As a writer, I am always in search of inspiration. I stay on the alert for people, places, and events that I can draw inspiration and creativity from. Sometimes inspiration comes to me like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself and sometimes, I need to dig deep for that inspiration. Thankfully for those times when an Olympian God is nowhere to be found and I need to dig deep, I have a letter from my art teacher.
When I was 9, I created the Ash Men. Born from my youthful mind, the Ash Men were a direct result of the superheroes I loved to read about and pretended to be like. They were powerful, full of personality I injected in to them, and to my eyes, artistic masterpieces. In reality, the Ash Men were mere pencil scribbles which somewhat resembled human figures shooting ray beams from their faces and hands. But I took great pride in not only creating the ‘Ash Men’ but great pleasure drawing them.
I not only created stories about them but drew them everywhere. On the backs of restaurant paper place mats, napkins, walls in the house (that was before my mom saw it…let’s just say that was the last time I did that), and on every piece of paper I could find.
My mom, who was a teacher, had asked me if it would be ok with me if she took my Ash Men in to school with her to show the high school art teacher. Had I known who Arthur Danto was at the time, I would have surely made some sort of analogy to him and his work as an art critic. As a 9 year old, I am fairly certain I instead went with a, ‘that would be awesome’. My mom took the Ash Men in for Mr. Minter, the art teacher, to look at. I waited all day trying to anticipate what he would say about them.
My mom came home from school that night with a letter. In was in a white envelope with my name on it was a letter from Mr. Minter. I tore in to the envelope anxious to read what a real life art teacher thought of the Ash Men. Although the letter has been lost to antiquity, the last lines written in it have been permanently etched in to my mind…
“Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”
That letter became my holy grail. I would soon leave behind the notion of growing up to be a fireman, astronaut, and Captain America to focus on becoming an artist. The words Mr. Minter wrote to me would ring in my ears for years to come, “Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”
I told my mom; one day I wanted Mr. Minter to be my art teacher.
I would eventually make my way to the high school and find myself in Mr. Minter’s class (by my senior year, I had 3 art classes a day and he was my homeroom teacher). He was honest, critical, supportive, and pushed me to be a better artist every day I had the privilege to sit at the art tables in his classroom.
After almost 20 years removed from graduation, I still remain close to my art teacher. We have worked on projects together and I have sought his opinion about work I have done even though it now longer needs to be graded. I honor him the only way I know how, by continuing to address him as Mr. Minter. In my own way, I believe this lets him know the respect I had for him as my teacher has not faded since the last time I sat in his classroom. I consider him to be an occasional collaborative partner, my friend, and a mentor.
I did eventually stop drawing the Ash Men. I also never became the artist I thought I would be (to be fair, I never ended up as an astronaut, fireman, or Cap either). Life stepped in, priorities changed, I had spent a few hazy semesters at college and chose another path but I never put down a pencil. I still draw on the backs of restaurant’s paper place mats, napkins, with my kids, and on the walls (but just in the garage). His influence and guidance have been on every artistic endeavor I’ve embarked on for 3 decades.
I don’t know if Mr. Minter remembers the letter he wrote to a 9 year old boy 28 years ago much less the affect it had on that 9 year old but I know that when I am in search of inspiration or a spark of creativity, sometimes my mind goes back to being a 9 year old boy reading a letter with my name on it. A letter from my art teacher who told me to keep drawing…and most of all, Beware of the Ash Men!