Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Six degrees of separation?

Someone recently told me that we are connected in some way to every third person that we meet. I was surprised by this ratio, but I am familiar with the “small world experiment,” and “six degrees of separation” (or “human web”), a theory that everyone on earth is somehow linked to each other through an average of only six other people. Odd as it may seem, there is even a game out there called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges people to see if they can connect any film actor in history to actor Kevin Bacon within six links. I’m not sure why he was the subject of the challenge, although for a time he seemed to be in every movie being made! Several scientific studies have been conducted to support these theories. I’m not going to spend any time here summarizing the studies, but if anyone wants to learn more, The Google is ready and able to help. I will, however, share just a few thoughts on the subject, and once again the realization of what a small world we live in, especially if we twist it my way.

At first, it’s hard to imagine how a kid from the east side of St Paul could ever be linked, through only 6 people, to someone in the Third World, or Queen Elizabeth, or Vladimir Putin. Even though I would be extremely surprised if a connection could be found from me to someone like Osama Bin Laden, I suppose, if a person could find just one link to another country, one could get real creative and find ways to link to almost anyone. It is just a matter of how many degrees apart we are separated.

Depending on what types of rules we place on this challenge, I think we could creatively link ourselves in odd ways to all sorts of people. For example, every time we attend a music concert or go to a sporting event, there is (somewhat of) a link starting to the people on the stage and playing field. And if one got an autograph or caught a foul ball, there is a definite link. Who knows where some of those links might lead?

When I took a writing class through community education a couple of years ago, my instructor was also a writer for Prairie Home Companion, so I suppose I could say I was therefore linked to Garrison Keillor. In addition, my sister-in-law works for Minnesota Public Radio and has met him on several occasions. In either of these situations I am linked by only two degrees of separation from the author/humorist.

As my wife and I were walking on a street in downtown Chicago, we nearly bumped into Oprah and her entourage. Does this mean we could say we are linked to her? If so, then we would be linked to everyone appearing on her show.

Several years earlier, the graphics company I was working for produced a small control panel decal that I later heard was applied to equipment that went to the moon. Therefore, could I be linked to Neil Armstrong? Well, that one may be stretching it.

There are, of course, plenty of direct links, when we have an opportunity to actually meet famous people. My friend and I noticed Minnesota Twins great, Tony Oliva, at the airport when we were waiting for a flight. When he had finished saying goodbye to his family we approached him, introduced ourselves, and asked for an autograph. We spent the next 5-10 minutes talking, and making a legitimate link. This connection then began a link between us and everyone else on the Twins, and potentially to many people living in his native country of Cuba.

One time, when I was having breakfast in a Milwaukee hotel restaurant, I recognized half-a-dozen Twins players sitting at the counter. I made a pest of myself and asked them all for autographs, unknowingly creating a link to each of them and their worlds.

One of my favorite artists, Robert Bateman, was in Forest Lake for a book signing a few years ago, and I took that opportunity to meet him and have a copy of his book signed. That was a direct, or real, link.

So there are the real links, and then some creative links like I have mentioned above. We all know what a small world we live in. There probably are many ways that we could find real or creative links to people, worldwide. The possibilities are endless, and the connections can be intriguing.

Do any of my readers wish to share links from their lives?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stay in touch!

An approaching 40th high school reunion, and my thought process in trying to decide if I will attend, has me reminiscing again about the “old” days. In particular, my old art class memories have led me to wonder if the same experiences that I had are tolerated, accepted, or embraced in the classroom today. My guess would be that they are not, in part because we live in a society that is afraid to offend, goes to great lengths to avoid any sign of favoritism, and one that I think sometimes stifles creativity.

Memories of school often begin with my junior high school art teacher, Richard Wariakois, who got my attention early when he warned his students that the dense and opaque, black India ink would cause paralysis to our hands if a spill occurred. Yes, I was especially na├»ve, but it took me a couple of years before I realized that his words weren’t true at all, and that it was just his clever way of insuring we were neat and careful with supplies!

Mr. Wariakois must’ve recognized my love of art, and a talent needing development. Perhaps that was why he allowed me to work on larger and more unique projects when opportunity arose. One of those projects was a large oil painting of a serene pasture, with horses and a pond. When finished, it was hung above the stairway leading to the boys’ locker room. I didn’t take gym class and had no reason to be in the area, so I didn’t learn until much later that my painting was dubbed “the snag pit.” I won’t go into detail about why my painting came to be called that, but suffice it to say that junior high school boys often lack art appreciation, and good manners!

Another “special assignment” from Mr. W. began when he brought in two, 8’ long telephone pole sections, and asked me and one other student to go to work with chisels, mallets and knives to create American Indian totem poles. It was a challenging task for a couple of East Side, Scandinavian kids, but we must have done enough library research (thumbing through fat encyclopedia volumes) to make them believable, because the tall statues guarded the art department entrance for years after.

As the end of the school year approached, Mr Wariakois told me that I could have all of the opened tubes of oil paint. He would receive a new supply the following fall, and rather than throwing the old paint away he wanted it put to good use. It has been. I think that I just finished squeezing out the last of that paint this past winter.

High school art classes led to new adventures. I started with Art 1, since I felt like I should start at the beginning, but it only took a few weeks for my teacher, Richard Larsen, to recommend that I transfer to Studio Art. I maintained communication with Mr. Larsen, but Studio art was where I belonged! It was there, under the watchful eye and gentle guidance of Helen McKenney, that I was exposed to additional mediums, clay work, and new friends who had similar interests. Dave, Dave, Ned and I, quite often, would work while softly humming or whistling. One of our favorites was the theme song from the epic film, Exodus. (Thanks, Cousin Kris, for helping to identify the name. You, and your terrific memory, ROCK!)

I did editorial cartoons and caricatures for the school paper, many special projects, and started selling my art to other students. I joined Spectrum, the high school art club, and was elected co-president. (Sally: if you’re reading this, I apologize once again that while we shared the title, you did all of the work!)

I was a prolific artist, leading to more recognition as time went by. Once, during a school-wide art fair, my Spanish teacher asked the class if any of us had artwork on display. Before I had a chance to reply (I was quite shy at the time), one of my classmates boldy exclaimed, "I do! I've hung my work under my alias – Dennis Sterner!"

Unlike other students, when I occasionally ditched a class, I didn’t sneak out of school to get a burger or meet a friend or have a smoke. I quietly slipped into a studio art class so I could spend an extra hour in my favorite pastime. Sweet Mrs. McKenney never ratted me out!

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Mrs. McKenney gave me a blank canvas when I was about to graduate, and asked me to paint something for her sometime. To this day, I regret that I never did. I never saw her again, and have not heard anything about her since. Mr. Larsen supplemented his teaching income by driving a cement truck in Forest Lake during the summer; I’ve waved to him from time to time, but have not seen him for quite awhile. I heard that Mr. Wariakois recently died, and though I have not stayed in touch, I thank him for starting me in the right direction, and stressing the importance of keeping a tidy workspace and not wasting ink.

Memories are treasures that should be embraced. It’s a shame we get so busy that we don’t stay in touch with people who shaped our lives.

Maybe I will attend my class reunion.

Monday, September 7, 2009

One More Sterner

It looks like I'll be doing another "wedding" oil painting. My youngest son has gathered the courage to ask her dad for permission to marry, and then he popped the question. She said, YES!

We're thrilled! She's a keeper.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Brushing Up

I have occasionally blogged about the satisfaction I get from my brushes - the utter joy of picking up this instrument of the masters, gently drawing its bristles through my fingers as I prepare to dive into the medium, then leisurely extracting the brush and observing as it glistens in the light, and drips oil-based gold. The virgin brush is no longer the same, now permanently tinted to a degree; yet, if properly cared for, will serve me well for years to come. Through the pressure of my fingers and the sway of my arms, I apply the liquid hue to the textured substrate, admiring the change in the surface as it develops a radiant glow.

For the past two evenings, I have worked, and toiled, and blended, and stroked these painters’ tools, as I completed the single largest project I have ever attempted with my brushes. With a tremendous amount of assistance from my trusted associates, MBH, MOD and FSIL, we converted the 2000 square foot coniferous structure from a dull, drab and dusty surface, to one that shouts new life and promise.

My deepest thanks to My Better Half, My Only Daughter and Favorite Son-In-Law for helping me stain the house!