As a young child, I believed that I was Japanese. Perhaps it’s explained by my father’s black hair, narrow dark eyes and face that looked like the Japanese people in art books. The first books I remember: The Golden Bough and a Thomas Crown giant art compilation. My father brought home many adult art books instead of children’s books to me as a toddler. That’s why I love Japanese prints like this one from 1815 of a Lion Dance by Toyokuni I. It shimmers, too with mica sprinkles subtly on the background.
I taught myself to read, too. And I shunned children’s books. Like Groucho, I didn’t want to be a member of a club that would accept me.
My first school finger painting began with a cloud of pink on beige manila paper. I dotted fingertip detail on top of the pink with whorls and loops of white that mixed into the pale pink color that I wanted to denote blossoms. Blowing a dollop of dark brown at the bottom of the paper upward with a paper straw grew the trunk and gnarled branches. As I finished I felt a thrill at having created a Japanese cherry blossom tree. Indignant that my teacher and fellow students didn’t know what I was talking about, I took it home only to find my mother ignorant, also. I fiercely felt that I knew the value of this tree and too bad for everyone else.
Later I found out that Dad had Cherokee blood, not Japanese. He and I shared art knowledge. My younger brothers would complain, “Pen got all the Indian blood.”
My father, an actor and professor of speech and theater, did understand my cherry blossom tree. He took my tree art to the college to show his scene design students, saying “This is how you draw a tree.” Then he told the story to all his friends when they visited, year after year. Now this is a family legend.
Happy New Year. Winter cherry blossoms bloom. Father knows best.