We Are All Artists

I am writing early, listen to the songbirds sing on a beautiful July 4.

The birds mean a lot to me, and especially today–because they remind me of a gentleman who is a core inspiration to me as a parent, grandparent, and artist.

My Pop Pop was born on the Fourth of July. He served in the US Army in WWII and continued as an officer for a full career after the war. He and and Gram raised five children around the world before settling in New Jersey after his retirement from the military.

Pop pop was active and curious all his life – an artist in all he did. I remember him playing tennis very seriously well into his seventies. After the army, he took up photography and ultimately taught classes in it (this was before digital was a thing – I spent time in the darkroom with him working on projects.). I remember him taking philosophy classes for fun at the local college, and I remember this:

In the eighties (in his late-60s) he took up a new hobby: songbird carving. Over a period of days and weeks, he took a small chunk of wood and meticulously crafted it in his garage woodshop and basement desk into a remarkable likeness of a finch or sparrow or wren. Every feather carved into the wood, carefully painted. In the end, you would see a life-sized bird standing on a branch, head cocked, looking out at you.

Photo of house wren carving

House wren carved by Pop Pop in 1987.

He carved one of those birds for many family members, and in the process gained enough skills to win national titles in songbird carving. He honed his skill with each bird, with a craftsman’s eye and an artist’s passion.

I look at my bird every morning, and I remember the lessons he demonstrated for me. Passion, hard work, skill, curiosity.

His art stands as a beacon to me. Though he never made a living with it, he was a true artist. I try to emulate him in my own art.

Whether or not we pay our bills by our art, we are all artists.