Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shattuck memories

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.

17 comments: said...

I see a big resemblance, physically between the Fenway Studios and your high school. No wonder you felt at home there at Fenway with Ives.

Both are Arts and Crafts period very similar to The Glasgow school of Art building too. It's one of my favorite periods of architecture. It's good design and proportions.

willek said...

Most people I know who went to a military type school seem to be better off for the experience which seems to go against the ... image of such schools where parents send unmanageable kids to perhaps as punishment. Somewhere along in the program in these places, I think, a kid is led to learn that he can do things he thought were beyond his capabilities. That builds character and confidence. For me, I guess it was a boy scout hiking trip in New Mexico and Philmont Scout Ranch and, probably, high school football.

Anonymous said...

The architecture and interiors are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your reflections of what was a very significant time in your life. :)

Mary Bullock said...

So Townes, Marlon and Stapleton were all former students at Shattuck? Are you saying that having a cool first name was a prerequisite?

billspaintingmn said...

Things arn't what they used to be, and probably never really were.
I used to say this, as I romanticise a difficult time for me
It's refreshing to know you had an
excellent school life Stape.
You are helping us to "walk the halls" with your blogs.
Thanks again!

Susan McCullough said...

It is a beautiful place- and it's nice that it still basically looks like it did when you went to military school there. So many beautiful buildings don't get the loving care they deserve.

terry said...

This is great stuff, love the arts and crafts period. Amazing that a small school could produce titans in art, drama and music!
I was the oldest daughter of a career military officer who survived 2 years as a POW in WWII, very strict and very loving.
"You are responsible for everything, if you're any damn good." and "Shoot for the stars, you'll get to the moon." I felt it was too much but it has served me well. I knew it made me a good problem solver, but I thought I was so disciplined that I wasn't creative or original. You have shown me that creating a method of my own to solve art problems will lead to originality.
Your blog fuels my rocket ship!

barbara b. land of boz said...

Stapleton, Thank you for the tour of your old stomping grounds. If walls could talk....

I have been out of pocket again so I am playing catch-up. Your recent posts have been very right on. You
are my "Go To" for art instruction.

Keep on keeping on, We need you Stape!!!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hadn't thought about that. You are right. They are very similar.My favorite style except maybe Eastlake.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am not sure I know anybody else who went to military school. It certainly served me well in terms of discipline.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is very strange to be back here.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that affected artist types need a good first name.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am glad you were interested. I know that the last posts were more personal and less instructional that is usual. I will try to make it up to you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

They have done a pretty good job with that. There are a few unfortunate renovations but all in all it looks pretty good.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sometimes in the olden days arts were referred to as disciplines. I don't buy the idea that discipline is uncreative. In fact, the image of slacker artist ends most careers before they start. My artist friends are all very disciplined. They have to be.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What does out of pocket mean? I don't know that expression.

Unknown said...

My brother Albert Myers class of 64 preceded me; Hugh Myers (class of 68) but at a guess there is some overlap. My experiences like most fit the usual bell curve but it certainly shaped me and to some extent readied me for Vietnam. My memories are mixed but vivid; thanks for the verbal and visual reminder...oh Marlon and I both belonged to the Dramatics Association so not only do we have class rings in common but a lapel pin with tiny rubies‼ :)