My first art teacher and a painting of the South African Bantu speaking Ndebele tribe
When we are children, our experiences and teachers often send us in the direction of positive and creative future occupations or hobbies. We can carry this spirit of creativity with us into adulthood. It is an added responsibility for parents yet it is a blessing to direct children towards being creative…and this can last a lifetime.
Mr. John Truman was my first art teacher who gave me art lessons at my father’s restaurant, “Lucky Pierre’s” on 55th street in New York City. I was seven and eight years old at the time. In the summers, when I was on vacation from PS 59 (public school 59), my brother and I took art lessons at my father’s restaurant from Mr. Truman in the afternoons. Years later, both my brother and I became professional artists, thanks to Mr. Truman’s encouragement and lessons.
Mr. Truman illustrated my father’s menus by hand, marvelous and imaginative. In New York City he studied at the Art Students League. Since the Lee Strasberg “Method Acting” Institute was walking distance to my father’s restaurant, Mr. Truman did caricatures of many famous actors who frequented the restaurant back in the day. These caricatures were displayed prominently on the walls of father’s small restaurant. In exchange for my father’s delicious cooking and being the “resident artist" of the restaurant, Mr. Truman taught my brother and I the fundamentals of drawing. He said that we were never too young to learn basic perspective!
We were taught perspective, shading and the basics of drawing from him and he was very patient. From the Seattle Times 2008: “He (John Truman) was an accomplished professional artist who worked in many media but was truly a "master" of the line drawing. His work ranged from delightfully wonderful children's illustrations to bitingly accurate satirical caricatures …He invariably had pen in hand and would entertain children and adults alike with his remarkable skill and talent creating little masterpieces anywhere, anytime, on anything that would hold ink.”
Thanks to the art lessons my older brother and I received from John Truman, I entered an art contest at school. This is the only art contest I have ever entered. I did not have any expectations of winning. My teacher asked all of us in my classroom of about twenty-five students to draw whatever came to mind.
What I decided to paint: At father’s restaurant we had many visitors from the United Nations come into the restaurant as it was close to the U.N. Some of the restaurant patrons were from African nations that spoke French. They enjoyed father’s company and were intrigued by his “blow torch cooking”. I decided to draw two ladies who frequented the restaurant who were from the Côte d'Ivoire in Africa. However, I did not know what their original tribal dress was, already grooming myself to be an historical depiction artist or illustrator of cultures which I read about in National Geographic magazines. It so happened that the back doors of a truck driving by our street in New York City flew open one day, and records fell out onto the street. My brother picked up one of the records and brought it home and it was by Miriam Makeba. I listened many times to the beautiful song by Miriam Makeba from Johannesburg , South Africa, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". So this inspired my painting as well. Music inspires art.
I did some research in library books at the New York City Public Library, one of my favorite places. I looked at photographs of different countries in Africa to find a subject I liked. At age eight, I was intrigued by the brass rings that women wore around their necks from the South African Bantu speaking Ndebele tribe. The married ladies there wear brass rings (called idzila) around their arms, legs, and neck; after they are married. The rings around their necks symbolize a woman’s faithfulness to her husband. After studying many photos in books and magazines, I drew two women in profile from the Ndebele tribe with brass rings around their necks and submitted this artwork to my teacher for the art contest. I won the first prize which was $100.00 dollars and four tickets to a movie. The school kept the artwork, and my family had a wonderful outing.
"Shosholoza" is a Ndebele folk song and is the Second National Anthem in South Africa, featured in the film INVICTUS, directed by Clint Eastwood .
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