Growing up in Euclid, Ohio really provided a sense of community. Our row of brick duplex homes were so close together that you could hear the goings-on of most family conversations or squabbles.
One late afternoon as I came home for my classes in junior high, I was approached by my next-door neighbor, Mr. Darling. He was retired and took up painting pictures as a hobby. He asked me if I would like to follow him into his house to see his paintings . I said yes and he led me down the stairwell to the basement.
I know what you’re thinking. An old man invites a young kid down his basement to see his pictures. Yeah right, he’s probably up to no good. Well that wasn’t the case. You see this was 1968 and you could usually trust your neighbors to do the right thing by you.
After he poured me a soda pop at the basement bar, Mr. Darling proceeded to pull out a stack of canvas panels from a cardboard box. To my surprise the paintings depicted images of naked African women. He explained that since he didn’t have access to models he used the next best thing; Photos from National Geographic magazines. I was impressed by his technique and he also showed me paintings of African landscapes and food markets in his collection.
Fast forward to 1973. Mr. Darling passed away that year and soon afterward I received a phone call from his wife. “I would like to give you my husband’s art supplies. Can you find a use for them?” Of course I said yes and she handed me a wooden box filled with tubes of oil paint, brushes and some canvas paper. I knew nothing about working in oil paint so the following week I rounded up some instructional books from the public library.
In my bedroom I set up a still life with an orange candle, a Hemingway novel and a Picasso statue. That picture was the first of many to come. Hats off to Mr. Darling!