I know most of you come here for art instruction, however I have done a fair amount of personal history on this blog too. If you look in the archives under chronological history you can see some of that. I am a visiting artist at Shattuck this week, where I went to high school. It is an interesting chapter in my life and a fairly unusual experience.
I was given the opportunity, not forced, to attend a military academy about an hour away from my home, in Faribault, Minnesota. I jumped at the chance and enjoyed my years there. The endurance I learned from that tough program served me well when I had to deal with the Ives Gammell years and the 15 years of starvation and hard times that began my art career.
This is the front entrance to the school which was built in the 1880's, the steps are worn hollow from all of the traffic they have seen. The campus is full of fabulous buildings, but this is the best. The hallway from that entrance looks like this.
The school had many traditions and one of them was that this hallway was reserved for seniors. So I didn't spend much time on that red carpet. The school was run on a what was called the new boy-old boy system. That meant that the senior class ruled the school. Discipline was very strict. The system was a hundred years old when I got there.
The upstairs of the building is a theatre, also late 19th century. Lots of wood. Here is a view looking back from beside the stage. Marlon Brando was a student there . A tradition of signing your name on the wall of the back stage area after each production resulted in this.
Like me, Brando left before graduation. Below the theater is the hallway leading to the refectory where we took all of our meals, here is the hallway leading to that.
I loved the aesthetic of the place. If you can imagine the hallways all filled with young men in uniforms with braid on their epaulets and shining brass. The seniors and some juniors who were officers carried sabres on their crisscross or Sam Brown belts that went over one shoulder and around their waists. The crack squad, a sort of Zouave drill team, carried 1892 trapdoor Springfields, an elongated "needle gun" a relic from before bolt action weapons that had a trapdoor that opened in the breech to allow loading. Very elegant.
Here is the stairway I took up to the classrooms. Many of my classes had about ten students in them. The teachers were excellent, far better than I saw later in college.
It was so beautiful, the pageantry and the architecture, that it was like being in an old movie. When I was there nothing had changed in a century. I sometimes have a hard time believing I lived for a while in that world. The Vietnam war, changing ideas about education and the alterations in society born in the 60's swept it all away and the school is now an elite boarding college prep school.
Below is the refectory where we all ate. It isn't much changed except now it was cafeteria style and in my day it was in a formal family style with a master (which is what we called our teachers) at the head of each table. The seniors sat next to them and the underclassmen were arrayed towards the foot of the table, seated by their class. Freshman, or new boys as we were called, sat at the bottom of the table and had to pour their drinks from pitchers there and pass them up. An elaborate system of hand signals was used to signify what each of the upperclassmen wanted in their glasses, which we filled and then passed back upto them.
There is only one teacher left who remembers me from those days, or at least he claims to. I have been painting very publicly , I did a seascape in the middle of a busy hallway today and I have been talking in the various classes. The director of the arts department was born 2 years after I was in school here.
I haven't been in these hallways in 40 years. The alum who interests me the most and with whom I identify somewhat was Townes Van Zandt. Townes graduated a few years before I arrived and became a legend in Texas folk- country music before his untimely death from a drinking. There is a movie about his life which was melancholy and half psychotic, but produced many eloquent and achingly beautiful songs. here is a live clip of him preforming one of his tunes that Emmy Lou Harris later covered.