especially when working with anything threaded or opened /closed with a wheel4 but this time around I was using those wrenches like a surgeon wielding a scalpel. It was a Zen moment –one of those comfortable grey days typical of a late Alaskan summer, momentarily freeing me of my eternal squint. The rumble of the compressor plant was surprisingly soothing, and we worked smoothly with no dropped tools, hesitations or wasted motion, completing the task in an unusually short time.

Packing tools, cleaning up, and backing the truck down the access road was anticlimactic until the moment we got back to the main road and a siren blared, announcing a power bump. Like a petrochemical nova the main flare blossomed into a fireball much, much larger than I had ever seen before, and I had to wonder if perhaps we had been in more danger than we’d imagined…or been told. Had we been in mortal peril? I doubt it – we may have gotten a little crispy around the edges, but the task had been more hazardous in anticipation than in actual execution. Still, I was just as glad the assignment was completed.

My near crisping seemed the perfect event to mark my exit from the abbreviated summer at Swanson River and the crew I’d worked with during those three weeks. As we bounced along the road to the change-shed I felt a measure of relief at the idea of parting company with my crewmates. Though rough around the edges, they had been a competent group, but I didn’t see any of them achieving much in life beyond this job. Maybe it was their innate nature, something they were born with that kept them at that lower level. Maybe some people were meant to be lower than others…

…and “son-of-a-bitch I cannot believe what I am saying!”

Growing up as a blue-collar kid in Alaska had always set me apart to some extent and I’d always imagined that added experience made me a little more capable and mature. After all I had shot my first moose at age eleven (keeping meant on the table for most of the winter), at fifteen I’d replaced a universal joint on a friend’s car, at seventeen I’d remodeled my attic loft, but at twenty I desperately wanted it to be someone else sounding as judgmental as the “ungrateful yuppie larva”5 I was attending classes with at school.

..but it was me. I had been just as prideful and arrogant, so maybe this crapulent summer hadn’t been all bad. I had been proud – maybe too proud – of my summer job at Swanson River. There were married men with families clamoring to get hired there but I had been little more than a punk kid treating my good fortune as an entitlement. When I eventually went back to work for Chevron three summers later I went with a much better attitude, but for the time being I resolved to avoid being judgmental…even about other people being judgmental.


Notes

1.  99 and 44/100 % Caucasian

2. I couldn’t fault him as the featured Playmate for that issue had a passing resemblance to Diana Rigg AKA Emma Peel from the ’60s British spy series The Avengers who I had quite the crush on when I was thirteen.

 3. It was quite a bit taller too. Production operators would normally use a burning rag tied to a rock to keep pilot lights lit at the flare outlets at the tank settings. For the main flare they had to use a bow and burning arrow.

 4. I still stand back and mumble to myself “right-tighty/lefty-loosey”.

5.A line shamelessly stolen from Dan Ackroyd playing Ray Stantz in “Ghostbusters 2”

2019: Workshops?

…so I’m thinking about doing workshops again.

Why am I thinking about it?

  • It could be the adrenaline rush that follows getting to the curb
  • We definitely could use the extra income
  • I miss the classroom environment and interacting with students

…or any combination of the above.

There will be one big difference – they will be on-line classes. As I still have much to learn about both Patreon and video production nothing is etched in stone at this point, but I will say that the cut-paper sculpture will figure prominently in the syllabus. In the past I’ve also held sessions on:

  • Marbleizing paper
  • Making custom folders and booklets
  • Basic model-making

Getting up to speed will also mean one or two practice sessions here at the house – workshops like the ones I did ten years ago. If you’re in the area and would like to sit in please email me – space will be limited. Any fees for these practice runs will very reasonable and I will provide certificates good for continuing education credits in selected school systems around Middle Tennessee.

En Garde!

You wouldn’t know it by my current profile, but I fenced in college – two years foil and one year saber. I did my best to continue the sport after graduation but other than weak jokes about replacing the rails and tightening the wire around the back pasture I found little interest among friends and family. As time went by and my waistline expanded I sold or gave away most of my gear so I was surprised to find two (each) masks, sabers and gloves while cleaning up the garage this last weekend.

Any thought of a clean escape quickly evaporated as My Star Pupil took notice of the equipment as well ; since that discovery we’ve had two sessions with the sabers. I decided right off that we weren’t going to just goof around and aimlessly smack each other – I’ve taped off a properly-proportioned-but-smaller piste on the shop floor  and we work on technique and terms before any Errol Flynn stuff.  He’s pretty sharp for a little guy and can remember the 2, 4 and 6 positions most of the time. Lori says she can still see a little bit of form in my movements but I tell her she is just watching me with her 1977 glasses….

… one step further along

As I wrote last winter I’ve never been happy with the Batgirl cut-paper sculpt that I put together five or six years ago so it should be no surprise that I am up to my elbows making a new version, based on the original sketch. As I was taking pictures my Beautiful Saxon Princess suggested that I make a video presentation about my technique…and I think it’s a good idea. I’m in the “baby-steps” stage of planning right now,  still researching video production and funding options like Patreon but it may be that this is the direction my teaching career will take now that I am no longer in the classroom.

…but for now I will share a snap of the work in progress, which starts with a drawing that I cut up to use for templates when making the individual parts.
CPSProcess1

Wheels!

Big day for my Star Pupil yesterday. Our next door neighbor Wes very graciously bought a bike for him at a local yard sale and the little guy has been in wheeled-transportation heaven since then.

It’s had me thinking back to my first bike and the incredible sense of freedom it gave me – my hunting grounds quadrupled in area by late afternoon of day one. It’s quite a different world now so I don’t think we’ll be quite was hands-off as my folks were, but it will still be interesting  to observe the impact two wheels and a chain bring about in Jaybug’s life.