Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jo M. Orise - My Art Journey.

The Many Avenues.

"You will be an artist when you grow up." Sister Saint Rolande hovered over my desk. I was pleased at her pronouncement. Would I really be an artist? Like my Mom? After all, this was a teacher. A nun, knowledgeable and perhaps influential—somewhere. I was just a fifth grade, ten-year-oldPerhaps Sister Saint Rolande could convince Dad I had talent.

Good Shepherd Nuns, 1950's
Before Mom's untimely death, I had observed her artistic talent and stored that in my little, five-year-old brain. I wished to replicate her ability to draw. That was probably my incentive as I drew pictures with crayons and colored pencils on paper and cardboard boxes. I doodled—a lot. Still do. At seven years, I cut little doors and windows from a old cardboard boxes, and decorated the inside with crayons to represent hanging pictures, fireplace, curtains, etc. All I needed were puppets. From my step-mother, Vie's, sewing scraps, needle and thread, I fashioned and stitched three hand-puppets. Then I rounded up and entertained my neighborhood friends with puppet shows. If I wasn't entertaining friends, I often walked around the neighborhood with the puppets on my hands, like mittens in the summer.
St. Joseph Grammar. Parking used to be giant school yard.

In preparation for different religious occasions, my eight grade teacher, Sister Saint Beatrice, encouraged me during recess time to draw biblical scenes on the chalk board in her fourth floor classroom. The chalk board was approximately six feet high by four feet wide. Drawing saints and angels with colored chalk was complicated, but great fun.

After eight grade graduation from St. Joseph's Grammar School, Dad agreed to let me attend Biddeford High School, a new, regional, public high school being constructed for the last two or three years across the street from our home. I realize now he agreed because public education would eliminate the tuition burden he had with the St. Joseph's parochial school system. But, since my older sister was already enrolled in the system at the high school level, in my dad's mind, she was committed to graduate from St. Joseph's.

BHS 1890 - 1961 (image credit
My Freshman year began at the old public high school across town. (The new building would be ready at the beginning of the second semester.) The first day in the old building was daunting—so many corners and stairwells. I got lost. The hall monitor noticing my dilemma, asked, "Can I help?"

"Yes. I can't find the stairwell." 

He pointed to a door behind me. So, what would  you expect from a Freshman?

There were so many teens from the city whom I had never met. I was amazed to see boys and girls interacting. Grammar school had separated the sexes by 6th grade and the rule was to stay away from the opposite sex while at school. I quickly understood my high school peers were already dating. That was a problem for me. Dad's house rule: no dating until I was 18 years old. Four years later he realized I would be 18 in the second semester of my senior year. He amended the policy: no dating until 18 and graduated from high school. When I was 17 years and 11 months old, Vie found a note I had written. It was intended for my sister who had just finished beautician school. We were to make a deposit on an apartment I had found in the city and we planned to move out when I turned 18. Alarmed at my actions, that I had sought and found a furnished apartment, Dad changed his mind, letting me date one month shy of my 18th birthday.

The new high school was completed and opened at the beginning of the new year. We were the first Freshmen admitted in the new high school. 

There had been art activities on rainy days during my K-8 years with the nuns at St. Joe's. However, high school lacked any art curricula. The exception was during my sophomore year. The Latin teacher requested illustrations or paintings for a particular assignment. Thrilled by the challenge, I produced a purple, monochromatic painting of Julius Caesar's murder titled, "Et tu Brute." Note: I didn't know the term, 'monochromatic painting' at the time.

English: Crashing waves over Cowloe Rocks An e...
Crashing waves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The summer after my Junior year, my step-aunt, Marguerite, introduced me to artist Ed Mayo and his studio-gallery in Arundel . During that visit, he painted a quick watercolor of crashing ocean waves to be raffled as a door-prize. He gave it away! How marvelous! People actually wanted his artwork and purchased them! I had never heard of such a thing. I realized later that we had gone to what is known as an art opening where art lovers visit studios and purchase or perhaps win prizes.

So many paintings. Framed art filled the walls of the studio. I tried to commit each painting to memory and I remember a few of them today. A bin displayed matted watercolors for people to flip through. My bedroom had plenty of wall space, yet nothing was hung on the newly applied wallpaper. Dad and Vie forbade "making holes" in the plaster walls of our circa 1800, Victorian farmhouse with nine foot ceilings. 

Original 'Smiley' logo (actually most often ca...
I had journeyed to another world with aunt Marguerite. After having worked all day, she traveled to our home to pick me up. We made our way on a somber, very foggy evening to a faraway land—Arundel bordering the Kennebunks. A thirty minute drive—at sixteen, that was a great distance. :-) I loved my aunt and still do. She told me my step-mother had denied her request to bring me to meet Ed. So, knowing my dad had a special place for her in his heart, she marched up to his barber shop located in our front room and asked him if I could go. "Okay," he smiled. She whisked me off before anyone could change their mind.
This vintage palette is similar to the one given
by my aunt. So many colors to chose from

Ed Mayo knew my aunt through her work place and I had become a person of interest to him because of her. Two paper-backs were recommended for me to read—art books covering the elements and principles of art plus examples. My aunt delivered the books to me along with a very large water color set. I was so very pleased with the gift. She did that for me? I devoured every bit of information provided by the texts. I still have the books and the remains of my nearly exhausted paint palette today.

With paint and paper in hand, I proceeded to replicate Ed Mayo's ocean scene. I produced a whole bunch of them on paper similar to the cheap, yellowing paper the nuns used. No matter. I was happy as happy could be.

English: Artist Liron Sissman painting en plei...
Artist en plein air (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The summer before my senior year, I painted the scenery behind our Saco River home. I had discovered en plein-air painting. Note: I didn't know the term "en plein-air" at the time—it just felt right.

During my senior year, I had befriended the librarian. After learning that I was teaching myself how to paint, he suggested I bring the artwork to school to "show" my work. How unusual. Someone wanted to see my work. I provided a collection of the work created the previous summer and he carefully displayed the watercolors around the library along the top shelves of the book cases against the walls. I was pleased. No one purchased, no one commented on the artwork. I didn't expect any of that. But it was displayed for all to see!

School ended, I graduated and never saw the librarian again, nor my en plein-air collection. That was a disappointment. But it was also my fault. I didn't have the courage to return to school to collect my work. I was super shy about asking for anything. The next school year, I learned a new course was being offered—art. Damn! A missed opportunity due to the error in my birth year. Perhaps my artwork served as an example of student interest. Why not include it in the curriculum? I like to think of it that way. Therefore, my en plein-air work had served a purpose.

At eighteen I was employed. Deciding to shop with my newly earned cash, I walked two miles to the downtown, Main Street paint store. Their window's art-equipment and material display had caught my eye: brushes, oil paints, gum turpentine, linseed oil, canvas boards and a portable easel. Hooray! I was on my way. Carrying my bundle home I dreamed of what I would paint. The easel, brushes and artwork from that period are now stored in my studio.

IBM Keypunch Machine with cards.
I painted whenever I had the opportunity. People made requests and I gave paintings away. And, I dreamt of college and earning a degree in the fine arts, fashion design or something similar. But Dad refused to send me to college considering it a waste of money for girls. Besides, he had planned a career for me—beautician. I would join him in his barber shop along with my sister who already graduated beauty school. Unlike my sister, I declined and found other employment.

Six months later, Dad pointed me to computers—something he did not understand. A friend had advised him I would be good at it since I had graduated from high school with honors. So, I went to business college earning IBM Keypunch and Secretarial Science.  Dad was pleased. 
Pepperell Mills, circa 1906 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon completion of the coursework, I was hired as secretary at Northeastern Composition Company on Exchange Street, Portland. Hyman Kroot was my boss. A nice man who didn't smile much. But he seemed to like me. I remember the other secretary had a tantrum, got up and slammed the tall glass door so hard, I feared it would shatter. She quit. I had to learn her job as well as mine. Weeks later, I got up enough nerve and asked for a raise. He eyed me and said, "You haven't had a raise yet? How much do you want?" I shook in my shoes, and mumbled, "Five cents an hour more?" He smiled and said, "Sure. Not a problem." I guess I was a "cheap date" at that price. But two dollars would fill a gas tank.

A year later, I was hired at the Pepperell Mills Company as a keypunch operator and clerk in my home town. The company learned of my artistic endeavors and asked me to help create a pattern for a new vellux blanket. I spent a week applying clear shellac with an artist's brush onto a meshed base fabric. The shellac would block the vellux flocking, thus creating a sculptured blanket. But, I never saw the end product which was a disappointment for me. Additionally, Pepperell Mills did not pay very well. I could do better elsewhere without returning to Portland. So I looked around during lunch break. New England Tel and Tel was down the street. I was interviewed and offered a job as telephone operator for much better pay. Having accepted the offer, I handed my two-week notice to Pepperell Mills. I married a few months later.

At twenty-two, I enrolled in an oil painting class with artist friend, Ed Mayo. I produced a few decent paintings with his guidance. Knowing my deep interest in art, he gave me additional projects to work on. He helped me understand perspective. I was also fascinated with the idea that Ed video-taped the class time. A precursor to YouTube in 1969?

Within two years I exhibited in the Portland Sidewalk Art and the Saco Sidewalk Art shows. After three years of doing so, I called it quits. I realized I had a lot to learn and continued painting. A year later, I had a solo art show in a figure salon, where I worked as an exercise instructor. People viewing my work made comments. Good or bad, it was invigorating to hear. The owner of a small gallery in the neighboring city encouraged me to enroll in art courses to further develop my skills. 

Since high school, I yearned to fulfill my dream to study art. Dad had disapproved. Now five years married, having just become a mother, I applied at the University of Maine to study art education. Dad in his way tried very hard to stop me. Having applied for financial aid a signature from Dad was required to verify he was not supporting me. He refused for three weeks. I was in tears as he yelled, "No, I'm not going to sign anything. I don't want to end up paying for your college tuition." The counselor called, Dad abruptly hung up. His consoling remark, "I know a guy at work—he draws cartoons and passes them around. Nobody makes money with art." Finally, at his new wife's urging, he finally signed the document reminding me he would not fund my education. Yes, Dad.

University of Maine at Portland Gorham campus accepted my application! Five and a half years later, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in art education. I was on the Dean's List every semester! My son was six months when I entered, he was six years old when I graduated Summa Cum Laude. 

During my second year in college, we moved to Kennebunk, Maine.  That summer, Ed Mayo drove by our home—his daughter was one of our neighbors! Remembering me he was pleased to know I was continuing my quest to be an artist. He encouraged me with tips whenever we met at the end of my driveway. He now worked for a newspaper on a  part-time basis and suggested I look to writing, which could supplement an income. I added that to my mental data-base. 

Meanwhile, in addition to my college work, I slipped in a watercolor basics course with the Kennebunkport Chapel Gallery owner who was also a professional artist. Additionally, since the pottery course I signed up for at the University was not going to teach wheel throwing (they switched professors) I enrolled into an adult education, wheel-pottery class at Biddeford Adult Ed, which happened to be on the way home from Gorham's college campus. The instructor was Ray Lund, art teacher at Thornton Academy in Saco.

Large drawing after graduating from the University
took three months to complete.
"Alison's Restaurant", graphite by Jo (Cabana) M. Orise
After earning a BS degree, I spent many months just creating  works in watercolor, oil, graphite, pen/ink, and wood cut printing. I was in heaven. A strange phenomenon had occurred while being totally immersed in my work: I had reached a "flow state." Nothing around me was real. Only my art. What a great and wonderful place to be. I have the same experience whenever I work in isolation on my art or writing. I am in another world—who needs drugs? 

Ron Goyette, a  professional artist from Kennebunkport invited me to join the Art Guild of the Kennebunks, which he founded in 1980. We became friends and he encouraged me to further my art career. The Guild represented over 75 Maine artists. I participated in the 1981 show where First Lady, Barbara Bush, cut the ribbon at the opening of the first annual, summer, membership exhibit held at the Chapel Gallery on Route 35, Kennebunkport.

I had displayed my artwork at the university student art show in my senior year. Later, I found opportunities to display my work in my home studio/gallery, a college library, public libraries, banks, restaurants, salons, sidewalk art shows, craft shows, art group shows, private shows, raffles, silent auctions and I donated a few to benefit non-profits in ME, NH and VT .

Even though I graduated with honors, public school teaching opportunities were difficult to find. So I offered drawing lessons from my home studio. Teaching was so much fun. As I taught art, I realized the reading, studying, practical work and now the teaching made it all come full circle. I felt complete and more confident. Sister St. Rolande's prediction had come true. It was a difficult journey, but it was a journey I felt compelled to embark, no matter who approved or disapproved.

As I worked in my studio I also subbed in Kennebunk's public school system. Later I was hired as Computer Telecommunications Operator at Keuffel and Esser in Kennebunk. My computer credentials had impressed my new employer. At first, I enjoyed the work, then my supervisor was replaced with someone who had no knowledge of computers. The work place soon became unbearable. Workers looked upon me as the enemy. Fearing a computer controlled work environment would become a paperless work place they envisioned their obsolescence. Such confusion and distrust and incompetence help determine my decision to leave. My goal: pursuing art and a teaching career.

I offered art classes in my home studio. One of my students asked if I would teach pottery classes. I loved working with clay, so I invested in equipment and materials. So began another journey. 

Fingernails serve as an unwitting cutting tool as clay spins around on a potter's wheel. Consequently, I was doing the work for ladies refusing to cut their manicured fingernails.  Then someone said, "Craft Show." 

A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. (...
A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. One needs steady hand and cut finger nails.    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I stopped the pottery lessons devoting my time to creating pottery for sale. I painted at times and opened up a home gallery of artwork and pottery. Eventually, I became a retail and wholesale potter. Time for serious art diminished. 

At first, I displayed art along with my craft. Two wood-cut original prints sold in three years. It was clear art did not sell at craft shows. Whatever I designed and was willing to mass produce in clay sold very well.  But, I did not want to be a potter. I wanted to create fine art. Was I to fulfill my father's prediction, "Nobody makes money with art"?

Oh, I painted clay pieces, but it wasn't the same. Then I was commissioned by Joan, an interior decorator, to design and paint two tile murals connecting at a corner over the kitchen counter.  One section was twelve feet, the other four feet. The scene was painted with underglazes and sealed with a fired on clear, gloss glaze. Beautiful. I assisted in the installation in Joan's Kennebunkport home located across from Chic's Marina.

NOTE to the reader: I will add photos of the tiled mural soon. Come back to check it out.

Besides pottery, I created caricatures, posters, post-cards and 5x7" hand painted matted illustrations, which I sold at craft shows, stores, studio shops, from my studio and through the mail

As a potter, I wore many hats: designer, mass production manager, graphic and marketing expert, advertising manager, secretary, quality controller, shipper, retailer and wholesaler, craft and trade show representative. I was too many different people. I was isolated. I was tired of the damp basement studio. My paintings sat in my upstairs studio, out of the way. Ron Goyette had often urged me to get back to painting. To get rid of the clay. I finally heeded his suggestion.

After ten years of full production, I shut down the pottery studio and filed for divorce from an unhappy marriage. I had to quit sometime and find myself once again. The last orders received were completed and clients were contacted with apologies for the inconvenience of the shut-down. Some responded with sympathy and encourage me to let them know if I decided to begin again elsewhere or under another name.

While in college and when my son was three, I began to write poems for him, which I also illustrated. Over the years, I have added more poetry to the repertoire. I have a briefcase filled with all I have written since the 1980s. Even today, if an idea pops in my head, I don't rest until I write it down. The poems matriculate from rhyme to free verse. They have a "story" feeling to them. Like painting with words. I started writing fiction but never finished—I wasn't a writer. I was an artist. Perhaps later... .

PC Hardware from the 1980's
Just one of those days.
Carricature series
by: Jo (Cabana) M. Orise
By now, I was divorced and I needed a job. My interview with a 'job placement executive' proved disastrous. 
"I can't promote you, you don't have any credentials to work anywhere. A potter?" She shook her head and laughed. Very unprofessional for a professional.
I pointed out my other ten years of work experience prior to college which were also listed on my resume. She would let me know if something came up. She never called.

I applied for and was hired on the spot at Sun Savings and Loan bank in Portland, Maine as secretary to VP of Branch Administration. Within two years, the bank was taken over—the banking crisis of the 1980s. My boss left and I was transferred to another branch in Kennebunk. The VP there asked to me to create illustrations for two summer ads, which were subsequently published in the local paper. I was promised payment. The official ad agency for the bank was furious that the VP took the initiative to commission the work. Although a few years later I hired a lawyer to collect payment, I never got paid. The VP's excuse: it was part of my job. That did not figure, since she got flack for not having the agency produce the ads. Her letter to the lawyer was filled with complete falsehoods. She was covering her butt to not get fired. The next year, the bank folded.

In 1988 I enrolled in a introduction to computer science basics course at  Westbrook College in Portland, Maine to supplement my computer background and secure my options. Later, I enrolled in a summer institute for teachers at Portland School of Art (now MECA), in Portland, Maine in order to renew my art teaching credentials. Poetry was one of the courses offered—great fun!

After Sun Savings closed, Portland head-hunting placement agency, Romac and Associates, hired me as an office secretary-associate. By now I wrote poetry and created accompanying illustrations, which led Romac to commission me to design a new logo. Later they purchased one of my print illustrations portraying the office environment from an elephant's point of view. The piece was hung in the president's office!

Portland School of Art, located near where I was employed, offered a children's book illustration course. How exciting! I enrolled and produced my first, adapted children's story with illustrations. Although I was encouraged to publish, I never did—my fear of failure, I suppose. I was an artist, not a writer.
The next year, the opportunity to teach at Gorham High School presented itself. A 1/6 art position. What was that? I applied. A plan was developed where I would teach art and also function as a permanent, in-house substitute. The principal said, "You have a lot of guts to leave a well paying job with full benefits for a part time teaching position without benefits." I smiled, "Teaching is what I want to do." 
My dream was to teach.

Being a LIFO, I was let go at the end of my second year because of budget cuts. However, I was re-hired as a technician II at Gorham Junior High school to substitute for the computer teacher who was on a one year sabbatical. It was a great experience. 

At the end of the year I was out again—LIFO. Meanwhile, I had added adult-ed computer classes to my repertoire of jobs. I taught computer adult-ed in three school districts: Gorham, Windham and Wells, Maine. I had also developed skills in desk-top publishing and did some telemarketing to promote my skills for small businesses. I found three clients in one day. They happened to be in Gorham and Windham. Additional income for me—for four years! In the summer, I worked as a temp at a Portland bank where I did secretarial work, taught other secretaries how to use a computer connected to a mainframe and how to organize files on the system.

Marketing was a part of me. Since art teaching positions were still pretty meager, I promoted myself as a computer instructor. By now, I had also acquired experience in building PCs  and occasionally helped a friend with his computer business and I worked with a 'temp' agency whenever something came up. On occasion, I also hired out as a computer teacher  for an attorney's office and a consultant for a handicapped client.

I was hired at Wells High School as a full time, computer lab technician III without benefits. I managed a room full of computers. During the first weeks of school, my supervisor, who deemed himself as "computer expert," was troubleshooting a computer problem for a math teacher. I entered the room and asked what the matter was. "You can't help. I've been working on this for two weeks. He can't get his report to print correctly." I replied, "Sounds like you have the wrong driver." My supervisor jumped out of his seat, quickly sought out a floppy disk, and installed the proper driver. Issue solved within minutes. Then, he blatantly took credit for solving the problem and the math teacher thanked him. I quipped, "It's a good thing I was here to guide you," and left the classroom.

As I monitored the computer lab, I pondered what else could be done with computers. The idea of animated reports popped in my head. Computers and animation integrated in the school curriculum. This was 1992, before Microsoft Windows. After submitting my idea in the school paper, the Principal took note and came to my classroom encouraging me to continue my research and to submit followups to the paper. Soon the business department contacted me, "Get whatever you need to make it work." Upon sharing this with my supervisor he announced he'd take over from there. I replied, "No, I can do this. Thank you." Then he pointed out that I could never qualify as a computer teacher. It required multiple degrees—science, math and computer science, all of which he happened to possess. I asked the Principal who then researched the requirements and proving him wrong. His attitude was friendlier after that.$yetidetail$
Mickey Mouse hat a Disney product.
Thus, I pioneered  and integrated the first animation program in a Maine school by using a standard, DOS based, 386 PC at Wells High School in 1992. I welcomed teachers to be part of an advisory committee. At my recommendation, the course was called MOAT (Media Ordered Animation Technology). The name indicated the course would work with whatever hardware and software was available. Animation was created in a DOS environment with Disney's 2-D animation essentials software

Students were thrilled as were the science, math, language and communication departments. The animated reports were output to VHS tape, which made them portable to be played anywhere. Two of my seniors phoned me after graduation, "May we come back and work on our final projects some more?" They had earned an A+. They didn't have computers at home. Permission was granted. One of my two seniors was later hired at Disney Studios as an animator!

For two years I taught animation as a certified teacher minus a teacher's salary or benefits. A larger, updated computer lab was planned for the third year. I was to continue as technician III, take care of the lab and teach MOAT. Querying department heads regarding opportunities to be hired as a full-time teacher, the Assistant Principal championed my hire as computer teacher with benefits, "We'll lose her if another school offers her a full-time teaching position."

The former Shelter Institute building in Bath, ME
with the Institute's wood workers shop downstairs.
A home to retire to was also on my mind. I enrolled in a Post and Beam, spring semester course at the Shelter Institute located in Bath, Maine. The course covered what one needed to know to build their own home without contractors. My plan: build it myself. My son, now a high school graduate, was interested, so I paid for his tuition as well. Each Saturday, I picked him up early in the morning at a Portland street corner where he sometimes gobbled his bowl of cereal at the curb. He was always on time and I was so proud of him. Still am.

Post and Beam house I built - 4 years labor.

I began building my new post and beam home in 1993. In 1994, I was offered a consulting and teaching position at Massabesic High School, next door to my nearly finished home. Once hired, I was asked to develop an animation course in addition to my other courses at the middle and high schools across the yard from each other.

It meant starting all over again with a different platform—MacIntosh. I designed all my courses: MOAT, intro to computers, intro to software, desk-top publishing with graphics manipulation. It wasn't long before I was asked teach full time at the high school and to tack on art intro—for four years. In addition to my full load of courses, I taught Art Special Ed. Later, I was required to become certified as a computer science teacher through part time, evening coursework at the University of Southern Maine as I worked full time at Massabesic High. 

In 1997, I sold my newly built post and beam home and married in 1998. In 2000, I left Massabesic to teach in NH where I introduced animation to two school districts, Raymond and Portsmouth. Animation software now accomplished what the hardware did at the beginning of my animation endeavor—that was and still is amazing to me!

Now, when I am not busy alongside my husband building or fixing whatever needs attention, I paint and write to my heart's content.

I've earned my time to create, to 'get in the flow' again. I plan to make good use of it as I now display and sell my artwork in galleries, art shows and from my home studio-gallery. 

Jo at work.
I also found the time, over the years, to write my first manuscript for my first YA novel. I will continue to write because to me, writing is painting with words.

I hope Mom and Dad are proud of my work.
Dad, people actually like my art and several have sold.

Unfortunately, Ed Mayo passed away years ago as did my friend, Ron Goyette.  

Last year, my dear aunt Marguerite traveled many miles north to visit my newly opened studio-gallery in Owls Head, Maine. Her interest in me and encouragement to pursue my dream has made all the difference. 

Things do come together if you work hard enough. Be aware of opportunities as they present themselves. Only you can make it all happen. 

It has been quite a  journey for me.  

Follow your dream.

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