A Short Biography

 

Four days after D-Day, June 10, 1944, I was born in Portland, Oregon while my dad trained army troops in Southern California. He was discharged shortly after my birth and chose to move our family to Tulelake, California because of the exceptional hunting and fishing there, as well as the townís need for a better hardware store. He obtained a franchise from Marshal Wells and borrowed ten thousand dollars from his father to start the business, which he paid back within a year. Our first house was a rented farm house. My mother told me I was walking and potty trained by the time I was six months old.

Tulelake is a town that was built on the reclaimed lakebed of Tule Lake in the southern part of the greater Klamath Lake basin in extreme central northern California. It is infamous for the Japanese-American Internment camp located south of town at what is now called Newell. The reclaimed lake bed was used for farming, mostly wheat, barley, potatoes, and onions while I lived there. I began working during the summers irrigating potatoes and onions when I was twelve. I spent the summers between then and when I went to college irrigating, and raking and bucking hay. Recreation as a kid included camping (mostly at Medicine Lake), hunting, fishing, water skiing, snow skiing, basketball, track, and football.

My mother had paintings executed by her uncle, Jack Wilkinson Smith, arguably the father of southern California plein air impressionism. She also had paintings by Kathryn Leighton, Frank Tenney Johnson, and William T. McDermitt. My grandparents had one of Jackís paintings, and my aunt Mary had at least one. These were my heroes and I wanted passionately to paint like my uncle Jack.

I also traded skiing lessons for watercolor lessons from a guy who taught and coached at Newell grade school (we didnít have middle schools). His paintings were somewhat mediocre, but the basics he taught have served me well. My dad didnít think painting pictures was a manly occupation, even though my great uncle, Jack Wilkinson Smith, made a hell of a lot more money in his lifetime than Dad did. Anyway, he teased me a lot about my interest in painting and eventually bullied me into starting college as an engineering student at Idaho State where my brother, Steve, was going to pharmacy school. I wanted to go to Chico State and take art. I graduated high school in 1962 and started school at Idaho State that fall.

Early my third semester a girl I was dating regularly got pregnant in spite of our contraceptive measures. She wouldnít get an abortion, so I married her. I have two children by that marriage.

I might have become a great engineer if Iíd been born a hundred years earlier. I was too weak in math to become a modern engineer. My first wife didnít support my desires to switch to Art any more than my dad did. I worked for three summers as a timber scaler and otherwise began working in housing construction to support us and keep us both in school. I layed out one semester and worked at a Kraft cheese cutting/packaging plant in Pocatello while I established Idaho residency. I got onto the Federal Work-Study Program and the Geology Department hired me to install a three thousand pound pump into a tank in the basement of the Physics/Geology building. It didnít fit in the elevator and had to be partly disassembled then reassembled in the basement. It was an impossible task as the largest of the three sections it would break down to weighed more than a thousand pounds, and I canít believe I accomplished it. I had to have lifted weight that my body wasnít capable of lifting, but the damned pump is where they wanted it and I was the brains and most of the brawn that put it there, so apparently it was possible.

When I finished that task I was given several other jobs that involved more study related work. I got hooked on paleontology and switched majors. My B.S. degree from ISU is in geology. I graduated in the summer of 1969.

I couldnít afford to go to graduate school full time so I got a job with the University of Iowa as a technician. The most demanding part of the job was that I was bored and not mentally challenged most of the time. I had time to take a class per semester and one of them per year was free. I started with a sculpture class and got acquainted with people in the ceramics studio. Ceramics materials are all naturally occurring earth materials, some refined more than others, and I began to study them. I began teaching a class I titled, The Geology of Pottery, and it counted as a science elective. Most of my students were art majors. I also taught workshops including at Arcosanti, Paolo Soleriís architectural experiment.

I designed and built kilns, made pots and sculpture from native clays or a mixture of native and refined materials. My work turned into a thesis project. It was supposed to be a publication on the use of native materials for art ceramic. My advisors forgot their agreement with me and made me change the thesis. I quit working for the department and started doing construction while I finished a thesis that included a lot of data on the use of native materials, but the ďrigorousĒ part was on the design of a low shrinkage, low coefficient of expansion pottery clay body. I graduated with a M.S. in Geology in 1978.

I had put our house up for sale, bought a lot, and was starting construction of a new home when the bottom fell out of the economy. I had applied for a job as a geological technician at the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and got an offer. I stopped construction as I had only cleared the land of trees. We sold the house and lot, and my family and I moved to Saudi Arabia.

I spent two years, 1978-1980, working for the school and then the Research Institute which resided on the campus. By the time I returned to The U.S. the oil business was booming. I took a job with Mid America Pipeline Company (MAPCO) in Billings, MT. as an oil exploration geologist. I started in January, 1981. I set the ambitious goal of getting a prospect on the books within a year. I barely made it. Within the next year I had more prospects on the books than seven other geologists and three geophysicists combined. I got a nice raise and life looked promising. Near the end of April they closed the office down, layed off all the non-senior geologists, and moved the rest to the home office in Tulsa, OK. I only had two-and-a-half years as a petroleum exploration geologist, so I lost my job. They kept my prospects. OPEC had flooded the market with cheap oil so the exploration business in North America was killed and my ďrespectableĒ career as a geologist ended.

We moved to Chapel Hill, NC in the summer of 1983 where I could get work building houses to support us. I could never quite get a business established that would let me manage and stop doing the heavy labor. When my daughter graduated from high school, my first wife and I split (1987). My back had become too damaged by then to continue working as a contractor and I had gotten a job in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, first in the neuroscience department, then as a laboratory manger with the Neonatal Intensive Care Departmentís chairman. I met Shelia Bolt at a NICU Christmas party. She was a neonatal intensive care nurse. She had also worked in Saudi Arabia, so we had that in common for starters. We were married on 8-8-88 at 8:08. We were both born in 1944. We were 44 in 1988 and our combined age was 88.

A couple of years later we sold her condominium and bought a house that I remodeled. Shelia took a weekend night job that paid more than our day jobs combined, so I quit medical research. I built a studio and began teaching ceramic sculpture, bronze casting, and silver smithing for jewelry. I got serious about painting and eventually added considerable space to the studio that included a gallery. Then Sheliaís job went to hell in a hand basket.

In January of 1995 we sold our house and studio and moved to Dubois, WY where we built a house (literally). I tried to restart my art career, and Shelia tried to retire. We began making dolls and she wrote stories that went with them as a marketing ploy to sell the dolls. Our dolls and her stories didnít succeed like the American Girl Historical Dolls that became popular at about the same time. I painted and became the first art director of the Wind River Valley Artistís Association where I taught some classes. I also took a part time job sixty miles away at Central Wyoming Community College in Riverton where I taught jewelry, sculpture, and bronze casting. When the ceramics instructor retired early I applied for the job, which I was more than qualified for, except that my masterís degree was in science, not fine art. I didnít get the job. Then one of the directors of the Artistís Association decided that she wanted my job there, so we moved on to Eureka, CA where Shelia had to go back to work as a nurse.

I couldnít get my art career back on track there either. A jewelry shop failed and I found no market for my paintings. We purchased and I remodeled a Victorian home which was built in 1883. We sold that when my back completely gave out and I lost my sigmoid colon to diverticulitis. We purchased a townhouse for $155,000 and sold it a year later for $180,000, and moved back to North Carolina.

I started writing in 2002 after back and gut surgery more or less confined my work to painting and sitting in front of a computer. My paintings improved considerably. The market for them hasnít. I slowly become a halfway decent writer. I have published several books and have many more in various stages of editing.

Shelia was able to retire from nursing in 2008 after a forty-five year career. She has published four novels.†††

†††††††††

Japanese-American interment camp, Tulelake,

from the Peninsula with Horse Mountain in the background.

Interment camp, 1946,

with the Peninsula in the background.

Tar paper covered camp

barrack† used for a

Homestead house. Roofing has been improved.

Irrigating potatoes with siphon tubes. Sheepy Peak in the background.

Geese over Tule Lake Basin. This is only a fraction of the numbers of geese and ducks we would see in the air twice a day during the fall.

Camp on Windy Point at Medicine Lake, 1947. Mom, Steve, and me on the left. Cousins Leah and Dick on right.

Looking back at Windy Point from the beach, 1950.

Throwing a pot, mid-70s.

Geneva, 1987

Rub Al Khali, Saudi Arabia, 1979

Spoletto, Italy, 1979

Praia De Rocha, Portugal, 1989

Santorini, Greece, 1994

Portofino, Italy, 2007

Rome, 2007

Cyprus, 1880

Dammam, Souq, 1979

I Street Victorian House in Eureka, 2000

Foinikounta, Peloponnese

Peninsula,† Greece, 1980

Pittsboro, NC, 2014

My mother and me with honkers (Canada geese). Standing straight and tall in December, 1944 at the farm house we lived in the first winter.

My senior picture,

Tulelake High School, class of 1962.

Turkish Fort at Hoffuf

Athens. Acropolis from the† Rooftop of a Bed and Breakfast I Stayed at, 1980

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