How I Kept My Mother Out of My Art School

Chouinard Photo
Chouinard Art Institute, circa 1970.

I’d known my mother planned to attend the Chouinard Art Institute right after high school, study fashion design there, then set the fashion industry on fire, since I was a little kid. From the age of 8 or 9, I knew I was going to be an animator, working for Walt Disney, when I grew up, so discussions of Chouinard and Disney’s close affiliation with the school came up often.

My mother is a powerhouse, always involved with several complicated creative projects at once: oil painting, ceramics, PTA President, Den Mother, poetry, local drama, sewing, knitting, etc. You wouldn’t believe the Halloween costumes she designed and fabricated for me and my four younger siblings over the years: Hollywood quality. She closely followed the career of Edith Head, a Chouinard grad, by the way.

Disney died the year before I graduated from high school. My dream of animating for him died with this legend. During my senior year in high school, I started attending Saturday life drawing classes at Chouinard. One of my high school art teachers, Mrs. Pardoe, arranged and encouraged these sessions. At the end of the year, I applied to all the art schools Mrs. Pardoe recommended: The Art Center, Long Beach State and Chouinard. I was fortunate to be accepted by all 3, but chose Chouinard. It seemed to fit me best.

Many years after my graduation, I was reading a biography of my mother in a high end porcelain doll magazine. She’d added doll making and, more importantly, the design and fabrication of original doll clothes design to the many things she does. In the article she elaborated on why she never attended Chouinard, revealing a fact, that in all our one on one conversations about Chouinard, she’d never shared with me before.

Mom and Pop Photo
My mother and father, in high school.

Like myself, my mother had applied and been accepted to Chouinard after graduating high school. This was at the end of World War II. The art school told her, yes, we’d love to have you, but we have to put you at the back of the entry line, behind all the WWII GI’s returning from the war and entering the school through the GI Bill. They said they’d call her, as soon as there was an opening.

Months went by, then years, but finally she got her call. She told them she wouldn’t be attending. In the interim, she’d married my father and was now 8 months pregnant with her first child: Me!

She never attended Chouinard, but did get the necessary fashion design training she required at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and with my youngest brothers in high school, began an over 30 year career as a fashion designer, creating for some of the biggest labels in the industry.

I love you mom!


Brothers & Sisters in Art

CalArts - Chouinard Logo

Last weekend I made the trip down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where I currently live, to Los Angeles, where I was born and raised, for the CalArts/Chouinard Art Institute alumni reunion. I don’t often make it to these get-togethers, but they were giving special awards to my good friend, artist, Dennis Lewis, and posthumously to my illustration lab professor, Harold Kramer, so it was a must attend.

Only 4 of my actual classmates were there, the group ranged from geriatrics to students currently attending CalArts. I was sitting next to an architect, a graduate from a class many years before my own. I unexpectedly ran into, Tony, the son of artist (a Chouinard graduate) whom I’d worked with for 12 years, when I was directing animation for Kurtz & Friends. Tony and my own son used to hang out together at all the Kurtz & Friends events that included family, which were most of them.

The reunion presentations were fine, my friend, Dennis’, acceptance speech being the highlight of the program. Dennis is a great natural storyteller and can’t help but crack the room up with his cast of a thousand in character portrayals of student interactions, from his many years of teaching and his rendition of how he met his beautiful wife. But there was a rich reward, above the joy of watching my close friend of 50 years receive the recognition he deserved and that was introductions to and conversations with the alumni, most of whom I’d never met before.

Art knowledge is timeless, so when you converse with an artist that’s 90 years old or one that’s 19 years old, you share common interests and speak a common language. Age or generational differences melt away as you discuss Richard Diebenkorn and the influence Matisse had on his work (a current exhibit at SFMOMA) or the Calder retrospective at LACMA last year or the student from this class or that who’s recently gained international recognition. In the company of artists you share like interests far beyond those bound to generation and become part of a living, breathing organism with a focused passion for art.

Pick up a paintbrush, chisel or other creative tool and you’re rubbing shoulders with Leonardo, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Hockney and all artists past and present. Welcome to the fraternity of artists, take full advantage of your membership!