Before I address my multitude of experiences in the woods, I would like to include a little information about about how I came to be there. The painting above has been with me both physically and mentally for many years. It is a profound and disturbing image that led me up one of the many paths I followed in my life, in this case art therapy.
Art in general was always an outlet for me during my childhood in particular. It served as a pastime, a hobby, and eventually as a career that helped me persevere throughout many challenging circumstances. One of my first opportunities to escape the discomforts of home came in the form of a summer camp position as an "arts specialist." My responsibility was to travel to what were known as "villages" at the camp, and provide some sort of structured art activity for groups of approximately twenty to twenty five children. It began with typical arts and crafts "projects" including bead work, mandalas, paper bag puppets, craft sticks, and felt art among other possibilities.
The camp was designed to provide an escape from the city life for many young children who could not afford to leave the city. It operated under the direction of a wonderful young couple who shared the many tasks necessary for a safe and educational camp experience.
One afternoon while I was alone eating lunch, I was sitting in a small space that doubled as an art supply storage center. From this location, I would select my supplies for the day's village visits. The camp Director happened to stop by for a chat. She eventually suggested that I run an "art class" in the storage space. Approximately 8 or 10 children would stop by on a daily basis around lunch time to be given an "extra" opportunity to express themselves and be creative. I had no idea as to what might keep them interested enough to spend an hour painting and drawing. The Director (Ruth) suggested we set up several available easels and use them to create paintings. She recommended using a few boxes of "cake tempera." a hard circular-solid form of paint that could render various colors when wet with a water-soaked brush. I agreed to the experiment, as naive as I was back then, I thought we would give it a go.
The next afternoon, at about noon, eight young boys arrived via a mini-bus. The villages were located a distance apart, too far for each camper to walk alone. I explained the workings of our art sessions, and assigned each child an easel, stiff brushes, a bucket of water, and paint. Not knowing what to suggest, I thought of the idea of each person selecting a particular "feeling" and attempting to paint it out. I turned it into a little game, and thought they might later each try to guess the emotions being rendered.
Once the paintings were completed, the children took turns guessing what each of the emotions were. The painting above was among the most profound images. The emotion chosen was "Fear." I asked the young artist, who was approximately 10 years old, to share the story behind it if he felt comfortable enough. He described the image as depicting his bedroom at home. He often stayed awake late at night in fear of his stepfather coming home drunk and beating him for no reason. The blue-green surface represented his bed, the brown was his bed room door, and the upper left hand corner represented his basement windows overlooking the sidewalk above. His hair stood on edge as he cringed thinking he might be beaten.
Following this painting session, I shared my concerns with Ruth who was a social-worker as well. She stated that she would follow up on the case and be certain someone addressed the problem at the child's home. This all occurred sometime during the late 60's, Ruth turned to me and suggested that I might want to consider a career in "art therapy." At this early point in my career, I had never heard of the profession, and Ruth became the first of two special people to suggest this career choice.
Years later I met and befriended the second person to suggest art therapy as a possible career, to this day we are still good friends. Mike is his name, and we met in a most unusual manner. Back in the Seventies there existed a phenomena know as "encounter groups or T-groups." A rather motley mixture of young adults, including myself were somehow convinced to join in. Groups met on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and offered an opportunity for "quasi" group therapy. The group facilitators were essentially untrained, or poorly trained "therapists."
At first, participants paid a few dollars per session. At this reasonable fee, many of us enjoyed the opportunity to meet other people, make friends, and in some cases openly share some of our personal issues. I recall, there was a young man, George who was missing one arm, and a young girl whose sister had recently passed away. There was also a close friend, David, who suffered from epileptic seizures, and your's truly who at the time was missing more than a few marbles.
One evening about a dozen of us ventured out for dinner at a local buffet style restaurant. I recall the food being rather excellent, including fresh turkey, pastrami, potatoes, salad etc. I was sitting on the outside edge of a large table, next to my friend David. We were all enjoying our meals when suddenly, David, on my left, went into an epileptic seizure. He fell from his chair and lay on the restaurant floor enduring convulsions. To his left kneeled my current friend Mike M., David was between us and continued to have seizures. Having recently been trained in C.P.R. and First-Aid, I was not uncomfortable on the ground watching over David. I looked up at the room briefly, and noticed everyone with exception of Mike, had quickly vacated the restaurant.
To this day, I still assume it was fear that led our "company" to disappear. Michael and I remained at Davids side and eventually accompanied him to the hospital. I had not yet been introduced to Michael until he spoke out stating he would hold his wallet. Not knowing who Mike was, I responded by stating the same! This went back and forth until I conceded and agreed that he could hold the wallet. Neither of us knew how long we knew David, or how close we were as friends but we nevertheless kept an eye on the wallet and on each other.
Our concern was the well-being of a mutual friend. Since that moment back in the late Seventies, Mike and I have remained good friends. Mike is now a supervising Social Worker who provides therapy assistance for military personnel and their families. An amazing person who as a single parent, adopted and successfully raised three separate children who had learning and emotional challenges. I have learned a great deal from him.
My first cameras were an 8mm Keystone and a great big box containing a tiny Kodak Brownie "Holiday Flash" and all the equipment necessary for lighting and film development. I recall jumping for joy when I viewed my first self-processed image including fingerprints, dust marks, and faded grey edges! The joy of my chemical darkroom work had begun!